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2010 NCAA Preview: Florida Gators

Florida Gators In A Nutshell

Finally! I’m getting down & dirty with the best conference in all of football & leading off with the Florida Gators! This year is very interesting year in the history of Florida football. They are coming off a 4-year span that saw them win 2 national championships, win 2 SEC championships and play in 3 SEC championship games. That 4-year period saw the Gators accumulate a record of 48-7 which is damn near ridiculous! But with that kind of success comes mass exodus as collegiate players are around for a maximum of 4 playing years. Florida is coming out of the Tim Tebow Era. Tebow, who may be the greatest college football player to ever lace them up won’t be easy to replace. Neither will the 10 other starters lost including 8 other NFL Draft picks. The ending to the Tebow Era was an odd one as well. Tebow won a championship as a freshman, won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, another championship as a junior, but neither as a senior. The 2009 season went according to play as Florida cruised to a 12-0 record, but a 32-13 beat down at the hands of Alabama in the SEC Championship game was a hard pill to swallow and Florida took it out on a Brian Kelly-less Cincinnati team to the tune of 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl. The season ended with Urban Meyer talking retirement because of health reasons which turned out to be esophageal spasms. A medical disaster averted, Meyer returned to the sidelines.

All of that taken together is………..odd. It’s not like Meyer didn’t win at Utah & Bowling Green, but with the talent he had assembled, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume most coaches could have won big. Maybe not 2 national championships, but Tebow wasn’t going to be denied at least one. It’ll be interesting to see how this team works going forward.

Offensively I don’t think Florida will be much different even without Tebow under center. New QB John Brantley is typically considered a much better conventional QB than Tebow was which means Meyer will probably go back to an offense similar to what he ran at Utah with Alex Smith. Meyer will also rely on his runners Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody more instead of bull rushing Tebow up the middle. They do lose Riley Cooper at WR & Aaron Hernandez at TE, but TE Jordan Reed is getting rave reviews out of fall practice and could provide a nice new wrinkle to the offense as Reed is capable of playing a little QB. The offensive line should be one of the best if not the best line in the nation. Losing center Maurkice Pouncey is a blow, but the other 4 return including Maurkice’s brother Mike who is gearing up to also be a 1st round pick in the NFL Draft. It’ll certainly be a different offense because Brantley won’t run as often as Tebow did, but I think it has the potential to be an even better offense as it’ll be more versatile and Brantley might be a better pocket passer than Tebow was. If Brantley is even halfway decent this offense will be just fine.

Defensively the Gators take on some significant losses. They lose LBs Brandon Spikes & Ryan Stamper. They lose DEs Carlos Dunlap & Jermaine Cunningham along with CB Joe Haden & FS Major Wright. Spikes & Haden were 1st team All-Americans. Dunlap & Cunningham were 1st team All-SEC. Stamper led the Gators in tackles while Major Wright was a 3rd round selection in the NFL Draft! You simply can’t replace that kind of talent easily no matter how great your recruiting classes have been over the years. Obviously Florida will have uber-talented players replacing the departed, but they aren’t going to step in & produce at all-conference levels right away. Florida still has Janoris Jenkins at CB who could be an All-American, but they’ll struggle everywhere else. They’ll be a bit weak in their front-7 or sure and might have difficulties getting a pass rush. I don’t think they are weak necessairly simply because Meyer knows what he’s doing and the players have unlimited ability, but this is definitely a rebuilding year defensively for the Gators.

Florida’s schedule isn’t fantastic. There are many landmines they’ll have to avoid to get back into the national championship picture. Meyer will need a few games to get a feel for how everyone will perform and he gets that with his first 4 games coming against Miami-OH, South Florida, Kentucky & Tennessee. They travel to Knoxville, and although I think the South Florida game is a potential loss, Florida should be 4-0 before they hit the tough part of their schedule. After Kentucky they play Alabama & LSU in back to back games followed by Mississippi St. & Georgia. All are games Florida could potentially lose. After the trip to Jacksonville, they’ll play Vanderbilt in Nashville before coming home to face South Carolina & Appalachian St. If this really is the year SC breaks through, then that game won’t be any picnic. They end the year on the road in Tallahassee against the Seminoles who are frothing at the mouth to beat Florida for the first time in the Meyer Era. That’s a tough schedule and I can’t really even hammer Florida for their OOC schedule as they play both South Florida & Florida St. They have a tough road ahead of them.

