2009 SEC Preview: Florida

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

Off their second national championship in three years, Florida is clearly at the top of the college football world. And it doesn’t appear that’s going to change, at least for this season. The Gators return pretty much everyone from last year’s title team and are the main SEC favorites and one of the national favorites.

The Gators were in the same spot last year. After waltzing through a win over Miami and making quick work of Tennessee, Florida had unranked Ole Miss visit Gainesville. Ho-hum, UF led 17-7 at the half. Then Ole Miss scored 21 straight to take the lead going into the fourth. After Tim Tebow tied it, Shay Hodge got loose on a busted coverage in the Florida secondary for an 86-yard touchdown with 5 minutes left. Uh-oh.

But Tebow led Florida back down and Percy Harvin scored on an option run with three and a half minutes to, and you know the rest. Ole Miss blocked the extra point and did the unthinkable – stuffed Tebow on a fourth and short. After the game, this happened – you’ve seen it a hundred times already:

YouTube Preview Image

And the Florida football machine has been rolling people since. The only real question is this: will Florida require a similar wake-up call this year? Or will the Gators continue to run through everybody on their schedule?

Schedule Breakdown

    Assumed wins:

  • Charleston Southern, Troy, Florida International
  • Tennessee
  • at Kentucky
  • Arkansas
  • at Mississippi State (remember Florida last trip to Starkville? Ron Zook does…)
  • Georgia in Jacksonville
  • Vanderbilt
  • at South Carolina
  • Florida State (UF’s won five straight against the Seminoles)
  • Assumed losses:

  • Yeah, right…
  • Toss-ups:

  • at LSU (especially if it’s at night)


Tebow at SEC Media Days last week

QB Tim Tebow (Sr.): Obviously. He’s the nation’s top QB (sorry Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford). Anything I say here won’t be something you haven’t heard because anything and everything this guy does the media is over and the media-types love him, so I’ll just go on-the-record with my Tim Tebow soapbox…

Here’s a guy that, thanks to the media, you just get sick of hearing about over and over again. It seems he’s in the news for the smallest, most irrelevant things, if for no other reason than to annoy you. Add that to the fact (a) he plays for my team’s most dislikeable rival, (b) plays for a coach that’s also incredibly easy to dislike and (c) is the idol of a fan base that doesn’t deserve him, and I’m supposed to – for lack of better words – hate the guys’ guts, right?

Well, I don’t, because I can’t. It’s like some twisted part of me may actually not mind seeing him succeed. It most likely has to do with the faith he and I share, but I’ve even questioned that before (for example, why does a camera need to be with him on his mission trips? I mean, he seems more selfish than Chris Lofton…), and I’ve done so wrongly. I don’t know, maybe after seeing him and his team continue the misery of my own beloved football program he’s just in my head…

Ahmad Black (35) and Joe Haden (5), two parts of a Florida secondary that improved drastically last year

MLB Brandon Spikes (Sr.): Spikes is the Tim Tebow of the Florida defense. As in the leader, the best player, the guy you most wish was on your own team. A first team all-SEC in 2007 and first team All-American last year, Spikes turned down what was certainly a large signing bonus as a first round NFL draft pick to return and lead Florida’s defense in the hunt for a third national title in four years.

Everybody else: I know it seems like I’m gushing an awful lot about a team I’m supposed to really, really dislike, but objectively, picking just a third stud after the obvious other two is almost impossible. So I’ll just run down some of them…

On offense: running backs Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and USC transfer Emmanuel Moody (who averaged 7.6 yards per carry last year), tight end Aaron Hernandez, linemen Mike and Mark Pouncey. On defense: ends Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham, linebackers Ryan Stamper, Brandon Hicks, recently arrested and suspended Dustin Doe, and the deepest secondary in the conference: Janoris Jenkins, Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Joe Haden, Markihe Anderson, Will Hill, Dorian Munroe, Wondy Pierre-Louis. Oh, and Brandon James. Seriously, this team is just loaded.


