TAMPA—Now Gator Nation, this is no cause for panic.
This is not a prediction. This is not a warning. This is also not something many people are willing to say.
But I am.
No, this is not breaking news that another coach has fled Gainesville for a better offer, (see Dan Mullen (2008), Billy Gonzales, Charlie Strong, and now George Edwards). This is far from any of that.
This is not a bash piece, nor is it written with hatred or contempt for the successful program that just so happens to be my alma mater's arch-rival.
This is a chance for fans of Albert and Alberta, Two-Bits, and the Chomp to consider—in all logic, a very real, and very scary possibility.
The following slides, while providing a "devil's advocate" approach to Florida's upcoming season, are intended to display just how difficult it could, and should be for the retooled Gators football program in 2010.
Personally—I hope I'm wrong. Because for once, FSU has a shot at being relevant again, and nothing would be sweeter than a matchup with a Gator squad worth playing. Win or lose.
The defending National Champions will square off against the Gators in a Tebow-less rematch of the 2009 SEC Championship game. Will the Gators be able to handle an atmosphere which will pit the Gators against arguably the best program in the country?
How will first year starter Jon Brantley handle the pressure of this undoubtedly Herculean task?
Well, with Alabama hanging on to Heisman Trophy Winner Mark Ingram for another season, and having backup Trent Richardson aboard as well, Greg McElroy could play with all of the capabilities of a Jonathan Crompton and still go undefeated.
If that weren't enough, Freshmen phenom AJ McCarron is just waiting for the opportunity to display why many around campus have been whispering QB controversy.
Odds are, Florida will struggle early and often against a more complete, more explosive-capable team.
Chalk this one up as a loss. Even if Meyer had 100 of the top 150 High School recruits, and whipped them all into Brandon Spikes/Carlos Dunlap-like shape by October, Alabama still wins this game.
The Tide should do exactly what they do best—Roll. Mark this one down as a loss for the Gators.
"We'll see 'em next year."
Sure thing Lane.
Now I know everyone is asking "Who's Derek Dooley?" Well he's not a head coach. He's an Athletic Director. AD's don't normally coach their football teams, unless that school is a building program like Louisiana Tech.
Following one short season as the Head Coach at LT, Dooley managed to lead the Bulldogs to a 17-10 victory in the Independence Bowl with an 8-5 mark.
Now this may not be impressive enough to some, but he was also busy running the other 13 FBS sports programs offered at Tech.
Not to be outdone, or snaked by some of the fiercest competitors around the SEC, Dooley stepped onto campus in Knoxville, and still managed to recruit a Top 15 class. To date, none of Lane Kiffin's recruits have put in for transfer.
Sure, the Vols lose All-American Eric Berry to the draft, but with all of his legal issues long behind him, Soph. Janzen Jackson has shown he will be a reliable guy in coverage.
If the defense can shore up losses like Berry, McCoy and Thompson quickly, there is no reason Tennessee's defense won't be a dominant force again in 2010.
With the game being played in Tennessee, among the 100,000 screaming Vols fans, and the fear of Kiffin singing "Rocky Top" all night long now averted, Tennessee has some advantages heading into this early season "upset special."
For now, we can chalk this one up as a sure win for the Gators, but anything's possible between now and September.
Redemption—a dish best served cold.
Unfortunately, with the departure of Tim Tebow—that dish will not be available come September when the Wildcats visit the Gators.
Sandwiched between games against rival Tennessee and likely No. 1 Alabama, the Kentucky contest will provide anything but that—a contest.
But as we all know, the classic trap game has been a common enemy of every team since the advent of the sport, including the Gators near misses in both of their recent Championship runs (see 2008's Ole Miss "Promise" game, and the 2006 Auburn "fumble/no fumble" contest).
Kentucky could be a repeat performance, but odds are Florida will handle the Cats easily. Mark this one down as a likely blowout, but a possible sleeper.
USF. That start-up program that is no longer a start-up program.
In just 12 short seasons, the Bulls have gone from humble grass roots to a Big East contender. Knocking off Florida State in Tallahassee last season provided a lot of fuel for the little program that could.
Add to the mix the acquisition of a big name head coach (Skip Holtz of ECU) and a few big name high school prospects like ESPN four-star recruit, Terrence Mitchell (WR - Tampa Catholic), and USF should be a legitimate speed bump in 2010.
