On the surface, 2010 is shaping up to be a lot like the 2007 season for the Gators.
The Gators are coming off of a 13–1 season where the majority of their top contributors left for the NFL or ran out of eligibility.
The recruiting class is full of talented, but inexperienced replacements.
The schedule is not set up with perfection in mind, with the toughest game coming on the road.
Despite the glaring similarities, is the 2007 comparison fair?
2007 was not a kind year to the Gators. The defense often moved with the tenacity of Jamarcus Russell after an all-you-can-drank night.
The team ended up losing three conference games, two of them very closely, and missed out on a very winnable SEC championship opportunity.
Finally, the Gators capped the year with a six point loss to Michigan that felt like a total blowout.
The four losses were the most in a single season for any Urban Meyer coached team.
How much of 2007 was necessary, and how much can 2010 avoid?
First, let's focus on what we know, then we'll get to the could-be's.
The Gators are lost a lot. Brandon Spikes, Brandon James, Tim Tebow, Aaron Hernandez, Maurkice Pouncey, and Joe Haden all made All–America teams in the last two years.
Beyond the prestige, the Gators lost five major offensive contributors and seven defensive contributors (Adrian Bushell transferred during the Spring).
In '07, the Gators lost sixteen players off their two–deep, with the majority coming on defense. That loss was more drastic, but the Gators are losing better talent this year.
Here are the numbers lost from '06-'07 and '09-'10
Passing: Yds 2942 of 3305 (89 percent) TDs 23 of 29 (79 percent)
Rushing: Yds 699 of 2240 (37 percent) TDs 9 of 24 (38 percent)
Receiving: Catches 100 of 255 (39 percent) Yds 1501 of 3305 (45 percent) TDs 13 of 29 (45 percent)
Defense: Sacks 22 of 34 (65 percent) Tackles 495 of 767 (65 percent) INTs 19 of 21 (90 percent)
Passing: Yds 2895 of 3305 (88 percent) TDs 21 of 28 (75 percent)
Rushing: Yds 1049 of 3105 (34 percent) TDs 14 of 30 (47 percent)
Receiving: Catches 168 of 249 (67 percent) Yds 2317 of 3305 (70 percent) TDs 17 of 28 (61 percent)
Defense: Sacks 24.5 of 39 (63 percent) Tackles 369 of 850 (43 percent) INTs 13 of 20 (65 percent)
Offensively, the 2010 Gators are losing more yards, although the 2009 team also produced more yards overall than 2006.
On paper, the 2010 Gators were a very balanced attack, but in truth, it was a very Tebow–centric attack. He accounted for 96 percent of the Gators' total lost offensive output.
This is both a good and a bad thing. It's bad because almost 60 percent of the Gators' offense output left with him, but it's good because it means that there are some returning contributors who will now get more opportunities.
Sticking with the offense, the only other thing that really jumps out is the cliff–dive in receiving experience.
In 2007, the Gators returned three of their top five receivers. Couple that with Louis Murphy's breakout and you can see why Tebow's first year was a heavy passing year.
In 2010, only one of the top five receivers will return. However, all of John Brantley's primary targets return (although he played with the second team, the numbers they produced when given the opportunity were eyebrow raising).
Whether or not the second team can continue their effectiveness is the biggest question heading into this season.
In 2007, the offense improved over 2006. The Gators put up 12 more points per game in that season compared to their national championship winning effort.
Every offensive category saw improvement. A fact that can be attributed to Tebow's outstanding work as well as Meyer getting his spread–specific guys contributing.
For Tebow's entire career, the offensive output was higher than the 2006 Gators. Even the unlucky bogged-down, "ineffective" 2009 offense was significantly better.
I don't see an improvement coming with the shifting of the guard this time. Tebow was far greater than we're giving him credit for post–2009.
While Brantley may be more comfortable living up to the spirit of the spread offense, Tebow was a once–in–a–lifetime athlete. Losing him won't be a net gain for the Gators.
Defensively, the Gators will be better off than they were in 2007, though.
The losses are still heavy, but the returning players are in much better shape. For one, the Gators are only losing two D–linemen instead of four.
Both linebacker corps got disintegrated. In 2007, a worthy backup, Brandon Spikes, became a star. In 2010, a strong starter, AJ Jones, will be the anchor.
The secondary was where the 2007 Gators got hurt the most though. For a team that lost so much up front, the Gators managed a very good rush defense. However, the pass defense was pathetic.
The Gators replaced their three top DBs with two true freshmen and a two–star redshirt freshman.
The inexperience showed, as the Gators were only able to hold two opponents under 20 points on the season, FSU and Western Kentucky. The Gators also gave up 30 or more points five times, a number opponents only reached twice during the next two seasons.
Two of the Gators' four losses came in games where the Gators scored more than 30 points. Only one loss came with a Gator score of less than 20.
In 2006 and 2008, 20 points wins 12 games, in 2009 that output wins 11. 30 points would have been good for a win in all but two of the Gators' games during those three seasons too.
The Big 12 may scoff at defense, but to the Gators, it is the key to victory.
Luckily, the 2010 defense isn't shaping up to be a 2007 remix.
The Gators return three starters in the secondary (Will Hill was, for all practical purposes, a starter last year). No position is so weak to have to start a player like Wondy Pierre–Louis either.
Joe Haden is virtually impossible to replace, having been one of the Gators' greatest outside tacklers as well as one of the best lockdown corners. Still, a slight dip in talent at corner won't hurt the Gators as bad as losing everybody who covered receivers like 2007.
2010 won't exactly be 2007. The new quarterback isn't going to win the Heisman, and the offense won't drastically improve. The defense won't sink into the abyss either. The Gators will still be favored in all but one of their 2010 contests.
Honestly, the 2010 Gators look more like the 2006 Gators with a bit less on defense and more scoring ability. And, remember, that team wasn't supposed to be a national champion either.