The Gators are back at work in Gainsville and so is Urban Meyer. The “return” of Urban Meyer was the first step in Florida’s recovery from a season that ended as a disappointment to most fans despite the 13 wins and the school’s second ever undefeated regular season. Despite the media reports of the contrary, Meyer was never really gone and I assumed he would be back to coach the upcoming season despite the retirement flip-flop/leave of absence he pulled days after the Gators dismantled the then undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl. Meyer never really missed a beat. He participated fully in spring practice and worked hard before that securing the nation’s top recruiting class. Now he is energized and recharged and ready to lead the Gators into a new era. The John Brantley era.
The Gators must replace All World Tim Tebow and 4 more starters on offense. That thought alone has many thinking the Gators are a long-shot to win the SEC, let alone the national title. However, if you look now, they are ranked #3 in the AP poll out earlier this month. That means they must be returning most starters from a defense that has ranked in the top 5 nationally for the past 2 years (scoring defense) ? Wrong again. They are replacing 6 starters from last years group and the defensive coordinator Charlie Strong (head coach Louisville). So then, the Gators must be overrated right? Not necessarily, and this is why.
The ranking is a credit to Urban Meyer, his staff and the work they have done since they arrived in Gainsville. This work has had two central themes; recruitment and development. The coaching staff has consistently brought in top notch talent and made players out of them. The cupboard is not bare in Gainsville, not by a long shot. John Brantley steps in to lead the offense. He has been waiting 3 years behind Tebow. He knows his teammates inside and out. The offense has been tweaked to fit his skills and he has plenty of them. He is a natural passer, with a strong arm and a quicker release, good size at 6’3 and underrated athleticism. He was rated the #4 pro style QB in the nation by ESPN during his senior year in high school. He will put up very impressive numbers and should be on everyone’s radar come October. The offense has a slew of fast, athletic, young playmakers at both the RB and WR position. Right now it is simply a matter of time before they step up. Most of these guys were rated 4 stars or more when recruited, now after learning the system for a year or two they are ready to step in. Deonte Thompson, Carl Moore, Andre Debose, and Omarius Hines, will more than make up for the losses at the WR position and those are just the first teamers. Replacing Hernandez might be more difficult. Former QB, Jordan Reed, 6’3 240lbs, has drawn great praise from the coaching staff since the spring for his athleticism and running ability. The converted QB is working hard to win the starting spot from 2 other talented freshmen and should lock it down before the end of camp. The offensive line will be a team strength, returning 4 of 5 starters and several key reserves. The running backs are all back and should be one of the strongest groups in the SEC. Jeff Demps will be the featured back (fastest man in the NCAA) and Emmanuel Moody will be the main back up. I expect true sophomore Mike Gillislee to have a very good season as well. If either of the top 2 go down with injury he will be more than capable of handling the load.
On defense the Gators will be tested after losing enough talent to man half an NFL starting defense. This is where things really get tricky for Florida. They will be counting on untested talent when it comes to defense. The biggest problem will be securing a pass rush. The loss of their top 3 pass rushers; DEs Dunlap, Cunningham and MLB Spikes, will be near impossible to make up for with 3 players. Luckily they have young talent by the bunch, thanks to arguably the greatest defensive recruiting class ever. Veteran Justin Trattou will fill the void at one of the open DE spots. He is more than capable of making fans forget about Carlos Dunlap. Of the new highly touted recruits, S Matt Elam, DT Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd will most likely see the field early and often. #1 rated DE Ronald Powell will be expected to contribute. The linebacker corps will be anchored by 2 seniors; Brandon Hicks and A.J. Jones. Future star Jelani Jenkins will probably replace Spikes at MLB and Jon Bostic will get plenty of time as well, especially if the team adopts more 3-4 formations as is planned. Both these guys are the future at LB for Florida. All in all this defense will struggle early on while they find their identity and look for some starters to emerge, but by November they should be settled into a solid group. That might not happen by the first Saturday of October when the nation will stop to watch the game of the year in Alabama, but it might happen by the time they meet again in December for the SEC title. In any case, Florida has an easier road to Atlanta than Alabama has, and might not even need to beat them to be playing for the National Championship. Florida is the favorite to win the SEC East and that means they could be 1 win away from playing for all the marbles.
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Written by The Gator Great