An early September contest with UF, similar to the FSU contest in 2009, should provide some opportunities for uncontested incumbent QB BJ Daniels, who is very capable with his feet, and arm—especially with holes on both UF's D-line (Dunlap, Cunningham) and in the secondary (Stamper, Spikes, Wright).
The key for a Florida victory would be strong offensive output from up and down running backs like Demps, as well as a complimenting passing game to expose USF's own weakness in the secondary (losing all seven starters), not to mention coveted DE's George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul heading to the NFL.
By all accounts, Florida should win this contest, but they should consider taking a page from FSU's early season contest in 2009 with the Bulls. Florida should not look past this in-state "rival," because USF still wants to prove it's in the big boy club.
Gators win in a much closer contest than expected.
Okay, so it's Mississippi State.
The proverbial woodshed beating shall commence when UF and MSU get together in the Swamp right?
Well, not so fast.
Dan Mullen knows UF. He has lined up opposite the Gators defense more than most coaches in recent memory. He was after all—the offensive coordinator there.
In his first game back in Gainesville since leaving the Gators in 2008, Dan Mullen's Bulldogs return a majority of the roster that frustrated a lot of good teams in 2009.
With close calls against LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston, and Florida—Mullen finally made it over the proverbial mountain by defeating rival Ole Miss to finish the season, and a lot of pundits are predicting a banner year for Mullen's squad from Starkville.
Florida should consider this contest more than just a trap game. It may be Florida's Homecoming, but it is also Dan Mullen's...and with Tebow graduated, he's likely to be less conflicted about which quarterback he's wishing God's best to.
My gut tells me you might want to mark this one down. Win or lose, it'll be a banner game for the underdog.
No. It's not a likelihood.
No. It's not 2007.
No. It's not possible.
Since Appalachian State upset then-No. 5 Michigan, anchored by OL Jake Long, RB Mike Hart, and QB Chad Henne, and shook up the college football world, there have only been a few close calls by other FCS schools to do the unthinkable, and beat a ranked FCS foe.
Just last season Jacksonville State (Alabama), led by former LSU quarterback Ryan Perriloux, took Florida State's Seminole squad the distance for 55+ minutes before falling just short in a rain soaked contest in Tallahassee. FSU had just lost to rival Miami the week before.
Sure, it was an eventual 7-6 FSU team, and should not be confused with the 2010 Gators, but playing a tough trap game between two viable opponents can provide just the right ingredients for an upset. It happened to Michigan, it almost happened to FSU, and UF is not immune.
Odds are the Gators will win by 50, but there is always a chance...even in the BIGGEST house. So when Florida suits up for Appalachian State in the late November contest, the key will be momentum in the early going.
UF should win big, but look for a much closer one than expected if they don't dominate in the early going.
Since 2003, the winner of this contest has played in a National Championship four times.
Dating back to 2002, the record between these two teams is tied at four wins apiece, with both teams winning on the road twice (LSU in 2002 and 2004, Florida in 2003 and 2009).
So the naysayers are all shouting "Florida against LSU in the swamp is a sure thing."
Probably, but don't bet on it.
LSU is losing 10 starters this offseason, and questions are swirling as to whether Head Coach Les Miles will be retained following the 2010 season.
Poor play clock management and a lack of inspired offensive output in 2009 has a lot of Bayou Bengal fans thinking it's time for the next Saban incarnate to appear in Baton Rouge.
Don't let this lack of inspired prognosticators fool you. LSU is still a very solid team, and if they can manage to make it through their difficult stretch of non-conference games to start 2010 (North Carolina, West Virginia) they have plenty of playmakers on the roster capable of sneaking up on Florida.
It's fair to assume the Gators should show up for this contest—unless of course, they are still licking their wounds following that hard-to-swallow loss against Alabama just one week prior.
For three quarters of football, Steve Spurrier and Stephen Garcia made a lot of doubters believe in the impossible.
They hung in there with the best team in the country for nearly 47 minutes of football, and kept Tim Tebow and Co. off balance for most of the game.
In what was a surprising contest compared to the lopsided beatdown in the Swamp just one year prior, Spurrier seemed finally capable of putting up a "W" against his alma mater.
