2010 College Football Predictions: Florida Gators' Rivals Last Chance
Since Urban Meyer's arrival at Florida, the Gators' three natural rivals—Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida State—have only managed to win one out of 15 games against the Gators.
That one loss came at the hands of Georgia in 2007, by a score of 42-30. The Bulldogs used the win as a launching pad to a Sugar Bowl victory and a preseason No. 1 ranking in 2008.
Other than that, Florida's rivals have had no luck knocking the Gators down.
Much of that was due to the class that gave the Gators guys like Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes.
But those guys are now gone.
In what many believe is a transition year for the Gators, is this their rivals' best, and perhaps only, shot to take down Florida for the next few seasons?
After this season, John Brantley will have a full season under his belt and that vaunted 2010 recruiting class will have their wings in the coming seasons.
Let's take a look.
Florida has obviously lost a lot of talent from last year's squad, so its rivals will have to capitalize on the lack of experience to take down the Gators.
Here are the biggest areas the rivals will look to exploit:
Quarterback: John Brantley replaces Tim Tebow.
Tebow was one of the game's biggest emotional leaders in quite some time. He also provided a bruising running style not associated with the quarterback position.
Tebow was a legend, but Brantley is no slouch. He has the prototypical arm that scouts drool over and will transition this Florida offense into a more wide-open attack.
The biggest question is how he will respond from an experience and leadership standpoint.
Tight End: Jordan Reed/Omarius Hines replace Aaron Hernandez
Word is the Gators are giving WR Hines a shot at playing tight end. He stands 6'2" and weighs 220, with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash.
Reed has also seen time at tight end. He was recruited as a quarterback.
Both of these guys provide some athleticism, but it remains to be seen if they can be the next Hernandez, who was the ultimate safety valve for Florida.
Teams will probably have a much easier time shutting down these guys than they did Hernandez.
Defensive Line: The unit is stacked with incoming talent, but because they are all freshmen, there is no telling how long it will take for any or all of them to make an impact.
They will have to replace Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham.
Omar Hunter and Justin Trattou will have to step up huge to usher in the new era.
Linebacker: Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper are gone.
A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks have solidified their starting roles. The battle for middle linebacker is neck-and-neck between Jon Bostic and Janoris Jenkins.
All of these guys have talent, but their transition will be key to the defense's success.
The Secure Areas: Though it is debatable which of the previous areas will become strengths (or weaknesses), these are the positions that will undoubtedly be fine for Florida.
The offensive line returns four starters and Mike Pouncey will replace his brother at center.
The defensive backs showcase Will Hill, Ahmad Black and Janoris Jenkins. This could be one of the strongest areas of the team, with DB guru Teryl Austin as new defensive coordinator.
The running backs return key weapons Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey (who will see a lot of time in the slot), Emmanuel Moody, and Mike Gillislee. With Tebow gone, these guys will get their chance to shine.
2011 and beyond: The reason this season will be key is Florida's highly touted recruiting class will have a year under its belt, as will Brantley as a starter.
The time is now for Florida's rivals to pounce on a transitional period.
Here's a look at what they have to do.
2005: Florida 16 - Tenn 7
2006: Florida 21 - Tenn 20
2007: Florida 59 - Tenn 20
2008: Florida 30 - Tenn 6
2009: Florida 23 - Tenn 13
This season: Week 3 @ Tenn
Keys to Tenn victory: The Vols will be led by new coach Derek Dooley, so a lot will depend on how they respond to him, and how quickly.
Home-field advantage can never be discounted in college football.
The team had a lot of attrition in the wake of Lane Kiffin's abrupt departure, so the Vols may have a lot of weaknesses to overcome.
Eric Berry and Dan Williams were key losses for the Vols' defense that kept Florida's offense in check last year. A bigger loss may be Monte Kiffin.
Chances: A lot of people think Tenn will be terrible this season because they have so many holes. They will be better than people think, but won't have enough to beat the Gators. 33 percent
2005: Florida 14 - Georgia 10
2006: Florida 21 - Georgia 14
2007: Georgia 42 - Florida 30
2008: Florida 49 - Georgia 10
2009: Florida 41 - Georgia 17
This season: Oct. 30 (Week 8) in Jacksonville
What Georgia needs to do: As the only one of these rivals to pull off a win against Meyer, Georgia pulled out all the stops to get there.
The storming the field is one thing Meyer still hasn't forgotten, so Georgia will not be able to pull any underdog tactics to catch Florida off-guard.
Georgia may be playing to save Mark Richt's job, if you believe the rumors. This is one win that might be enough to do that.
The key is finding a QB to get A.J. Green the ball.
Like Tennessee, I think Georgia will be better than a lot of people think this year.
If they aren't maybe someone else will be implemented to try to defeat Meyer.
Chances: Georgia has a decent chance to pull this one off. Saving Richt should be a lot of motivation, as should the previous two blowouts. Georgia has to prove a few things to make this happen, though. Right now: 40 percent
2005: Florida 34 - FSU 7
2006: Florida 21 - FSU 14
2007: Florida 45 - FSU 12
2008: Florida 45 - FSU 15
2009: Florida 37 - FSU 10
This season: Nov. 27 @ FSU
What FSU needs to do: The key to this game is obviously Christian Ponder. He was hurt and did not play in last year's game.
How the team responds to Jimbo Fisher is also important, but by the end of the season, any transitions should be settled.
This is the Noles' most dangerous team since Meyer took over, so they should have a very good shot at pulling off the upset (as of preseason rankings).
If not, Ponder is gone and Florida is that much stronger in 2011.
Chances: Home field advantage and Ponder's last game at Doak are huge. Ponder will probably play out of his mind to snap the losing streak. I see this as a highly competitive game and undoubtedly the best between the schools in some time. 60 percent
South Carolina: Only really a rival due to SEC East affiliation and Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks last defeated Florida in Meyer's first season, in 2005.
The game is in Gainesville and near the end of the season, which gives Florida's new starters plenty of time to get experience. The Gamecocks should be pretty good this year, but probably not good enough to knock off Florida.
LSU: Always a tough game for the Gators, this one could be very interesting.
Expect Les Miles to pull out all of his tricks this year to save his job, so some crazy things could happen.
It's in Gainesville, but comes a week after the Alabama game, so this one could be a trap game for the Gators, especially if they manage to beat the Tide.
Alabama: Perhaps the Gators' truest rivalry these days, at least in the sense of two great teams pounding each other back and forth.
After splitting the past two SEC Championships, these two finally get to square off in the regular season.
If Saban and Meyer stick around, someone needs to make this game happen every year.
This year, who knows? But Alabama is the defending champs and the game is in Tuscaloosa, so there you go.
How do you think Florida will fare against its rivals this year?
And, do you think this is their only chance for some time?