Before I get to the grading, I would like to extend a big thank you to the group of LSU fans that welcomed myself and a friend into their tailgate on Saturday. So, for Wes from Ft. Walton Beach, FL; John Bryn and Strawberry from the Krewe'd Awakening crew; and anyone else whose name I forgot, Thank You Very Much.
Now, on to the grading.
The Gators have gotten through the first half of their season and now have a bye week before going through the easier half of their schedule.
This is as fair a grade I could give Tim Tebow for his season so far. The reigning Heisman winner has been under the biggest and brightest microscope of any college football player in recent memory, if ever.
Tebow hasn't put up the numbers like he did a year ago, but the Gators are playing better football as a team this season, which is better for the big picture—an SEC title and possible national championship.
Running Backs: A
For a group hit hard by injuries to Emmanuel Moody, Kestahn Moore, and now Chris Rainey, an A grade is well earned. Rainey and Jeff Demps have given the Gators a solid 1-2 speed punch that will continue to churn out yards in bunches until the power backs (Moore and Moody) can play back to pre-injury form.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
This group has been solid but not spectacular this year, dealing with a number of players battling injuries. Aaron Hernandez has filled in extremely well at tight end in place of Cornelius Ingram. Percy Harvin has played pretty well despite missing a game and parts of others.
The rest of the receiving corps hasn't made the huge plays they're capable of just yet, but with the way the Gator running game has been clicking lately, there's no reason to throw the ball.
Offensive Line: B
When a team is averaging 404.3 yards and 38.5 points per game, they probably have a decent O-line giving the skill players time to do their thing. The Gator O-line is no exception.
After a number of injuries, the line is starting to mesh with the rest of the offense. They were pushed around in the Miami game, and it really showed. The O-line that showed up Saturday night against LSU was light years beyond the one from the Miami game, which will benefit them in the second half of the season.
Defensive Line: B+
Can a defensive line lose Derrick Harvey to the NFL Draft and get better? Yes, it can. A lot of the success of this year's Gator D-line can be attributed to new D-line coach Dan McCarney.
Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders have complemented Matt Pachen at the tackle position, and the ends, led by Carlos Dunlap, have accounted for 12.5 of the 15 sacks so far this season.
They have also played sound technique football on defense, and it showed Saturday, as they limited Charles Scott to only 17 yards rushing before he more than doubled his output to 35 yards on the last play of the game. He had been averaging over 130 per game.
The linebackers have been paced by leading tackler and anchor of the defense Brandon Spikes, who turned in an All-American performance Saturday against LSU. A.J. Jones has grown up this year and become a presence on defense rather than a liability. Dustin Doe has been injured, along with Ryan Stamper, but Brandon Hicks has filled in well with 15 tackles.
Defensive Backs: B+
The group that was once the big question mark has evolved into a pretty formidable unit, complementing the Gator front seven. Sophomore Joe Haden is leading the DBs in tackles with 37, and he has laid some heavy hits at various points this season.
Freshman Janoris Jenkins has played his way into the starting lineup and has been able to come up with some big plays, including a drive-killing pick against Tennessee.
Major Wright, despite a game-costing blown coverage, has played far better than last season, and he has showed some big play capabilities too with a pick-six against Hawaii. Ahmad Black has played solid football and adds a strong presence in the run defense.
Special Teams: A-
Except for one ill-timed extra point attempt, the special teams unit has been outstanding: two blocked kicks and two punt return TDs, and Brandon James is averaging 20 yards a punt return and nearly 30 a kick return. Chas Henry is averaging 44 yards a punt and has not had any blocked. Gator kicker Jonathan Phillips is 9-9 on field goal tries.
Special teams change momentum, and it could not be any truer than for Florida this season.
Offensive Surprise Player
Defensive Surprise Player
Best Case Scenario for the Remainder of the Regular Season
Gators run the table, finish 11-1, and play for the SEC Championship and a shot at a possible National Title.
Biggest Game left on the schedule
Nov. 1 vs. Georgia in Jacksonville
Biggest trap game left on the schedule
Oct. 25 vs. Kentucky in Gainesville. Major letdown possibility.
Worst Case Scenario for the Remainder of the Regular Season:
The Gators lose to Georgia, then Vanderbilt and get knocked out of SEC contention, and go bowling in Orlando, again.