Saturday, August 22, 2009
Florida Gators Preview: Will They Go Undefeated?
In case you have not heard, the Florida Gators are the defending BCS Champions and they return just about everyone this year. Led by former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Florida is looking to repeat and this time with an undefeated season; something the Gators have failed to do in their three other national title seasons. To get a better look at the Gators, I asked Thomas Goldkamp who runs Florida Gator Stop and the SEC Sports Hub.
The Gators are a consensus number one, but they are not perfect. Where is the biggest weakness for this team?
There are two glaring weaknesses for this team despite all the projections that have the Gators in the BCS National Championship Game. The first, and the obvious one, is at the wide receiver position. Florida must find a way to replace all-world play maker Percy Harvin, as well as reliable senior Louis Murphy.
Harvin's play making ability will be irreplaceable, and the Gators will have to find different ways to accomplish everything that Harvin did by himself. Look to wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who has a similar skill set to Harvin and has really impressed in fall practice to fill the majority of Harvin's role as a receiver who can make plays after the catch.
Wide receiver Riley Cooper has also stepped up in a big way and will likely be the other go-to guy for the Gators. Cooper is one of the best down field blockers in the nation and the Gators got a huge boost when Cooper elected to return for his senior season despite signing a professional baseball contract with the Texas Rangers.
The second weakness, which isn't quite as pressing, is the offensive line. The Gators lost both starters at tackle, as well as a valuable contributor at guard. Replacing them won't be easy. Carl Johnson should step in seamlessly at guard and provide the Gators with one of the toughest interior offensive lines in the nation, along with Maurkice and Michael Pouncey.
Sophomore Matt Patchan has won the left tackle spot and Marcus Gilbert has locked down the right tackle spot. Experience will be at a premium for the unit, so the Gators could struggle early on up front offensively.
Fill in the blank for me. Tim Tebow has to _____ to become the greatest college football player of all time.
"continue to do what he has done for the past two seasons"
Tebow is on pace to etch himself forever into college football lore. Simply put, if Tebow continues to be as good as he has been the past two seasons, the Gators have enough talent elsewhere to win another National Championship. If he improves significantly in his final year, Tebow will likely have three National Championships and two Heisman Trophies to his name when he leaves Gainesville.
What changes are we going to see with new OC Steve Addazio?
Despite losing offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, the Gators' offense doesn't figure to change much under Steve Addazio. Play calling has always been a group affair under Urban Meyer and that won't change this year. The Gators will have to adjust to having a different guy in the press box giving looks from up top.
In addition to a joint play calling effort, another thing that will negate changes in the Gators offense is the fact that it is very much personnel driven. The Gators will likely look a bit more traditional in the 2009 season as a result of the loss of Percy Harvin. Without Harvin, the Gators are likely to look like a more traditional passing attack, though the option will still be a huge part of what the Gators do offensively.
Who is leading the tailback battle in practice thus far?
There really wasn't a "tailback battle" in practice so to speak. Urban Meyer traditionally dishes out carries according to how productive each player is, not whether or not they are the No. 1 guy in a spot. Jeffery Demps is undoubtedly the "starter" at tailback, though several players will get touches throughout the year.
Chris Rainey has added a decent amount of weight and should receive significantly more touches this year to help replace some of Harvin's touches. Emmanuel Moody could develop into a short yardage option if he can shake his injury problems. If not, look to see walk-on Chris Scott to be the short yardage guy for the Gators. Scott was extremely impressive in fall practice and runs with real purpose through the tackles.
Who is going to step up in the Percy Harvin role?
Simply put, there won't be one guy filling Harvin's role. As far as players that will likely be used in a similar capacity to Harvin, true freshman Andre Debose seems to fit the bill. Still, he has a lot of learning to do and he's nowhere near ready enough to replace the impact that Harvin had.
Senior Brandon James should spend more time this year as a slot receiver, helping to fill that aspect of Harvin's role. Deonte Thompson and Riley Cooper will help to replace the deep threat that Harvin offered in the passing game. Finally, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will see an increased workload to make up for Harvin's absence running the ball.
All 11 starters return on defense, but if there was one area defensively Florida could improve on what would it be?
The weakness for the Gators defensively has been and will continue to be the center of the defensive line. Everywhere else, Florida is loaded with defensive talent and depth to boot. However, several recruiting gems at defensive tackle have turned out to be busts over the past few years and it leaves the Gators with the most question marks there.
Lawrence Marsh will continue to hold down one of the starting defensive tackle spots, but Terron Sanders is being pushed hard for the other starting spot by Jaye Howard. Howard is a significant improvement in my mind, and will likely win the starting job by mid season. Still, depth is an issue inside.
