College Football's Most Successful Asset: Competition
College football programs across the Division I landscape each have unique principles established around them. However, in many instances, it is those who come out victorious who have the same idea about how to play the game. Those fortunate enough to master these skills find themselves hoisting crystal footballs at season's end, their names to forever be remembered in history books.
Obviously, you need a solid defense, sound special teams and fundamental blocking, to win in college football. But it's much more perplexing than it seems.
An important attribute is an alert state of mind. Teams that are aware of what's going on around them, whether it be on campus or on the gridiron, are most likely to be successful on Saturday.
However, when it's all said and done, one of the most important keys to winning is so simple, yet so rare. Winning is as easy as competing and beating the other team, and being a champion is as easy as competing and beating one from your own position.
In order to illustrate my point, I'll use the Florida Gators as an example. Although the Gators come up in almost every example possible, they have good reason to be at the top of your list when it comes to almost anything relevant to this sport. Remaining on topic, we'll look at Florida's level of competitiveness.
When you first think of the word competition, one thing that comes to mind is playing time. Competition can solely be based on taking a single snap in a football game, or on something major—like becoming the starting quarterback for a top-tier program as a true freshman (Matt Barkley, USC).
With that said, Florida takes the definition of team competition to new heights. Losing only four total starters to graduation and the NFL Draft on offense while returning every defensive starter (and every backup in the two-deep formation), the Gators were expected to have significant competition. But not this much.
Take Major Wright, for instance. The ball-hawking, relentless free safety has to go to work each and every practice just to conserve his spot at his position. If Wright fails to impress his coaches, he could be replaced by next week. That being said, Florida's talent level wouldn't drop at all.
Sitting behind Wright is sophomore Will Hill, an athletic safety who head coach Urban Meyer has called "one of the five best on the team." Major Wright, who is known for colossally smashing Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson in Oklahoma's opening drive against Florida last year, is well aware he could lose his job on any given day. Wright stated, "They can put anyone anywhere on the field and that person can make plays."
It's the immense pressure like this that keeps the defending National Champion Gators hot on their heels and ready to perform day by day.
Joe Haden, who was the first ever true freshman cornerback to be a starter in his first game as a Gator, recalls the days when the Gators' defensive backs were nothing but target practice. Haden recognizes the troubled past he used to be a part of during 2007, when he says the Gators used to go "one deep" at the secondary position.
Finally, Haden can gleefully say, "Now, we're three deep, with a lot of guys standing on the sideline this season who could be starting just about anywhere else in the SEC."
Eleven players take the field each Saturday to start on defense for the Gators, and there are about 15 others stalking the sidelines, awaiting their chance to showcase their skills. There's plenty of capable players, including former starters, who aren't seeing the field as much as they used to.
Wondy Pierre-Louis started all 14 games at his cornerback position during the 2007 season. Dustin Doe, Dorian Munroe and Markihe Anderson are all also former starters who are know second-teamers.
The spirit of competition has also created faces in the lineup many thought were a lost cause. Many thought strong safety Ahmad Black was a waste of scholarship after he struggled at his cornerback position early on in his career. However, he pushed himself and found great success at his current position, ending last season with seven interceptions (tied for the NCAA individual lead).
The secondary isn't the only focus point. Linebackers are anxious to strap on a helmet and earn some playing time, too. Especially true freshman Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic, who are overwhelmed with the task at hand of competing with a bevy of talented 'backers" in front of them.
On the defensive line, reserve defensive ends must compete against two potential All-Americans on both sides of the line in Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham. It doesn't get much easier at the tackle slot, with plenty of names ready to fill any available slot.
Defense seems to be where competition reigns supreme, but offense has it's share of battles as well. Some consider John Brantley, who takes snaps behind a former Heisman winner in Tim Tebow, the third best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
Don't forget the running back position, which is occupied by three speed demons who are each pounding it out daily for carries on gameday. Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody grind it out to earn their fair share of snaps each and every Saturday.
Finally, at the receiver position, there's still a lot of competing to do. Florida still yearns for Percy Harvin's capable replacement, and with a long list of names there's plenty of time for trial and error. Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Deonte Thompson occupy the depth chart now, but Omarius Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr. and others are close behind.
It's that breed of competition at the University of Florida which brings forth the best out of every player, every day. Some might ask why players would want to return for another National Championship when they already have two in the past three seasons.
The answer is relatively simple. They aren't ready to see another number standing tall in their position.
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