Florida Football: Will The Gators Be Back on Top in 2011?
Prior to this season, I made a number of predictions regarding the Florida Gators' football team.
I think I was wrong on every single one. I expected a "down year" of two to three losses. But I was sure that this team was definitely better than the 2007 squad.
That obviously isn't true.
If the 2010 Florida Gators will be remembered at all, it will be as one of the three worst teams since 1990. With two games left, they could easily hold the dubious title of "worst" outright.
Some of Florida's problems were obvious prior to the season's opening kickoff. The Gators don't have a consistent playmaker at receiver, and the defense is probably a year away from being championship ready.
However, the complete ineptitude from the quarterback position is a shocker.
I was not on board the "John Brantley will be better than Tim Tebow" bandwagon. I wasn't even sure if he could match Tebow's passing output, much less Tebow's overall offensive game.
I did not expect Brantley to be the worst Gators quarterback since the Gators' rise to national prominence.
Deflect the blame if you want, but the fact remains that compared to Tebow, Brantley has thrown 38 percent of the touchdowns and 160 percent of the interceptions, at only 10 fewer pass attempts than Tebow's worst season as a starter.
Don't even bother comparing Brantley to Tebow's 2007 or 2008 seasons. You'll only get depressed.
Granted, comparing Brantey to Tebow at all may be unfair. Tebow was the greatest Florida Gator of all time, and he's one of the greatest players in NCAA history.
Unfortunately for Brantley, his numbers don't even hold up next to the previous worst Gator quarterback, Jesse Palmer. In Palmer's senior season, he was frequently pulled by Spurrier and eventually replaced with Rex Grossman.
Despite the limited playing time, Palmer still managed 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
With two games remaining, Brantley has thrown eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. With Florida facing one of the top pass rushes in the nation this week, there's a good chance that Brantley further lowers his TD/INT ratio below the awful 1:1 mark.
Brantley is not the only underwhelming aspect of the Gators' team this year. The offensive line may be worse at pass protection this year than the 2009 unit, which gave up an astounding 30 sacks.
The defensive line has seen a drop off in production that is nearly as drastic as the quarterback position. In fact, the only group that seems to be on par with the Gators' play over the last few years are the defensive backs.
So the question is, can the Gators turn it around quickly? From 2007 to 2008, the Gators went from a four-loss defensive disaster to one of the greatest, most dominant teams in modern SEC history.
Can the transition from 2010 to 2011 match the same goal?
I say no, for the following three reasons.
Florida Doesn't Have a Tim Tebow-type Player
Tim Tebow is the only Heisman winner in the last 10 years from outside of a top 10 team.
He was also the first sophomore winner, which set off a chain reaction leading to three consecutive sophomore winners. He is also the only player in NCAA history to run for 20 touchdowns and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season.
And, assuming Cam Newton joins him in this club, making it only half as exclusive, the only player to run for 20 touchdowns and pass for 30 touchdowns in a season.
Under Tebow's leadership, Florida consistently led the SEC in rushing, points scored and third-down efficiency. He was the very definition of a game changer.
Right now, the Gators don't have a single player who is remotely as effective as Tebow. In fact, there isn't even a group of players as effective as Tebow was by himself.
I won't rehash Brantley's shortcomings, instead focusing on the rest of the three–headed quarterback attack. Burton looks promising as a Wildcat/H-back/full-back/tight end/wide receiver/everybacker, but he cannot throw the football (or at least Urban Meyer has not allowed him to throw the football).
Jordan Reed is less impressive in his role as a tight end. But has shown an array of skills as a dual-threat quarterback.
Still, he's nowhere near Tebow.
Jeff Driskel looks promising. He reminds me of Andrew Luck or Christian Ponder's body type and playing style, which would work well in Urban Meyer's offense.
However, it's impossible to say how an incoming freshman will fare against college athletes. Without an elite veteran player on offense, I don't see the Gators moving back to the top so soon.
Addazio Is Still Calling the Plays
Aside from Brantley, the other main culprit for the offense's struggles is the offensive coordinator/O-line coach, Steve Addazio.
Addazio has become the Gators' jack-of-all-trades and master of ineptitude. In a sort of anti-Midas touch, everything he lays his hands on this year crumbles into uselessness.
In the two years he's led the offense, his old unit has turned into a shell of itself. Last year, the offensive line was awful.
The Gators were able to survive thanks to the talent elsewhere on both sides of the ball. This year, that talent has moved on, and the offensive line's struggles have actually affected the outcomes of games.
The play-calling has been equally bad. "Time to dive!" is the Gators' call to battle.
Again, last year, Tebow was able to cover up most of the deficiencies. Whatever he did not make up for, the defense was able to make irrelevant.
This year, the play-calling affects the outcomes of games. Florida was only able to put up seven points against Mississippi State at home.
Then, against South Carolina, the Gators offense managed zero relevant points, only scoring once the game was out of hand and with the backup quarterback.
Meyer has already stated that Addazio was coming back. This could just be Meyer not throwing his guy under the bus during the season, but I believe he means it.
Addazio will be back next year, and the offense will be more of the same.
The Young Players Have Not Stepped Up on Offense
This season was supposed to be a breakout year for somebody.
Instead, it's been a showcase of what happens when you lose your best receivers and don't replace them. The top two receivers have 548 yards and 345 yards, respectively.
The best young receiver (a sophomore or less), Frankie Hammond Jr., has 261 yards. No receiver expected to return next year has shown signs of growth that would lead to high expectations for next year.
It should be said that there's no way to accurately judge how the receivers have progressed with Florida's problems at quarterback. Still, Florida's lack of a deep threat is part of the reason that Brantley can't seem to find the end zone.
None of the freshmen, with the exception of Trey Burton, have seen significant playing time. Only Andre Debose from the prior class has showed any real promise (and he spends more time injured than Percy Harvin did).
Florida needs the youth to step up and live up to their lofty recruiting rankings.
Otherwise, the Gators will be in the same spot they are right now next year.
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