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Florida vs. Alabama: Will It Be the Gators or Tide In 2014?

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Florida vs. Alabama: Will It Be the Gators or Tide In 2014?
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Take a look at Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators and Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide and what do you see today?

You find two very talented programs heading back to Atlanta to do battle in the SEC Championship Game, and, should each complete the regular season undefeated, could determine the front runner in the quest for the crystal ball in Pasadena.

Now take a moment and focus your attention a bit further down the road for each team.

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by either’s current offensive woes, recruiting controversies, officiating nods, or behavior issues.  More importantly, don’t be distracted by the fact that it’s very possible that one, or both, of these teams may find completing the season undefeated more of a challenge than previously thought.

Rather, use your imagination to envision what each program will look like in the future—after the 2009 regular season, past Atlanta, and hopefully beyond playing in Pasadena.

Go a bit further down this foggy road and ask yourself this question, “Which of these two programs is better poised to be successful over the next few years?”

That’s right… which of these two teams will be leading the pack and which will follow in three, five, or even 10 years from now? 

It’s an interesting question because Alabama and Florida both have the potential to become the standard bearer in the SEC for the foreseeable future just as easily as they could become a conference also-ran.

And it’s a question with an answer once you examine several key factors and their influence on each team’s future.

 

5Player Celebrities

For the Gator Nation, accepting the fact that the Tim Tebow era is almost at an end is a very sobering thought.

Tebow and Meyer will go down in history as one of the most successful coach/player relationships in college football history.  And as successful as this relationship has been, it also comes with a price.

Florida's success has been defined by Tebow, and to many potential recruits a Gator team without “Super Tim” will fail to reach championship heights again soon.  The impact, although subtle, has affected Florida recruiting within the five star community and has allowed other SEC teams to bridge the gap of talent that made the 2008 Gator squad so unique.

Moving forward in the short term, Alabama, perceived as a team on the rise, suffers not from a cult of personality, but actually benefits from Florida’s.  This is more than ironic since Gator merchandise sales have skyrocketed since Tebow began manning the helm in 2007.

1-3 Year Advantage—Alabama

3-5 Year Advantage—None

 

4Program History

The Bear Bryant formula for success is simple—recruit the very best talent you can to field a extraordinary rushing attack, and complement it with a competent passing game, smothering defense, excellent special teams, and a deep bench.

Gene Stallings subscribed to this theory and won a national championship.

Alabama is very fortunate that this formula defines “Tide Football,” and that its' latest practitioner, Saban, embraces it wholeheartedly since he used a similar strategy at LSU to win a national championship.

Florida, on the other hand, has no such identity.

Steve Spurrier put Florida on the map with his high octane Fun and Gun while Meyer has reclaimed Gator glory with spread and spread hybrid offenses.

As successful as Alabama has been when they play “Bama Ball,” Florida has displayed similar success when taking advantage of the latest in college football tactics and strategies.

Under current leadership, Alabama may be more consistent and Florida may be more cyclical but both teams will continue to challenge equally.   Put the variable, coaching changes, into play and both programs could also suffer equally.

Looking forward, Florida and Alabama represent the ends of the spectrum when it comes to winning with “tradition”.  Both have been successful when practicing their honored approaches to football and have suffered when they’ve strayed.

1-3 Year Advantage—None

3-5 Year Advantage—None

 

3Recruiting Bases

It’s simple, if you want to win the SEC championship you must win the recruiting war.

Both Alabama and Florida have made recruiting a top priority—and with good reason since there’s hardly a football program in Division 1 that doesn’t have a player from Georgia, Florida, or Alabama on its’ roster.

Part of the rebuilding mission for each coach was to repair or improve recruitment efforts in their own backyards, while expanding talent acquisition programs into new areas.

Top honors go to Saban for strengthening his hold on the tri-state talent while the blue ribbon goes to Meyer for reaching out to new areas such as Texas, California, North Carolina, and New England.

Although each has had considerable success refilling the stables, Saban has been pulling ahead when recruiting classes are measured head to head.

This trend can be attributed to a number of factors, some mentioned above, but there is another issue that separates these two programs.

The State of Florida now houses seven major college football programs each fighting for their share of home grown talent.  Even with Miami rebuilding and FSU in a state of flux, the turf wars for recruits is difficult on the best of days.

Include in the mix the desire of every SEC school, and many more in other conferences that spend time exploring opportunities in the Sunshine State, and Meyer needs a full time contact management software consultant on staff just to keep the names straight.