Urban Meyer is a well known for his recruiting abilities. Who are the top true freshman that could see significant action and who are the top red shirt freshman to get on the field this year?
First off, we'll tackle the offensive side of this question. Obviously, highly touted true freshman wide receiver Andre Debose is likely to have a big impact in his first year. Still, there will be a learning curve for him and he may not have the biggest impact offensively. True freshman tight end Desmond Parks is another guy to keep an eye on, as the Gators are pretty thin at tight end.
Two red shirt freshman to look out for on offense are wide receiver T.J. Lawrence and center Sam Robey. Robey could end up winning the starting center job at some point during the season, allowing Carl Johnson to move to tackle. While Lawrence isn't the popular pick as the red shirt freshman receiver to break out, he seems to have a better connection with Tim Tebow than does Frankie Hammond Jr, who seems to be the favorite target of backup quarterback John Brantley.
Defensively, a couple of linebackers stand out as the answer to this question. First, we'll talk about true freshmen Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. Bostic was on campus during the spring and has already made quite the name for himself. Meyer has already stated that he will not red shirt. Jenkins has similarly freakish athletic ability and should see some time as a true freshman this year.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Brendan Beal has recovered tremendously from a torn ACL and has looked absolutely dominant during the spring and early fall practice sessions. He has a natural nose for the ball and should be a key contributor during the 2009 season.
Florida-Florida State was arguably the best rivalry of the 90s. How did the Gators turn the rivalry so far in their favor?
The only real difference in this rivalry over the past few years is that the Gators have gotten better, while Florida State has stood still. Bobby Bowden's program seems to have stagnated, while Urban Meyer's recruiting and coaching have taken the Gators to new heights. I can't say I see the tide really turning in this one until Bowden retires and someone injects a new level of energy and enthusiasm into the Florida State program.
If the Gators are to lose a regular season game, where would you see it and why?
While many are pointing to LSU as the most likely loss on the schedule, I'll take a slightly different tack. The Gators have a bye before traveling to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers, and Urban Meyer has been remarkably good when playing following a bye in the regular season. Add to that that LSU goes to Georgia the week before and I think Florida will walk out with a win, even if it is a narrow one.
This situation is essentially reversed in Florida's matchup with Georgia this year. The Bulldogs will be coming off a bye, while the Gators will be coming off an emotional game against former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen in Starkville. Georgia has done well when playing after a bye, and they will have ample motivation to beat the Gators after an embarrassing 2008 loss.
What is your prediction for Florida this season?
My prediction for the Gators may be somewhat shocking, considering the somewhat glowing review I've given of Florida to this point. Florida has never gone undefeated, and I don't see that changing this year. While the Gators have unquestionably the best team with the least questions entering the season, that doesn't translate to wins.
Every team in the country will be gunning for the Gators and they will face every team's best effort. I think the Gators will have enough talent to beat the teams that could be considered "trap games," even if they don't show up with full focus. I think one team will come out and play well above their level to knock off the Gators this year. Whether that team is LSU, Georgia or another team that proves to be much better than most prognosticators would have thought, I don't know. Regular season prediction: 11-1 (7-1).
My Thoughts on Florida...
First, a very through review by Thomas. Florida comes into this season as the biggest favorite to repeat since USC in 2005. They got a huge boost when Tebow decided to return, but back up John Brantley may be better than half the starting QBs in the SEC this year! One area where Florida has struggled is finding a true running back that can continually pound out yards. Unless Moody steps up here, I think Meyer has to again rely more on speed and elusiveness to gain yards. The offensive line could also be a concern. In Florida's one loss last year, a really good Ole Miss defensive line really took it to Florida's front.
On the defensive side of the ball, this team is LOADED. All 11 starters return as do the top 15 tacklers from a year ago. The leader is MLB Brandon Spikes who turned down the NFL to come back for his senior season. The secondary was much improved last year with ball hawking safeties like Major Wright. I agree with Thomas that the interior defensive line is the only "weak point" here, but veteran defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has plenty of talent to work with to make this unit tops in the SEC and the nation.
Going undefeated is very tough and as talented as Florida, is the odds are against them. I agree the biggest test on paper looks to be in Baton Rouge on October 10th, but watch out for Georgia a few weeks later. As Thomas pointed out, Georgia has a bye week before while Florida plays at Mississippi State. UGA had a bye before their 2007 win while Florida played at Kentucky. Still, with one loss and an SEC Championship, the Gators should be playing for another BCS Championship in 2009.
11-1, 7-1, BCS Championship Game
Best Case Scenario: 12-0
Worst Case Scenario: 10-2
BCS Championship 2/1 (favorite)
SEC Championship 1/2 (favorite)
Win Total - 11
Thanks again to Thomas for his insight. You can check him out at the Florida Gator Stop.