All-Florida Team

After several weeks of fan voting at sunsportstv.com, we finally announced the "Chevy All-Florida Team" live on Sun Sports on Friday, January 6th. Many weeks ago, when Brady Ackerman, Terry Norvelle, senior studio producer Jamie Shapiro and I attempted to whittle down the candidates for each position, we knew there would be controversy.

There are twelve schools in Florida that play intercollegiate football: Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF, USF, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic in Division I; Jacksonville, Florida A&M, and Bethune-Cookman in I-AA; and Webber International and Edward Waters in the NAIA. Needless to say, despite our best efforts every week on Chevy Tailgate Saturday, we simply cannot see every team play every game. You can safely guess which schools regularly appear on television, and which ones we have to follow via box scores and phone calls to sports information departments. In short, there were a number of players that we could have placed on the ballot for each position on the All-Florida Team, but did not.

Example: Bethune Cookman's "Wyattbone" offense produced the 9th-best rushing average in I-AA football this season, leading the MEAC at over 247 yards per game. Shouldn't the Wildcats receive as much consideration for the All-Florida Offensive Line as our "expert pick," South Florida?

Another example: B-CC senior Ricky Williams led the I-AA nation in kickoff return average at 31.3 yards per attempt. Surely, he could have been on the ballot for All-Florida Special Teamer.

Speaking of omissions, I'll agree with the many UCF fans who called us out via e-mail for leaving Joe Burnett off the ballot.

Burnett, a freshman from Eustis High School, had 463 punt return yards for the Golden Knights this season, taking two back for touchdowns, plus five interceptions for 99 yards. For comparison, our "expert pick" for the Chevy All-Florida Special Teamer, Willie Reid of FSU, had a little over 530 punt return yards for three scores. Reid's final two punt return TD's were enormous - one against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game, another against Penn State in the Orange Bowl, both over 80 yards - but then again, one of Burnett's came against Tulsa in the Conference USA Championship game.

Comparable numbers, despite a different level of competition. Obviously, Burnett deserved consideration for the All-Florida Special Teamer, or at least, for Newcomer of the Year. We whiffed on that one.

Other names we may have missed:

- Wesley Taylor, the FAMU sophomore punter, led I-AA football with a 45.8 yard average. Not bad for a kid who doubled as the place kicker for Rubin Carter's crew.

- Webber quarterback Dedrick Sykes was named offensive MVP of the Southeast Atlantic Conference, one of nine Warriors to make the all-conference team. The Warriors ended their season with a win over I-AA Jacksonville, easily the biggest win in school history for the tiny program from Babson Park. Coupled with a win over NAIA rival Edward Waters, Webber International University rightfully declared itself "Florida's small college champ" for 2005.

- FIU junior Chandler Williams recorded 870 receiving yards this season over 11 games for the Golden Panthers, an average of 79 yards per game - better than Chad Jackson or Dallas Baker at Florida, better than Willie Reid or Greg Carr at FSU, and better than anybody on the Miami roster.

- In terms of pass efficiency defense, Florida Atlantic had a final rating of 111.88, which would have placed them 22nd in Division I football, behind Oklahoma and just ahead of San Diego State. That rating was also better than the final pass efficiency number of Florida, Florida State, and UCF. Score one vote for the Owls as an All-Florida Secondary, even if their numbers weren't factored into the official Division I rankings - FAU and FIU were "reclassifying/provisional" D-I programs in 2005.

See what I mean? It's a Pandora's box, especially in this state.

All caveats aside, here is The 2005 Chevy All-Florida Team as voted by the fans at www.sunsportstv.com, and as voted by Terry, Brady, and me, with comments from the studio:

QUARTERBACK

Fan pick: Chris Leak, Florida

Our pick: Drew Weatherford, Florida State

Yes, he threw a ton of interceptions, but Weatherford also led the ACC in passing yards and total yards, setting an ACC freshman record, and led all freshmen nationally in yards and TD passes. Worth nothing that Weatherford and Miami's Kyle Wright tied for the ACC lead in passing touchdowns with 18.

RUNNING BACK

Fan pick: Andre Hall, USF

Our pick: Hall

USF's all-time leading rusher after only two seasons, Andre Hall led the Big East in rushing and was 12th in the nation at 114.5 yards per game. Considering that South Florida only passed for 144 yards per game - 107th out of 117 schools in Division I - Hall's accomplishments are that much more remarkable. Probably a first-day NFL draft pick this April.