BOTTOM LINE: Best case for Florida is 12-0 while the worst case is an unimaginable 5-7! I can’t possibly see Florida losing 7 games and if you put the over/under on wins at 9, I’d take the over, but there are certainly some possibilities for a brutal season. South Florida returns 10 starters on offense. I don’t think they can get into a scoring match with Florida and win especially in Gainesville, but BJ Daniels is a dynamic QB who could make some things happen for the Bulls. It’s also no stretch to think Florida St. will beat Florida in Tallahassee. A lot of pundits think they will. As for the SEC? It ain’t easy! I can’t see Florida beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa while LSU, South Carolina & Georgia have the talent to beat a Florida team in somewhat of a transition. This is a very interesting time in Florida football history. The Gators will be one of the more interesting teams to follow this season as they enter the post-Tim Tebow Era.

Head Coach: Urban Meyer: 57-10 at Florida, 6th season as HC
Last Season
: 12-1 (1st Place SEC East)
Bowl Game
: Defeated Cincinnati 51-24 in Sugar Bowl
Last 3 Seasons
: 35-6
Last 5 Seasons
: 57-10
Last 10 Seasons: 100-30
Last 5 Bowl Games
: 4-1
AP/BCS National Championships
: 3 (2008, 2006, 1996)
Experience Level for 2010
: 10th most experienced team in SEC (#111 in NCAA)
Turnover Margin
: +7
NFL Draft Choices
: 9 (CB Joe Haden-1st Rd; OC Maurkice Pouncey-1st Rd; QB Tim Tebow-1st Rd; DE Jermaine Cunningham-2nd Rd; DE Carlos Dunlap-2nd Rd; LB Brandon Spikes-2nd Rd; FS Major Wright-3rd Rd; TE Aaron Hernandez-4th Rd; WR Riley Cooper-5th Rd)

What a time for Florida. They lost a ton of players to the NFL, but more importantly the Gators lost arguably the greatest college football player in the history of the game. The shadow that Tim Tebow cast over the University of Florida was gigantic, and it won’t be easily replaced. Tebow leaves Florida having been a part of 2 National Champions, a 3-1 bowl record, a Heisman Trophy, and 3 top-5 finishes in the Heisman vote. Tebow should have won at least 2 Heisman trophies. Maybe three. He gave possibly the greatest speech ever by a college football player after a loss to Mississippi which led to a national championship. He’s getting a statue which he certainly deserves.

With all that said, something was missing from the Tebow Era. Instead of Tebow leaving the college landscape on top, he left vanquished by the University of Alabama and Urban Meyer left the 2009 season with chest pain and retirement on his lips! Meyer’s chest pains were nothing more than esophageal spasms which of course led his un-retirement with the assurance that his problems were not cardiovascular in nature.

Now what’s most interesting about Florida heading into 2010 is that Florida has an almost entirely new squad. They return only 11 starters and are the 10th least experienced team in the nation. It’s obvious Urban Meyer has been an incredible recruiter in Gainesville. Florida doesn’t rebuild but reloads. Even still, when Meyer took over for Ron Zook, he took over a solid core of players that Meyer used to win a national championship in 2006. He lost quite a bit in 2007 but came back to win yet another national championship on the back of Tim Tebow in 2008. That same formula was supposed to work in 2009, but what Florida & Urban Meyer didn’t count on was Nick Saban leaving the Miami Dolphins and returning to the University of Alabama.

Now the interesting part is that Meyer is back in 2010 in a situation he had in 2007 after the ’06 national championship. In essence Florida is rebuilding although a rebuilding year for Florida will 11-2 or 10-3. The other odd part is that it’s difficult to separate Meyer from Tim Tebow. Meyer did win in 2006, but essentially with Zook’s guys. The then road the back of possibly the greatest college football player ever to 3 great years including another national championship. While it is true that Meyer had massive success at Bowling Green & Utah, it’s certainly a different animal winning championships in the SEC.

