Four weeks into the 2009 College Football season, we have seen eight top 10 teams lose—six of those losses have been to unranked opponents.
While Florida’s dreams of its first undefeated season remain alive, a closer than expected game against Tennessee has many sensing vulnerability in the Big Bad Gators.
Will No. 1 Florida make it through their season unscathed? We’ve all heard about the Gators losing playmakers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, but what are the less obvious factors that could decide whether the Gators play their last game of the season in Pasadena?
The potential loss of Tim Tebow to a concussion roils the waters of what was looking like smooth sailing through the regular season. In order to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time, Florida will need to navigate through some good teams and the intangibles.
1. New offensive coordinator Steve Addazio
Was it the ability of Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin that held the Gators to 23 points, or the inability of Steve Addazio’s offense that they ONLY scored 23 points?
Kiffin baffled and perplexed offensive geniuses in the NFL for a very long time, so it’s not a big surprise that Kiffin’s defense played well against the Gators. Addazio had very little film to dissect when preparing for the Vols defense, and if not for a Tebow fumble in the fourth quarter, the Gators may have scored 30 points on Kiffin’s D.
Still, the ability of Addazio to adjust on the fly in game conditions against a tough opponent may be a big question on the minds of Gator fans.
If Tebow doesn’t play against LSU, the prospect of integrating a new starting quarterback into a hostile environment at LSU could be the barometer used to gauge whether Addazio's promotion was a wise choice.
For the Gators to finish undefeated, Steve Addazio must prove to Gator Nation that Urban Meyer picked the best man for the job when he replaced Dan Mullen.
2. The Flu
Can you catch swine flu by playing with the pigskin? Florida fans better hope not, because there is not another team in the country that prepares and practices as hard as Urban Meyer’s Gators.
Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Major Wright, and Joe Haden all needed to be quarantined and took a separate plane to the game at Kentucky. Jeff Demps and Aaron Hernandez are two other notables who have suffered from the flu/respiratory illness this season.
The Pouncey twins were shown on ESPN 2 vomiting during pre-game warm-ups. Have the Gators seen the worst of the bugs, or will the team continue to lose key players to illness? Was the Kentucky game the worst it will get this year, or will there be a healthy opponent that plays against a very sick Gator club?
Is it inevitable that every starter will be affected by illness, or will the coaching staff’s efforts to prevent a major outbreak of the bug be their biggest win of the season?
3. Bad Officiating
Usually, bad calls get evened out over the course of a game. But for any UF fan who remembers the 2003 Florida-FSU game in the Swamp will remember a game FILLED with horrible officiating by the ACC crew.
If you’re a diehard Gator fan, don’t torture yourself by reading this article of the worst officiated game in NCAA history; however, if you’re drinking the Hater Ade, you may want to read about how a strong favorite at home like Florida lost to an inferior FSU team when they should have blown them out of the Swamp.
Bad officiating is a reality. It doesn’t have to be an entire game of missed calls—just one or two key calls (or key no-calls) that could decide a close game.
Tim Tebow sustained a concussion against Kentucky. His backup, John Brantley, filled in nicely with a comfortable lead. Will Tebow get healthy enough to play against LSU, or will it be up to Brantley to win or lose the game at LSU? Is Tebow’s concussion going to be an ongoing issue this season?
A spate of injuries to the offense would be more detrimental to the team than defensive injuries. Charlie Strong’s defense is stout...and deep. The Gators defense returned 11 starters and their 11 backups from last year’s National Championship team.
Injuries to key defensive players will not devastate the team like it would if any combination of Tebow, Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon James, Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, or the Pounceys get injured.
It’s unlikely that both Demps and Rainey would be injured simultaneously, but even if that happened, Emmanuel Moody should step in nicely. As the best WR in yardage AND blocking, Cooper must remain healthy. Hernandez is an excellent tight end, and with virtually no depth at TE, the Gators must keep Hernandez healthy this year to help create mismatches.
Any team that commits turnovers in a game is more likely to lose. Florida lost to Ole Miss last year by coughing up the ball numerous times. If Florida has another multiple turnover game against a good opponent, they could lose.
Of course, the elements could contribute to lost turnovers...but Urban Meyer is such a fundamentally sound football coach that the Gators' ball security under Meyer has been very impressive.
6. The Invisible Bull’s-eye
Every team playing against the Gators this year is playing in their own National Championship game. Knocking off the Gators would be the biggest regular season win in any school’s history.
The combination of suiting up against a stoked opponent on a down day with any combination of turnovers, illness, offensive woes, injuries, and bad officiating to impact the 2009 Gators could create the perfect storm of the biggest upset in 2009.
On paper, the Gators should play for a national championship again this year. But with quality teams like LSU, FSU, Georgia, and South Carolina—and possibly Alabama—looming on the horizon, the Gators will need to not only defeat their opponents, but also the intangibles...if they hope to go from the Rose Bowl to the Rose Garden.