Wednesday, August 19

Florida Gators '09: Yes, they're as good as everyone says

The 2008 Season in a Box
Last season had to have been one of those nice gifts that come in Tiffany boxes or something like that. You never actually get anything in those boxes, but that rich-as-shit couple down the street sure enjoys getting them, and that Land Rover that showed up mysteriously three months ago still grates on you. Of course, this grates on you because that family is just a little more upper-crust than you are, and lordy, does that grate when you have nothing better to do with your time than compare net worth. It’s like Desperate Housewives, or at least how I think it’d be since I’ve never seen that god-forsaken show. In reality I imagine it’s like most of the middle-upper-class suburbia, when people have nothing better to do but covet, complain about service, and be complete dicks to everyone around. POWER TO THE PROLETARIAT

Why Should This Season Be Any Different?
Sadly, there’s no reason at all to think it’ll be any different. Freaking everyone and their brother returns except for Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy – and I think they were the only people on the team to leave, period. The Gators return nearly everyone on their two-deep on defense, three of the five on the offensive line, and just because this team isn’t inappropriately talented enough, the second-team SEC punter. Not that they’ll need him. The biggest question mark is the departure of offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to Mississippi State, and even I don’t think that’ll turn out to be a big deal at all. Whether or not anyone else thinks that depends on how much of an impact Mullen’s departure will have on the Gator offense; this offense has always had Meyer’s stamp on it, and Mullen’s departure won’t change that.

On Offense
I’m so proud of myself that I went two whole paragraphs without mentioning Tim Tebow. Look, at this point there’s a whole damn blog devoted to him (which amazingly isn’t completely tongue-in-cheek) so it goes without saying he’s kind of a big deal. He makes this version of the Meyer offense go. I remember a few years back about how I was completely scared shitless about the Tebow era at Florida; I was right. Tebow’s blossomed into one of the best college football players of all time so far, and is hands-down one of the best players and leaders in the SEC. Expecting Tebow to be anything less than a contender for the Berry Award (formerly known as the little dude with a stiff arm trophy) is going to be a grievous mistake, and he’ll probably give some speech about it that ends up memorialized on 40 UF coeds’ backs before it’s all said and done.

The problem – if it actually exists – is that there’s kind of a lack of playmakers with the rest of the offense, at least on a relative scale. Percy Harvin is gone, and while there’s certainly no shortage of talent across the board, nobody on the team has shown to be the kind of legitimate gamebreaker like Harvin was. Jeffery Demps has come closest so far, but he has his work cut out for him to come anywhere near the 1,200 all-purpose yards and 17 TDs Harvin picked up last year.

Of course, it’s not really much of a slight against them if they don’t have a once-every-decade type player in Harvin, because they’re loaded aside from him. The running game will be one of those obscene multi-back approaches that drives opposing DCs nuts; while most people have heard of the quarkback combination that is the Demps/Rainey combo, Emmanuel Moody should be ready to assume more of the workload. Moody spent part of last season in Meyer’s doghouse, but came into his own in the second part of the year. With Moody getting regular PT, Florida has four legitimate rushing options counting Tebow in any given play; that’s a nightmare for opponents. If Moody ends up back in the doghouse, then the Tebow/Demps/Rainey combination is still dangerous, but they will be lacking a true next-level threat. I think either Demps or Rainey could do that, but they won’t be able to do that getting 15-20 carries a game apiece, simply because defenses will see them too much.

The receiving corps is in similar shape as the running backs. Last year TE Cornelius Ingram spent the entire year injured and Aaron Hernandez had to step in as the everyday TE; he did so admirably and will function in a similar role as he did last year. Of course, he’s about the only guy whose approach and numbers will stay nearly the same this season. Most of the other guys will be stepping into larger roles; of that crew, Deonte Thompson is the most obvious guy to step up to the next level. He averaged right around 15 ypr last year (technically it was less than David Nelson, who actually averaged an even 15.0 ypr), but that may go down a bit as his role increases. Either way, someone – likely one of those two – will need to step up. It hurts when Florida not only loses their two best receivers from a yardage and TD basis, but from a ypr basis, too. With that being said, they have three guys – Riley Cooper is the third – who averaged between 14 and 15 ypr last season, so at least one of them will probably move into the 16-17 range that’ll put them among the conference leaders.

Meyer’s offense is something I term pro-style spread: there are enough playmakers that a half-decent scheme will exploit what’s likely going to be at least one mismatch on any given play. Shockingly, the offense isn’t that complex as these offenses go, but what it loses in complexity it gets in balance. Expecting anything else would be a mistake.

On Defense and Special Teams
Really, the reason Florida scares the crap out of me this year more than last year is the entire defense is back. All the starters return, including 1st-team All-American LB Brandon Spikes and three guys (DE Carlos Dunlap, CB Joe Haden, SS Ahmad Black) from the 2nd-team SEC defense last year. Steele has a total of 7(!) starters on all four of his teams, so yes, they’re talented. Everyone who recorded at least 15 tackles returns.

On paper, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be at least as dominant as they were last year. Fortunately, they have regression; I don’t think they’ll end up with 26 picks again this season, and their defensive yards-per-point was over 22 (by comparison, anything over 17.5 normally indicates some kind of record regression). Unfortunately, even if they increase their points allowed by 50% that’s still not even 20 points per game, and with the offense averaging over 40 points per game (again, that was also beneficial), it probably won’t matter.

Charlie Strong by all rights should be a head coach somewhere; he’s one of the best in the game at what he does. While other guys (hi, Orson!) will chalk that up to extracurricular ideas, I’ll be charitable and say apparently he hasn’t done enough to prove himself. Really, even I think that’s bullshit; Florida’s lucky enough to have two guys who could be head coaches somewhere. Good for them that they’re lucky enough to have that, and shame on everyone else for hiring retreads.

So What’s Their Bowl Game?
Just in case it wasn’t unfair enough that Florida has this level of talent, they also have a pretty favorable schedule. Their only tough road game is at LSU (and if you’d like to bet on that being a night game, that’s already been pulled from the board, sorry) and their home games aren’t hiding anything. Really, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be double-digit favorites in every game save the LSU game and the SEC Championship Game, meaning we’re looking at a team who should be in the BCS Championship Game. Of course, now watch them lose to ….um, LSU. Even I’m not gutsy enough to say they’ll lose to Tennessee.