Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prelude to a Season... #1

#1.) Florida

What You Need to Know: Florida. Oh, Florida. Florida isn't sneaky. They aren't tricky. There are no hidden questions that will crop up as the year progresses. Florida is simply Florida. And the questions that are there, those that bring pause to folks wanting to declare them the favorite to lift a BCS Title come January, are well known. They aren't secretive. They will demand answers for the Gators to win Urban Meyer's second BCS crown at the school.

The question is one letter. D. If the Gators' defense performs even moderately well, the Gators will win the national championship. Take a moment... let that sink in. Not Ohio State. Not Georgia. Not USC, Oklahoma, BYU, Ball State, or anyone else. The only team that will prevent Florida from winning the championship will be Florida.

Anyone remotely knowledgeable about college football will tell you that last year's 9-4 team was significantly better than 9-4 on the offensive side of the ball. Undefeated? A National Title? Probably not. But certainly better than the 9-4 record indicates. Most of those same people will tell you that the defense, and specifically the secondary, were responsible for an overwhelming majority of the reasons for the "4" and truthfully, played a whole lot worse than 9-4.

Florida, usually known for a bruising high-speed defense, forced only 11 INTs and 20 total turnovers on their way to being ranked 98th out of 119 in pass defense and 6th in the nation in penalties. The line gave no pressure, the secondary didn't cover, and the tackles weren't hard enough to force drops or fumbles. What made the matter worse was that opponents converted nearly 42% of their third downs. That means by the end of the game, you have a defense that is overworked, winded, and tired... that was mediocre to begin with. Another defensive performance like that and the Gators will be fighting for 3rd in the SEC East.

But it's not all Hemlock Tea with a side of anti-freeze in Gainesville. The Gators return 16 starters, including Heisman Trophy winner and circumcisor extraordinaire, Tim Tebow. That's right... Tebow spent his time away from football cutting off Thai foreskins. Jesus. F'ing. Christ. Verne Lunquist's head just exploded.

Tebow. Tebow! TEBOW! AIGIGHHGG

Anyone who has seen Tebow play knows he completely changes the defensive gameplan and is a threat unlike any other in college football. Hard throwing, hard running, hard hitting, and built like a baby gorilla, Tebow provides consistent leadership and performance to an offense in need of firepower to overcome their defensive counterparts. Tebow doesn't do it alone, though, as a slew of talented backs and receivers pace Meyer's spread attack. All are Florida fast, and all have the potential to outrun nearly any coverage in the country. The offensive line returns three starters who drove the Gators to the third-best rushing attack in the conference at nearly 200 ypg.

On the aforementioned defensive side, nothing is set. Even junior MLB Brandon Spikes has to come into his own and improve his level of play. And this was a young man who earned All-SEC honors last year as the league's second-leading tackler. Spikes needs to find his leadership role on this defense, and along with coordinator Charlie Strong, perform like the talent on the two-deep indicates. The secondary, the unit most gashed last season, is a year older, and hopefully for Florida, a year better. They've had 6 months to smart after a solid ass kicking at the hands of Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, where the Gators gave up 524 yards of offense. This defense has to prove itself, and assuming they do, watch out.

The schedule for Florida is tough but manageable. Unlike their SEC East and Top 5 brethren Georgia, the Gators do not have an out of conference game against a tough opponent. Their 4 OOC games (Hawaii, Miami, Citadel, @Florida State) are all winnable. Critical SEC opponent LSU comes to the Swamp, but most troubling are road games (if you count Jacksonville as a road game) against Tennessee and Georgia. Huge games. Must wins.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Tim Tebow: 3286 pass yds, 32 pass TD, 895 rush yds, 23 rush TD
RB Percy Harvin: 764 rush yds, 6 rush TD, 59 rec, 858 yds, 4 rec TD
MLB Brandon Spikes: 131 tkls, 16 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 FR, 1 FF

Game To Watch:
While Florida hopes to win the National Championship they must first win the SEC Championship. And before doing that, they must win the SEC East. Two games are must win for the Gators... September 20th at Tennessee and November 1st against Georgia in Jacksonville.

They'll Do Well If...: Like several other teams in this Top 25, defense is the key for the Gators this year. A performance like last year will have them out of the title hunt before the season really kicks into high gear. If the defense can step up, force turnovers, hold teams on 3rd downs, and provide even moderately decent pass coverage, this team will be a special one.

Season Outlook: The Gators begin this season as the team to beat in this blog's poll. The UT game on 9/20 will tell the world all they need to know about this Florida team. A win means it's a very real possibility that when the Gators and Georgia meet it could be #1 vs. #2, with the winner in the driver's seat for the national championship. Look for Florida to drop a game in conference in the regular season, but rebound to take the SEC Title, and defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS Title Game. Final Record: 13-1

1 comment:

Brewdog said...

As a Gator fan, I say thank-you for this insightful analysis. I'm going to go put on my Tebow jersey and jorts right now and enjoy the merciless shellacking that we're about to lay on Hawaii.