Last week I explained how the Georgia Bulldogs would not be able to live up to the lofty expectations set by experts across the country. This week, it’s the Florida Gators’ turn.
The 2008-2009 Gators have a loaded offense, the returning Heisman winner, a manageable schedule, and one of the country’s best coaches—a sure-fire recipe for a national championship contender.
But here are five reasons the Florida Gators will not only miss out on the national championship game, but also on winning the SEC.
1.) The Defense
The Gator defense was flat-out awful last year, and while all those players are now a year older, we just don’t know if they’ll be any better.
In the SEC, it all starts in the trenches, so if Florida can’t get a pass rush or stop the run, it will be déjà vu in 2008. While I think Florida’s defense will be improved, it will still be a very young squad, and eventually that youth will catch up with them in a close game.
2.) Two-Minute Offense
Gator fans don’t want to hear this—and some will argue otherwise—but the fact is, Tim Tebow never led the Gators to a come-from-behind win last season, despite three chances to do so: against Auburn, LSU, and Michigan.
This is obviously not all on Tebow, as play calling and other players factor into the two-minute drill. But clearly the Gators did not have the late game execution they wanted in their three closest losses of last season—and it all starts with Tebow.
That said, I wouldn’t bet against the kid working on his two-minute drill right this second, and for every waking minute until the Gators kick off against Hawaii. If anybody can correct a part of his game, it’s Tebow.
3.) Tebow Backlash
Face it, Tim Tebow has embarrassed a lot of teams in his brief career. In addition, the kid has garnered national attention for seemingly everything he has done—and for all the right reasons. Tebow is a class act, a role model for youngsters, an unquestioned leader, and an excellent teammate.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t sit well with opponents. While I highly doubt too many defenders will actually get the last word on Number 15, some determined team will find a chink in the Gator armor and take down Gary Danielson’s man crush.
And with the way the BCS system works, that one loss could very well be the Gators’ undoing.
4.) Urban Meyer’s Stubbornness
For the record, I think Urban Meyer is a great coach. But the guy’s idol is Woody Hayes—and like Hayes, he carries that old school stubbornness (which some would call arrogance) to the field.
Whether it’s running Tebow off tackle 10 times in a quarter or calling the same bubble screen to Percy Harvin multiple times in a row, Meyer—at times—seems to get a little Tecmo Bowl on us.
It’s no news that Meyer has been down on the Gators’ running backs in his time at Florida, and you have to wonder if Meyer’s “You fumble, you die” attitude affects the way his kids run. At some point, you simply have to trust your tailback to take the ball and follow his instincts all the way to the house.
Before I give my reasons for listing Auburn as the fifth item, I first want to assure you that I know Auburn is not on Florida’s schedule. However, I think Auburn will win the West and will meet the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. And then…
Well, in short, Auburn has been Florida’s daddy recently. And it’s not so much that Auburn has beaten Florida, it’s the way they’ve beaten the Gators—in the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, punch-yourself-in-the-face type of games.
Last season, Auburn shut down the Gators’ passing attack and limited them to fewer plays than any game in the season. The game concluded with freshman Wes Byrum nailing a time-expiring field goal—and then Byrum proceeded to mock the Gator chomp…in the Swamp. Final score: 20-17.
In 2006, the Tigers won a once-in-a-lifetime type game, scoring 27 points without scoring an offensive touchdown. Despite being outgained and outplayed, Auburn came up with a crucial blocked punt in the third quarter, and the game was changed forever.
From there, the Gators self-destructed en route to zero second-half points, and—just to add insult to injury—the Tigers scored another time-expiring touchdown after a Chris Leak fumble.
At the time, it appeared the Gators were knocked out of the national championship hunt.
Finally, in 2001, another close game ended with a time-expiring score, as Damon Duval crushed a 44-yard field goal to send Tiger fans into a craze over their 23-20 victory.
More than any team, Auburn simply has found a way to limit the Gators’ potent offenses. The formula has been simple: They’ve controlled the time of possession, won the turnover battle, played stiff defense, and connected on clutch field goals.
No doubt that Tebow and crew will put up gaudy numbers in 2008-2009. The number of playmakers that Florida has on offense and special teams will give defensive coordinators nightmares.
In the end, though, I see a raggedy but stubborn Auburn team—with more conference losses than both Florida and Georgia—sneaking away with this year's SEC Championship.