The University of Florida Gators football team avoided a colossal homecoming upset on Saturday, escaping Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a 23-20 win against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The win pushed UF to a perfect 6-0 and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference and kept alive the nation's longest winning streak (16). Keeping all these streaks alive week to week will be difficult, but here's five things the team needs (in no particular order) to end up playing for a second-straight national title.
1. Tebow being Tebow
Senior quarterback Tim Tebow looked more timid than usual against the LSU Tigers on Oct. 10, but he seemed back to his old self again against the Hogs. He finished 17-for-26 for 255 yards and one touchdown, a 77-yard bomb to receiver Deonte Thompson with just over two minutes left in third quarter. It was a career-long for Tebow and marked the longest Gator TD pass since Chris Leak hooked up with Chad Jackson for 80 yards in 2005. Forget the Heisman, if UF wants the BCS National Championship trophy, Tebow has to be the one spearheading the campaign.
2. A Go-To Receiver
This may sound contradictory after Tebow had a career-long touchdown pass, but it's true. Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson have served as weapons throughout the game, but neither player—nor anyone else really—has established themselves like the home run threat Percy Harvin provided last year. On the season, Cooper has 333 receiving yards on 23 catches and three touchdowns. Thomspon, who did not play in two games this year due to injury, has 127 yards on five catches and three touchdowns. If anything, tight end Aaron Hernandez has emerged as Tebow's security blanket. He's been the leading receiver in the past two games and has totaled 28 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns.
3. A Close Game
It's true. And the team already got its close game against Arkansas. But if the Gators had any hopes of repeating as national champs, they needed a gut-check game.
Arkansas gave it to them.
It's beneficial that UF played one of its worst games against the Razorbacks, because a better team (let's say...Alabama) may not have provided an opportunity for the Gators to get back into it, let alone win. Last season, the best thing to happen to UF was its 31-30 loss at home to Ole Miss. This year? Well if Florida runs the table, circle the Arkansas game as a key reason.
It's a luxury the Gators haven't been able to afford liberally. The whole of the team has been healthy, but several playmakers have been hampered by the injury bug. All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes, Thompson, and even Tebow have all fallen victim to physical maladies. Fortunately for them, the team hasn't fallen victim to its players' health problems.
And if you think the Gators can overcome injuries like they have been so far, all they need is one more concussion or torn ACL to become this season's second Oklahoma, whose dreams of a second shot at a title withered away with quarterback Sam Bradford's chances of playing this year.
It's cliche, it's tired, it's old.
But it's true.
Defense wins championships and Florida's defense is one of the best in the country. The Gators are tied with Penn State, allowing 8.7 points per game this season. And while the defense is 13th in the nation in rushing yards allowed this season (570), the defensive unit is fifth in the country, allowing only two touchdowns on the ground.
Opponents haven't fared much better through the air, gaining 800 passing yards this season, which ranks UF's defense second nationally, behind UNC. The defense has seven interceptions, which isn't leading the nation by any stretch, but is indicative of the experience from last year.
Just because the Gators exhibit these five traits doesn't mean they will win. Conversely, they don't have to do all these things and still end up winning, but one thing is certain: if the Gators play again like they did against Arkansas, the only place they'll be running is down the rankings.