WIDE RECEIVER

Fan pick: Chad Jackson, Florida

Our pick: Jackson

The go-to guy in Gainesville once Bubba Caldwell went down, Jackson's 88 catches for 900 yards and 9 touchdowns were more than enough to earn our nod - and convince Jackson to skip his final season at Florida to turn pro. Note: UCF's Mike Walker was a close second in the fan voting, with 855 yards and 9 scores on only 64 catches.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Fan pick: Florida

Our pick: South Florida

See the note on Andre Hall above. Everybody in the stadium knew USF's game plan, and he still managed to run for 1374 yards. Somebody had to open those holes. And for the Gator fans who voted for their offensive line - you're not the same people who created that terrific "O Blockers, Where Art Thou" movie poster after the LSU game, are you?

DEFENSIVE LINE

Fan pick: Florida

Our pick: Miami

This was a category without a clear favorite, in our eyes. We took Miami based on the Hurricanes' number-4 ranking nationally in total defense and their 35 sacks - ten fewer than Florida State, but the Seminoles were ranked ten spots lower in total defense. Also, Miami finished with the top pass defense in the nation, and in the absence of a consistent blitz from the linebackers, you have to give the D-line lots of credit for pressuring the QB.

LINEBACKERS

Fan pick: Florida

Our pick: Florida State

The fan voting was razor-thin between the Gators and Seminoles in this category. Florida State was ranked third in the nation in tackles for loss, which may not be the most accurate indicator of linebacker play, but it's a decent start (and Miami was right behind them in 4th). Florida was 10th in the nation against the rush, Florida State 18th. Perhaps the most subjective category on the ballot.

SECONDARY

Fan pick: Florida

Our pick: Miami

Obviously, fans of Florida (and UCF) answered the call to the ballot box with more gusto than fans of other programs in the state. In this case, the stats really do tell the story - ranked number one in the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense, the Hurricanes allowed only six passing TD's in the regular season. Sure, they got torched by LSU in the Peach Bowl, but so did the rest of the roster. Consider their full body of work, not just the bowl game, and you see why it's all about the "U."

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER

Fan pick: Chris Hetland, Florida

Our pick: Willie Reid, Florida State

The MVP of the Orange Bowl made us look smart, Joe Burnett notwithstanding. Reid led the ACC in punt return yards and average, and capped off a stellar, if injury-plagued senior season with punt return TD's in both the ACC Championship game and the bowl game. Hetland wasn't a bad choice either, having made 13 of 16 field goals this season (all three misses coming in his final four games), 38 of 40 PAT's (no misses in his final ten games), and earning a scholarship in the process.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Fan pick: George O'Leary, UCF

Our pick: O'Leary

Not even close, in my opinion (and in yours - he got 68 percent of the fan vote). Forget that he lost in the Conference USA championship game and the Hawaii Bowl - how about the fact that the Golden Knights were even IN the Conference USA championship game and the Hawaii Bowl? UCF's 17-game losing streak didn't end until September, and the Knights were bowling on Christmas Eve. Unbelievable. Several voters noted Urban Meyer's victories over Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State - impressive, but Florida was 7-5 last year, not 0-11.

OFFENSIVE MVP

Fan pick: Kevin Smith, UCF

Our pick: Andre Hall, USF

Give the UCF nation credit - they showed up for the vote. Smith is a fine choice, anyway, with 1178 rushing yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman. However, UCF also had a passing game, while USF did not. Hall gets our vote, and was a very close second in the fan vote as well.

DEFENSIVE MVP

Fan pick: Brandon Siler, Florida

Our pick: Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State

Gator Nation speaks again. Both Siler and Bunkley are the heart and soul of their respective defenses. Named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association, Bunkley's 23 regular-season tackles for loss was a new school record, and he led the team with 9 sacks prior to the bowl game. UCF fans made Paul Carrington a close second to Siler in the balloting.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR

Fan pick: Reggie Nelson, Florida

Our pick: Greg Carr, Florida State

Carr led the ACC in the regular season with 9 touchdown catches - tying Heath Miller's ACC freshman record - and was the top freshman receiver in the conference at just under 60 yards per game. Stiff competition in this category, but Carr kept FSU's offense alive at key moments. Consider: in the regular season, 21 of Carr's 27 receptions resulted in a first down or touchdown. That, friends, is money. Note: this was the closest of all the fan balloting, with ten votes separating Nelson from Kevin Smith of UCF. The fans picked Carr fourth, behind Weatherford and ahead of Kenny Phillips.

A sincere word of thanks to the college football fans who cast nearly 12,000 online votes, and to all who watched us on Sun Sports all season long. In August, we'll crank up our fourth season of Chevy Tailgate Saturday, with Rec Warehouse College Kickoff, the live Gator and Seminole Postgames, and much more. Keep those e-mails coming, and keep watching.

College football in Florida. There ain't nothing like it.


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