The Florida Gators.
One of the most celebrated, and heralded teams of the last four seasons.
The Era of Tebow.
The Era of Good Feelings.
The Era of Urban Meyer.
The Era, that seemed like it could last forever—and now it's over?
"Leak to Murphy, Leak to Harvin, Harvin up the middle, Tebow up the middle, Tebow to Harvin, Tebow to Hernandez, Tebow on the keeper..."
"...Touchdown, Florida Gators!"
The recipe for success that the Gators created in just four short years has become legendary—a recipe, that won't soon be forgotten. Nor should it, because 2010 likely will not be a repeat of the last four years.
A closer look at the top five reasons why UF will suffer in 2010 may provide some salt to a season that did not end the way it started, nor the career for a Heisman Trophy winner, or for the countless other talented "boys of old Florida" who were so heavily favored to win it all this season.
Brandon Spikes, Brandon James, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Jonathan Phillips, David Nelson, Ryan Stamper...all gone. Just seven of the 19 seniors who will not grace Florida Field next season, the Gators will be without several key weapons from just the senior class alone.
Not to mention the numerous talented juniors who may also test the water for the NFL.
Names like Emmanuel Moody, Lawrence Marsh, Carl Johnson, Major Wright, the Pouncey twins, Aaron Hernandez, Chas Henry, Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, and yes, probably even Mr. DUI himself, Carlos Dunlap may likely be heard on Sundays, followed by "former Florida Gator."
Does this mean Florida will be thin on offense or defense? No.
What it does mean, is Jon Brantley's first game as a starter under center will come with a completely different looking team, with likely a completely different Urban Meyer offense.
The spread—option style offense that Meyer created to exploit the weaknesses in opposing defenses was catered to the speed, strength and versatility of talents like Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy and, unquestionably, Tim Tebow.
With these weapons all gone, along with some of the names listed above, Florida will likely have to prepare a brand new offense that is more capable of utilizing a speedy up-and-down backfield behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, behind a pocket passer, in Jon Brantley.
Translation: New Players + New System = New Obstacles.
That which doesn't kill you can only make you stronger...?
So what happens when the man who created the speed, strength, and skill for Florida's vaunted defense finally gets his big break to become a collegiate head coach?
Some defensive coordinator who knows nothing about the Gator players, or their capabilities will have some pretty big shoes to fill, that's what.
Now, Florida State isn't the only school in the state of Florida in search of a defensive coordinator. The only difference for FSU is they've had most of the season to prepare for the loss.
Florida has thus far had about 48 hours to adapt to the new identity in which it finds itself.
One year after the departure of Dan Mullen, the offensive guru who mentored Tim Tebow to his peak performances in 2007 and 2008, Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong is now the second major product from Urban Meyer's success to depart for bigger and better things.
This comes as no major shock to Florida fans who saw how talented Strong was, years ago. Speculation has swirled as to why Strong has been passed over and suggestions that his personal life may play some factor, has been unfortunate, not only for Strong and his family, but also for fans of nearly every team who has had to watch his defense decimate opposing offenses.
In drawing parallels to Mullen's success as an offensive coach for the Gators, one could argue, the impact of Strong's departure may weigh more heavily, as Urban Meyer is known for overseeing his offense more so than his defense—and in 2010, it will show.
Andre Debose was the acquisition of acquisitions. He signaled to the rest of the college world that Florida was not just going to be good in 2009, but for many, many years to come.
Stolen from the very grasp of Florida State, Florida fans across the Gator Nation held Mr. Debose as a beacon of strength in recruiting in Gainesville, and how a once mighty recruiting dynasty like FSU was no longer capable of capturing the five-star athletes they once used to litter their bench with in the 1990's.
While Debose did ultimately suffer from a torn hamstring early in 2009, it added yet another year of anticipation.
When the new-look Gators take the field in 2010, it will have a loaded roster of young talent, with the help of some of the best recruiting classes in each of Meyer's seasons as Florida's head coach. Andre Debose will be out there, alongside several other blue chip prospects. The question at this point is, did Meyer load up with too much talent?