Meyer’s proving period isn’t quite over just yet, which means the real fun in the Swamp could be just beginning.

FLORIDA OFFENSE

Returns: 66.6% of rushing yards, 12.4% of passing yards, 24.5% of receiving yards
PPG: 35.9 (2nd in SEC)

Rushing Offense: 222ypg (2nd in SEC)

Passing Offense: 236ypg (2nd in SEC)

Total Offense: 458ypg (1st in SEC)

Starters Lost

QB Tim Tebow: 67.8%, 2,895yards, 21TD, 5INT, 910yards, 14TD, 4.2ypc
WR Riley Cooper: 51rec, 961yards, 9TD

WR David Nelson: 25rec, 291yards, 2TD

TE Aaron Hernandez: 68rec, 850yards, 5TD

OC Maurkice Pouncey: 14 starts, 1st Team All-American

Returning Starters

RB Jeff Demps/JR: 745yards, 7TD, 7.5ypc, 8rec, 52yards
WR Deonte Hernandez/JR: 24rec, 343yards, 4TD

RG Mike Pouncey/SR: 14 starts, 2nd Team All-American

LT Carl Johnson/SR: 14 starts

RT Marcus Gilbert/SR: 14 starts

The QB situation at Florida is really interesting. On the one hand Florida loses arguably the greatest college football player in the history of college football, but most observers think incoming starter John Brantley is a better “conventional” QB. Brantley is in his 4th year in Meyer’s system. He used a redshirt year although he was one of the most highly sought after QBs in his HS class. Last season he saw limited time but completed 75% of his passes with 7TD and 0INT. With Brantley under center now, Florida will run more of a conventional spread offense utilizing more of a passing game than a smash mouthed style of football used with Tim Tebow at QB. All signs point to Brantley stepping in & dominating. If that happens then don’t expect much rebuilding.

Florida doesn’t lose a ton within the skill positions. They bring back all their running backs led by Jeff Demps who is one of the fastest runners in college football. Demps is just a junior and in his first two seasons at Florida averaged 7.6ypc which obscene. Demps isn’t huge at 5’8/184lbs, but if he can stay healthy, take a pounding and the bell cow for Florida, they’ll have a ridiculous weapon in the same mold as a Dion Lewis & Noel Devine. Behind Demps is Emmanuel Moody who averaged 6.5ypc last year. The runners will have a huge impact on the offense. Florida does lose Riley Cooper & Aaron Hernandez as receivers which is a big loss, but Carl Moore & Deonte Thompson return who have a lot of experience. Chris Rainey should be the #3 receiver while redshirt freshman Jordan Reed takes over for Hernandez. Moore & Thompson were big time recruits who haven’t lived up to the hype just yet. They need to. Freshman Chris Dunkley, Adrian Coxson & Quinton Dunbar are ready to pick up the mantle.

Florida’s offensive line returns intact outside of 1st Team All American Maurkice Pouncey who was a 1st round draft pick. Maurkice’s brother Mike will take over at center while new starter James Wilson takes over at RG. LG Carl Johnson, RT Marcus Gilbert & OC Mike Pouncey are all centers while Wilson is a junior. Xavier Nixon returns at LT after 5 starts there last year as a true freshman. It’s a big line averaging 6’5/320lbs with a significant history of being fantastic run blockers. They need to protect better (30 sacks allowed last year) with Brantley under center instead of Tebow. Pouncey was a 2nd Team All-American last year. This season, Pouncey, LG Johnson & LT Nixon will fight for all-conference honors. It’s one of the top-5 O-Lines in the country and arguably the best in the nation.

Offensive dominance certainly starts with the big uglies up front and the Gators are fine in that regard. Frankly, if Brantley is solid under center then Florida won’t show any signs of weakness on offense. To be sure, there will be a different Florida offense, but still an effective if not deadly one.