With 2010 approaching, South Carolina is not a terrible squad, and if ever a time when they could challenge Georgia or Florida in the East, this is their year. Other than the Offensive Line question marks, most of the Gamecocks squad returns in 2010 to take another crack at Urban Meyer's Gators.
This could favor well for UF from a scheduling standpoint, as this contest is favorably positioned between woeful Vanderbilt, and FCS Opponent App. St.
Meanwhile, South Carolina will be playing on the road in Gainesville following a tough contest against upstart Arkansas, before heading back home to face Sun Belt Champion, Troy.
Gators should win this one, but never count out the Ol' Ball Coach.
Something tells me he might be due.
These will all be freshly inserted on the lips of every Bulldog fan, and player alike when Florida and Georgia meet in the Annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, FL.
Now don't go assuming the Dawgs are in the doghouse following this year's recruiting season.
As a point of contention, Georgia is already pretty well stacked talent-wise, and 2011 is already being labeled by most experts as one of the most talent-laden national recruiting classes in several decades. So let's just sit back and abstain judgment on Mark Richt for now.
Sure, UGA lost a few recruits down the stretch to other schools like UF.
Sure, they lost their quarterback (for a second consecutive season).
Sure, they are in a serious hotseat transition in 2010.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will be breaking in a new 3-4 defense, thanks in part to new DC Todd Grantham (formerly the Dallas Cowboys D-Line coach). Mark Richt will undoubtedly be tested mentally as he prepares for a competition/controversy at quarterback as redshirt freshmen Aaron Murray and true rreshmen Zach Mettenberger battle it out.
But in the grand scheme of things, UF and UGA will have similar advantages and disadvantages.
Both will be breaking in a new look Defense, and a new D-Coordinator.
Both will be breaking in a new QB, (or two.)
Both will be playing at a neutral site, where the crowd will be equally noisy.
Both will be tested—early and often.
Georgia is still the biggest hurdle in the East for Florida.
Look for this game to be a completely bizarre affair, featuring botched assignments on Special Teams, fumbles, and questionable calls to determine the game.
I have no reason to pick the Dawgs in this contest, and that's exactly why I like them to win in a sneaky-close contest. Playing next to nobody legitimate leading up to the pre-Halloween showdown also bodes well for them too.
Imagine if you will:
An offensive line that features an All-American center, extremely underrated offensive line, two running backs with a combined 1,200+ yards on the ground, two quarterbacks with proven playmaking capabilities—one with a talented arm, and a pure pocket presence, the other with a more Option-style capability with excellent legs.
Now add to the fold a new head coach that has been heralded as an "offensive blessing" to his team.
Your heart may be thinking, "...well that's the 2006 Gators squad," but your mind should be saying, "...man FSU's going to be pretty good this year."
After struggling to a 6-6 regular season finish, FSU should not even be worthy of a look in the rear-view mirror—especially not in February, right?
After hauling in a top ten recruiting class on the quick implementation of a completely overhauled staff in Tallahassee, FSU is already turning heads by most experts.
With less than one month of on-board experience for most of Jimbo Fisher's revamped staff, Tallahassee is already buzzing with exuberance at the possibility that FSU may already be back.
Indications would suggest the 7-6 squad from 2009 would have no shot at breaking through against the Gators' current six game win streak—but as fate may have it, FSU is no longer a team in transition, and Florida is.
With Meyer's recent waffle on retirement, and several cogs of the 2008/2009 squads all now departed to other opportunities, Florida is again a very young team that will need to rely heavily on freshmen at skill positions.
FSU, on the other hand, has a Maxwell Award semifinalist in Christian Ponder who has fully adapted to Jimbo Fisher's complex offensive scheme, alongside a very talented and capable backup with starting experience in EJ Manuel.
If Mark Stoops, Darin Eliot and Greg Hudson can get the FSU Defense in shape in 2010, there is no reason that FSU can't hang with any school in the country.
While this may not come as a shock to those who have closely watched the developments over the last few months in Tallahassee, many Gator faithful will likely chastise this homer-like call.
Well chastise away, because for the first time in nearly a decade, FSU looks like the team with all the pieces in place, the talented guy under center, and the new head coach being heralded by experts.
UF on the other hand, looks like a team capable of losing to many of it's upcoming opponents—maybe not all 10, but we can only wait and see.