Wide receivers: If you noticed in my serious love for the entire Gator team, I mentioned zero wide receivers. At Florida? You’d think I was crazy. Well, the Gates lost Percy Harvin, and more importantly from the strict view of looking at the true wideouts, Louis Murphy. Sure, they’re recognizable names, but who becomes the go-to-guy? The candidates: seniors Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Carl Moore and sophomore Deonte Thompson. Does it really matter with Tebow tossing them the pigskin?

Focus: As I covered in the schedule section, Florida’s odds of running the regular season table are relatively high. That is, unless Florida has an off day and some team rises to the occasion. Even then, said rising team would have to catch some breaks. Are they beatable? Sure, but don’t look for me to explain how. They’ll certainly be talented and probably more well-coached than everybody they play.

Turnover margin: I was completely unaware of this, but the Gators were a whopping +22 in turnover margin last year. In fact, that’s probably the best way to beat Florida: play ball control and take care of the rock, and hope Florida turns it over themselves and makes some mistakes. Ole Miss used that formula, so it’s possible. But that happening is obviously rare.

What’s New, but Maybe Not Improved

No Percy Harvin: This is the obvious difference between this year’s team and last year’s Florida team. Harvin had the ability to do a lot of different things and put intense pressure on other teams with his ability to those multiple things. Who steps into that role? Urban Meyer said at Media Days there would be a “Harvin position” in this offense.

A sight I guarantee you will see this season: people chasing Jeff Demps in vain

Candidates: the aforementioned speedsters Demps and Rainey, who are more running backs than wide receivers (as Harvin was Florida’s leader in receptions last year). While Emmanuel Moody may allow those two to fill the Harvin role, I say Brandon James or true freshman Andre Debose are more likely to fill Harvin’s role.

New offensive coordinator and QB coach: Dan Mullen obviously is at Mississippi State now, and to fill his roles on the coaching staff Meyer promoted Steve Addazio, formerly the tight ends/offensive line coach, to offensive coordinator and brought in Scott Loeffler, formerly a offensive coordinator candidate at Tennessee and QBs coach at Michigan who spent last year with the Detroit Lions, to coach the quarterbacks. I have no idea how much playcalling Meyer might have done or how that is doled out amongst the Florida staff, but that’s a change that will be interesting to watch. Then again, will we even notice a change?

Andre Dubose and Jelani Jenkins: These are the two freshman I see having the most impact this year, but it’s pure speculation. Florida signed a relatively small class in 2009, and Debose, who’s a slightly smaller Harvin-mold type, and Jenkins, a linebacker, are two of the three five-stars players Florida’s bringing in. The other is defensive tackle Gary Brown, but you never know how much impact freshmen at that particular position will have.

HSH’s Bold Prediction

First off, if lawvol shoots me an e-mail (not that he even has to) and tells me to take this terribly pro-Florida post down, I will gladly oblige. I’ve tried really hard to remain unbiased and objective in these previews. After all, I am “studying” to be a journalist. But yes, I was cringing when I formulated all of this insane Florida love as a Vol. Additionally, to deny the talent and potential for greatness of this Florida team would be foolish and you, the reader, would be forced to question my ability to think clearly. Nevertheless, don’t worry…I’m still ALL-VOL and I still hate Florida…

Oh, and as for a prediction, well, for me to give Florida anything less than an SEC title probably puts me in the minority. In terms of national possibilities, I have little to no idea on the prospects for Oklahoma, Texas and USC are this year, so I’ll just leave Florida’s prediction to strictly conference terms.

Brandon Hicks (40) and Carlos Dunlap (8) in the title game against Oklahoma

About Home Sweet Home... … to me.

Images Courtesy of: Hal Yeager / The Birmingham NewsStephen M. Dowell / Orlando SentinelDanny Johnston / APMarc Serota / Getty Images

About the Author: I'm from Memphis but I'm now entering my third year at the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville. I am majoring in Journalism/Electronic Media and hope to go into sports broadcasting/writing/something like that. I'm a huge Vol fan and have been going to games for as long as I can remember. I started my on blog called "The View From The Hill" but moved here to Gate 21 for bigger and better things. In addition to my passion for Tennessee football and basketball, I enjoy watching the NFL and the NBA as well. Basically, sports are a big part of my life. >> Read more from this author

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