FLORIDA DEFENSE

Returns: 45.2% of tackles, 31.1% of sacks, 47.6% of tackles for loss, 41.3% of pbu, 40% of int
PPG: 12.4 (2nd in SEC)

Rushing Defense: 100ypg (2nd in SEC)

Passing Defense: 153ypg (1st in SEC)
Total Defense: 253ypg (2nd in SEC)

Starters Lost

DE Carlos Dunlap: 38tkl, 9sks, 1.5tfl, 6pbu
DE Jermaine Cunningham: 34tkl, 7sks, 5tfl

LB Brandon Spikes: 68tkl, 3sks, 3.5tfl, 3pbu, 2int

LB Ryan Stamper: 78tkl, 1.5sks, 4tfl, 1pbu, 2int

CB Joe Haden: 68tkl, 3sks, 2tfl, 10pbu, 4int

FS Major Wright: 32tkl, 2pbu, 3int

Returning Starters

DT Omar Hunter/SO: 17tkl, 2tfl
DT Jaye Howard/JR: 29tkl, 1.5sks, 1.5tfl

LB AJ Jones/SR: 37tkl, 3sks, 1.5tfl, 2pbu, 3int
CB Janoris Jenkins/JR: 38tkl, 3tfl, 6pbu, 2int

SS Ahmad Black/SR: 70tkl, 1sks, 1.5tfl, 5pbu, 1int

Florida loses a pair of outstanding DEs in Jermaine Cunningham & Carlos Dunlap. Both were 1st team All-SEC last year and both were 2nd round draft picks in the 2010 NFL Draft. It certainly won’t be easy to replace that kind of production, but Justin Trattou & William Green will try. Both were highly recruited players, but neither has produced much to date. They are both about 6’3/250lbs which is a bit on the small side. Dunlap for example was 6’6/290lbs which is ridiculous size for a DE. DTs Omar Hunter & Jaye Howard are returning starters. Hunter is 6’3/307lbs while Howard is 6’3/295lbs. Solid size in the middle for a 4-3 scheme. The production should fall off a bit although Hunter & Howard should be very solid up the middle. Florida won’t have as good a pass rush, but what could be more interesting is who Florida has coming in to play DE. Ronald Powell is the best D-Lineman in the ’10 Class. He won’t sit that’s for sure. Dominique Easley & Lynden Trail could be really interesting. Trail is 6’7/220lbs.

Florida takes significant hits with their LBs corps too. Out is both Brandon Spikes & Ryan Stamper. Stamper was Florida’s leading tackler last season while Spikes was nothing but a 1st Team All-American and 2nd round draft pick of the New England Patriots. Senior AJ Jones returns as the SAM linebacker. Jones is 6’1/230lbs with some speed who can drop back into coverage while still covering the run. MLB Jonathan Bostick & WLB Jelani Jenkins are highly touted players who are coming into the starting rotation although they are both really young. Bostick is a true sophomore and Jenkins is a redshirt freshman. It’s a talented bunch, but pretty young.

The secondary takes a few hits too. Gone are CB Joe Haden & FS Major Wright. Both were exceptional playmakers that went in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft. Haden was a first round pick as a CB so you can be sure Florida will see a bit of a dropoff. CB Janoris Jenkins returns & he was pretty special in his own right. A big year could see the junior vault up draft boards to be a 1st round NFL Draft pick. SS Ahmad Black also returns who was 2nd in tackling for the Gators a year ago. Black is a bit small at SS at 5’9/189lbs, but is a heavy hitter who isn’t afraid to mix it up with the biggest offensive players. FS Will Hill takes over for Major Wright and I don’t think there will be much dropoff. True freshman Joshua Brown could be the corner lining up with Jenkins. He’s exceptionally talented, but raw nonetheless. Despite the losses of Haden & Wright, there isn’t much wrong with this secondary. It should be one of the best in the nation.

You simply can’t take that many losses on defense and come back the same. Florida’s defense was simply outstanding last season and there will be some decline as Urban Meyer asks young, unproven albeit insanely talented players to fill the holes the departing NFL caliber players left. Florida reloads so the up & coming players will be future NFL draft picks in their own right, but experience does count for something and it’s not like the SEC is the MAC. Florida will have a solid defense, but it probably won’t be as good as it has been the last couple of seasons.

FLORIDA SCHEDULE

Miami-OH
South Florida

@Tennessee
Kentucky
@Alabama
LSU

Mississippi St.
BYE
Georgia (in Jacksonville, FL)
@Vanderbilt
South Carolina
Appalachian St.
@Florida St.

