2010 USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll: Florida Gators Come in at No.3

Jay HendryCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL - APRIL 10:  Head coach Urban Meyer of the Florida Gators coaches his team during the Orange & Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 10, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

The 2010 season's unofficial kickoff date is today, with the release of the first official poll for the new season.

Although this has been a particularly eventful offseason, it's nice to see it finally come to a close and hear the first rumblings of the football's juggernaut engine as it warms up.

Number one is no surprise. Alabama retains their spot on the peak, thanks to a fully returning offense and a mostly reloaded defense. 

That Florida sits at number three is a mild shocker, though. The Gators are replacing almost everyone who matters from a team that went 26–2 over the last two years.

The poll has me torn this year. On one hand, the high ranking pseudo–validates my "This is not another 2007!" cry that I've repeated all offseason; let's call this Gator Jay. On the other hand, the 2007 team was ranked number three in the preseason poll as well; let's call this sensible Jay.

Before you write off Gator Jay, consider that he was screaming for Tim Tebow in 2006, calling him a Heisman winner in early 2007, and recognized, in the first game of 2008, that Joe Haden was the best corner in football.

He's been right before.

Gator Jay looks at the secondary and sees one thing, Will Hill. Joe Haden is gone, but that sting is lessened because Hill doesn't leave the field as often this year.

He's as freakishly athletic as Eric Berry; whether he lives up to his raw talent will—sorry, sensible Jay got a hold of the keyboard there for a few strokes.

Will Hill will live up to my incredibly high expectations because he's one of those rare monsters who has little to no downside. 

Couple the most talented DB the Gators have seen in a very long time (and the Gators see great DB talent all the time) with a secondary–minded defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin, and you're looking at the third consecutive shutdown pass defense that the Gators have fielded.

The Gators' success has hinged on the secondary so far, and that won't change in 2010. With the back four as lethal as ever, the Gators are worthy of their number three ranking.

Sensible Jay sees it a little differently, though. In his mind, the Coaches Poll has been kind to the Gators since Meyer arrived. Since 2005, the Gators have placed eleventh, eighth, third, fifth, first, and third in the preseason Coaches Poll.

With the exception of 2007, the coaches have been pretty close in their selections.  Unfortunately, on paper, 2010 has more in common with 2007 than it does with any other Meyer–led season for the Gators.

That is not to say we're about to see the resurgence of the crash and burn defense that gave up 25 ppg (almost as many total points as the Gators gave up over the last two years combined).

Many columnists and bloggers, including myself, have shown that there is a large difference in both talent and experience between the players who returned for 2007 and those who return this year. As I've stated above, the experience in the secondary is a huge plus for 2010.

However, just because the defense isn't as bad as the awful 2007 version, doesn't mean that the defense is good enough to carry the Gators to a number three ranking. In the SEC, you don't outscore your opponent in a victory. You hold them to fewer points.

Even with the secondary mostly intact, we will see times when the defense slips. Linebackers will miss coverages. The pass rush won't be as lethal.

This isn't a repeat of 2008 and 2009's nation leading defense. This is a less scary monster, perhaps a top 20 defense instead of top three.

Unfortunately for the Gators, that could be the difference in a top 15 overall ranking and a third overall ranking.

Only time will tell whether or not sensible Jay or Gator Jay was right. Either way, it could be worse.

A top 15 ranking as the worst case scenario is a pretty good position to be in. I'm sure Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State fans would love to be in that position.