As most schools transition to next spring, there will be a lot of hubbub around the hot young talented high school players, and where they plan to go.
One thing is for certain, until the juniors still on UF's roster decide on early entrance to the NFL, Meyer and company are very limited on scholarship space, leaving teams like Florida State, and Miami, as well as other SEC schools heavily pushing these athletes to pick a school "that will get them in the game."
Florida State is a prime example of a school benefiting from the Gators limitations, luring away the "Debose-like" talent of five-star athletes Jeff Luc (ILB) and Lamarcus Joyner (CB) in the 2010 signing class—both of whom received compelling offers by the Gators.
If someone told the 2009 Gators they would play a schedule that looked like this...
9/4 Miami-Ohio (2009 Record 1-11)
9/11 South Florida (2009 Record 7-4)
9/18 at Tennessee (2009 Record 7-5)
9/25 Kentucky (2009 Record 7-5)
10/2 at Alabama (2009 Record 12-0)
10/9 LSU (2009 Record 9-3)
10/16 Mississippi State (Homecoming) (2009 Record 5-7)
10/30 Georgia (2009 Record 7-5)
11/6 at Vanderbilt (2009 Record 2-10)
11/13 South Carolina (2009 Record 7-5)
11/20 Appalachian State (2009 Record 11-2*)
11/27 at Florida State (2009 Record 6-6)
...Then you might be hard pressed to say they had an "easy" road to a shot at a National Championship.
A team that has typically had a top five schedule in most years, played a couple of easy games this year versus teams like Florida International, Charleston Southern, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Troy.
Granted, Troy turned out to be the Sun Belt dynamo they usually are, and Charleston Southern wasn't too shabby for an FCS squad at 6-5.
The teams Florida plays in 2010 are a step up, with USF, FCS powerhouse Appalachian State, and SEC Champion Alabama all in the fold, alongside true tests on the road against what should be a much improved Florida State squad and Tennessee next season, the road to the BCS Title in 2010 is impressively more difficult.
For a young squad starting against a cupcake, there is no love lost on the Gators, but from that point forward, the schedule is remarkably more difficult. Georgia should be a better test in 2010, and games against Kentucky and South Carolina will also test the younger, less experienced Gator squad.
With plaguing replacements, both on the field and in the coaching staff, Florida's journey will be marred with the possibilities for multiple losses.
If Brantley and company can step up, and the new coaching staff on defense can gel with a new defense quickly, this would surely provide a remarkable resume come selection Sunday next December.
Odds are, they will need a year or two before we see another 13-1 season.
This one should be a no-brainer. Just don't tell that to a UF fan.
For all of Florida's constituency all posturing that "reloading" is easy, considering all of the talent flooding into Gainesville, you just simply cannot replace a Tim Tebow.
Jon Brantley may show up in week one next season, as the messiah of a new era, but even Timmy needed a season to truly be all he could be for the team around him.
Tim Tebow was not a one man show in 2008 or 2009, and that was what made Florida so dangerous. In 2007 however, he was, and without the defense to get him the ball, they paid for it, losing four contests, including their bowl game against Michigan.
While the argument here is that no one player can do it all, is pretty apparent from anyone's viewpoint. But it is also beyond argument that there is no other way to slice this issue.
A player who made promises, and kept them and who led his team, both on and off the field, could handle any level of pressure thrown at him—and became the epicenter for a balance needed on a team that had to deal with the immense difficulties of being a bulls eye for so many opponents and prognosticators alike.
While 2010 could still prove to be a solid year for the Gators, my money is on a season that by comparison, will look more like the 2008-2009 Gators Basketball team—a team rebuilding, not rebuilt.
Who knows, maybe Tebow will take a year off from the NFL, and will take a crack at coaching under Meyer. Heaven knows it couldn't hurt just to have him on the sideline screaming at his offense.
It worked out for the last three seasons, didn't it?