It’s not exactly an easy slate for the Gators. Getting Miami-OH in the opener is a pretty good game for Florida because they are going to have some wrinkles to iron out. As good as the Brantley hype is making the man out to be, it’s still his first time as the starting QB for a team that expects SEC championships. South Florida won’t be easy but it’s a home game. Opening up the SEC slate with games against Tennessee & Kentucky are solid and this first third of the season should see the Gators go 4-0.

The middle 4 games are no picnic. While Florida might have a little revenge on their minds when they had to Tuscaloosa, they aren’t the same team that lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship game in 2009. That game in my opinion might be almost impossible for Florida to win. They then get LSU & Mississippi St. in back to back home games. LSU has the talent to win, but I don’t think they do. Florida traveled to Starkville last season as 21 point favorites and only beat the Bulldogs by 10 in a 29-19 affair. I’m not saying Mississippi St. can win in Gainesville, but it’s a homecoming game for Dan Mullen and who knows Florida better than Mullen? The last game of the middle 4 is Georgia. Obviously the Bulldogs haven’t played well against Florida, but if UGA can figure out its QB situation, there is a good possibility that they can get an elusive win over the Gators.

Florida’s final 4 games aren’t any picnic either. South Carolina is a surprise pick for SEC East champions. You know the ol’ ball coach loves going back home to put a thumping on his alma mater so why not this year especially if Stephen Garcia finally meets expectations? The final regular season game is in Tallahassee where the Seminoles are thinking ACC Championship. Urban Meyer has never lost to Florida St. while being the HC at Florida. Jimbo Fisher wants to change that.

Florida’s schedule is rough! Meyer has a ton of work to do in those first 4 games because the final 8 are a minefield he’s going to have tread lightly upon if he wants to get back to the SEC Championship game with a shot at a BCS Championship. I don’t think he has to go 8-0 in the SEC to win the SEC East, but I’m not sure he can be worse than 6-2 and of course if Florida was 10-2 to end the season it would assuredly put them out of the national championship picture.

FLORIDA SUMMARY

Best case record for Florida is 12-0. Offensively the Gators lost QB Tim Tebow, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Riley Cooper & OC Maurkice Pouncey, but the rest of the team returns intact and it’s a talent laden team. Brantley might be a better conventional QB than Tebow was while at Florida. While Hernandez was a great pass catching TE, the talk in SEC camps is that new TE Jordan Reed might possibly be even more dangerous as his athleticism will allow him to play some Wildcat QB which gives the offense a little Tebow flair to go along with Brantley’s more conventional role. I simply don’t think Florida will have problems scoring

Worst case for Florida is a disastrous 5-7. I don’t think there is any chance of that happening, but if there is going to be a weakness to this Florida team it’ll be on defense in trying to bring along some younger unproven players. I could see Florida losing to South Florida. The Bulls return 10 starters on offense and QB BJ Daniels can make things happen. USF has their own problems on defense too and the game in the Swamp so it’s an unlikely loss for Florida, but we are talking worst case here. It’s not stretch to see Florida lose to Alabama and the home game against LSU won’t be easy either although Florida has a decisive coaching advantage when you pit Meyer against Miles. Georgia has 10 starters back on offense and could be sneaky good if their QB situation pans out. Losing to South Carolina & Florida St. are also real possibilities.

If you split the difference Florida wins up at 9-3, but I’d take the over on that. It’s a rebuilding year in Gainesville to be sure, but I think a 10-2 mark with a 7-1 conference record is most likely for Florida. I think they lose two road games to Alabama & Florida St., but they never lose to Georgia under Meyer and their only other conference road games are against Vanderbilt & Tennessee. Florida won’t lose those games. The 10-2 mark puts Florida back into the SEC title game where they will likely play Alabama for the 3rd straight year. If they get to 11-2 then they obviously will represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl. If they drop to 10-3, then it’s entirely possible for them to miss out on the BCS all together.

I think you’ll see more Florida v.2007 than Florida v.2008-09 this season.

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August 12, 2010 - Posted by | Florida, Previews

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