Florida will find that in-state recruiting will only become more difficult as the lesser programs such as UCF, FIU, and FAU mature.  Alabama will also see an annual invasion of cherry pickers but will have more success keeping recruits at home since Auburn is the only major program jockeying for top local talent.

Moving forward, Alabama, regardless of who is coaching, will have fewer obstacles when working to land top players.  Florida will only see things get more competitive at home.

1-3 Year Advantage—Alabama

3-5 Year Advantage—Alabama

 

2Program Flexibility

There are two types…

First, Florida has shattered the myth that only a personality with direct ties to the university can succeed as head coach of the Gators.

As simple as it sounds, it means that future Florida coaching hires will be decided more on performance rather than program familiarity.  Alabama has done the same with Saban but his tenure as LSU head coach made his hire an exception rather than the rule.

Second, Meyer, in his fifth year at Florida, is surviving his first major assistant coaching change.  With Dan Mullen no longer calling the plays, Steve Addazio has taken over offensive coordinator duties and has done so with mixed reviews.

Addazio is struggling to find the magic of 2008, but he’s undefeated and calling the plays for the top ranked team in the nation.  The Gator Nation may be grumbling but Addazio has done a good enough job to keep a check out of the loss column.

Saban is only into his third year at Alabama, and he and his staff are still working to field a team that can win a conference championship.  Unless competency issues arise, it will be unlikely that the Alabama staff will feel the effects of major shuffling.

Florida may be venerable in the short term but the flexibility inherent in the Florida program will pay benefits further down the road.

1-3 Year Advantage—Alabama

3-5 Year Advantage—Florida

 

1Coaching

By far, coaching is the most influential factor when examining which program will be successful in the next few years and beyond.

Meyer, at 45 years old, is the most successful and accomplished head coach of his generation.  His resume screams imagination, success, advancement, competence, attention to detail, dedication, and ambition.

But many wonder if Meyer, who is in his fifth year at Florida, might be thinking about his next challenge.  Could he really want to coach at Florida for the next six years?  Or will he feel the need to rescue one more major program before deciding where to cash his reputation in for a vacation home and a golf membership.

Sure, the real challenge would be to see Meyer sit tight and rebuild the Gators after the departure of Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and several other key players, but the college football world is too jaded by untimely departures to simply assume that that will be the case.

Despite Meyer’s summer announcement that he is not interested in coaching at Notre Dame, and his most recent 6-year contract extension many, especially several top recruits, are wary of a surprise announcement coming out of Gainesville this January or perhaps the next.

Saban, a man lucky to see a successful return to the college ranks after toying with the tribulations of career advancement a few years earlier, states that Alabama is where he expects to hang his hat until he’s asked to leave.

Saban may be sincere in his desire to stay in Tuscaloosa, but he will need to sit a bit longer to completely hush the critics of the circumstances of his prior moves. Regardless, this issue is nothing compared to the cloud hanging over the debate regarding Meyer’s tenure at Florida.

Too make the plot even thicker, there are several major programs that are or will be in need of an A list coach in the very near future.  Notre Dame, FSU, and Michigan top this list, but Penn State, Ohio State, UCLA, and Miami could rear their heads too.

Each is a tempting challenge for a head coach that may potentially be attracted by a welcoming crowd and fresh venue.  Unfortunately for Florida, it does appear that Meyer would be more attentive to such wooing rather than Saban.

1-3 Year Advantage—Alabama

3-5 Year Advantage—Alabama

 

Who Wins In 2014?

So, once the factors have been considered, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of salt, it appears that Alabama, not Florida, will be the more successful of the two programs as we move into the next decade.

Meyer is a winner, but the perception of his ambition will cost him in the short term.   Should Meyer stay or go, the Gators will continue to feel a talent squeeze not seen since Texas in the days of the old Southwest Conference.

In addition, Florida’s fortunes are tied to its’ personalities, not its’ culture; and this places a burden on long term stability as well.

On the other hand, Alabama may suffer from having a very defined football identity, but this same identity will offer a continuum, that bridges head coaching changes, for years to come.

But until the time comes for a change, Saban has goals to meet and nothing promotes success like aiming for the stars.  Meyer is certainly accomplished but he's in championship repeat mode while Saban is determined to win his first ring with Alabama.

Overall:

1-3 Year Advantage—Alabama

3-5 Year Advantage—Alabama

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