If a team is the best in Florida they stand a good chance of being the best in the country. Today NoleDigest.com breaks down the offenses of the Big 3 heading into the 2010 season.
We will rate the positions on a scale of 1-10 with "10" being the best possible.
FSU: Christian Ponder is on the short list of top QBs in the country and is a candidate for the coveted Heisman Trophy. Ponder took a few snaps in 2007 and was the starter the past two years. In 2009 he was on his way to a phenomenal season where he was completing close to 70% of his passes before an injury cut his season short. He returned quicker than expected and put together a productive Spring. A team can not be in better shape than having an experienced signal caller.
FSU also has the top backup in the state with E.J. Manuel who filled in admirably last season when Ponder went down. The only thing that keeps this from a perfect "10" is Ponder's injury. SCORE: 9 points.
MIAMI: Jacory Harris returns for his second season as a starter(he played plenty has a true frosh in 2008). Harris was brilliant at times last season, but also had his share of mistakes throwing 17 interceptions in the process. Overall it was the type of season that was probably better than expected and there is no reason to think he won't improve as a junior.
Harris will have the benefit of being in the second year of OC Whipples offense. There is no proven backup and that is a cause for concern. There may not be another player who is as important to his team as Harris is to Miami. A.J. Highsmith and true freshmen Stephen Morris will battle it out for the backup job in the Fall. SCORE: 8 points.
FLORIDA:How do you replace a legend? Simple, you don't. UF will have a new look this year with John Brantley at the helm. Brantley brings a different set of tools to the QB position for the Gators as he is a passer, not a runner. Brantley was highly coveted coming out of high school and has patiently waited for his opportunity. He can make every throw.
He should get some help from newcomer Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. Either could be used similarly to how Tim Tebow was used as freshmen in 2006 with Chris Leak. In fact, it is expected that we will see a lot of that in 2010. Like Brantley, neither are proven which will hurt the grade here, but it should be noted that Brantley was/is considered an elite QB prospect. SCORE: 7 points.
FLORIDA: UF will miss Tebow here as well, he chipped in over 900 yards on the ground last year to lead the team. Like Miami and FSU, this position has no shortage of candidates. Mike Gilleslie came on late last year and he looked to have the qualities to be an ideal fit in the UF offense. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey bring the jaw dropping speed to the position, Demps has thus far been more dependable in his career. Emmanuel Moody transfered into UF with plenty of accolades, he has shown some flashes thus far, but it is time for him to step up and play to his potential.
Newcomer Mack Brown might be the most talented of the bunch, while it looks like it is an uphill battle to see the field, he could surprise here as Meyer is not afraid to go with the youngsters. We think there is a little more raw talent on the UF roster, but again no proven superstar. SCORE: 7 points
FSU: The Noles have five runners who are capable of contributing this year and they all bring something different to the table. Chris Thompson is the speed/quickness, he can also be moved around offensively to the slot. Jermaine Thomas has a little more size than Thompson, he led the team with 832 yards last year. Lonnie Pryor showed flashes as a freshmen that he may develop into being the man down the road. Tavares Pressley has one more year, there is still potential here. Finally newcomer Debrale Smiley is the hammer, a big back that should excel getting the tough yards between the tackles(as well as playing some "FB").
While FSU is very deep, there is no superstar here(yet).SCORE: 7 points.
MIAMI: Like FSU and UF, Miami is deep at the RB position. Senior Damien Berry brings his hard running north-south style to the table and he really came on late in the year. Berry lacks the extra gear for long runs, but he is a reliable back. Lamar Miller has elite speed, he redshirted in 2009, but had a strong Spring and he brings the big play ability to the position. It is safe to say that his development is one the keys for the Miami offense.
Newcomer Storm Johnson, Lee Chambers, and Mike James are three more options at the position, James played some FB last year and could easily see time there again(with perhaps Johnson). Both Johnson and James possess good size/speed combo's and can run inside. Graig Cooper went down lat last year with a knee injury and his future is up in the air, although it has been reported he is ahead of schedule with his rehab. This is a strong unit, but there is no superstar right now. SCORE: 7 points.
MIAMI: Miami appears to have the deepest and best unit in the country at the WR position. The Canes were forced to play freshmen in 2008 and should benefit in 2010 because of it. Senior Leonard Hankerson came on last year after a summer of working with Mark "Super" Duper, he is projected in the top three rounds of the draft. Hankerson has terrific size(6'3, 217) and more speed than he is given credit for.
The junior class is loaded with Travis Benjamin, Thearon Collier, Aldarius Johnson, and Laron Byrd. Benjamin is fast-fast and plays like it with pads on. He seems to relish playing FSU as he has had big plays the last two years vs. the Noles. Collier is an excellent slot receiver because of his quickness. Johnson needs to return to his freshmen form where he lead the team in yards and catches. Byrd is another big target on the outside. Tommy Streeter, Kendal Thompkins, and Davon Johnson are sophomores and each will wait for the opportunity to break into the rotation. Thompkins is pushing Collier in the slot.
There is size, speed, and now experience with this unit. The lack of a proven TE is what keeps this from being a "10". SCORE: 9 points
FLORIDA: This another area where UF needs to reload. Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper, and Aaron Hernandez are now in the league and some players will need to step up to replace that talent. Former JUCO signee Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson are the leading returning wideouts, Thompson was once the most coveted WR in Florida. Big things are expected from him this year. Moore has had some injury problems.
A host of unproven, but very talented play-makers will look to step up. Frankie Hammond, Andre Debose, Omarius Hines and T.J. Lawrence will try to hold off a talented freshmen class led by Chris Dunkley, Solomon Patton, and Robert Clark. As you can see there are plenty of candidates here, perhaps Debose and Dunkley have the most upside. Debose suffered an injury as a frosh or we feel he would be well known today. Clark and Patton were in for the Spring and showed flashes of brilliance.
Replacing Hernandez will be even more difficult, Desmond Parks, QB/TE Jordan Reed, and newcomer Gerald Christian will man the spot. There are question marks here, but few teams have the depth and talent, some of these players may be unknown today, but that won't last long. SCORE: 8 points.
FSU: Jarmon Fortson has all the tools to be a superstar, he just needs to get consistent and play to that level every game. Smooth with terrific size, it is expected that Fortson makes a big push to leave early for the NFL after this season. Bert Reed brings the speed and quickness, he just needs the ball in space to do his thing. Reed caught 60 balls last year.
FSU will need a few WRs to step up and join the two above, Rodney Smith, Taiwan Easterling, and Willie Haulstead are the leading candidates. However, four true freshmen will try to break through and earn some playing time, Christian Green is physically as good as they come.
There is depth here and Ponder should make the whole unit better, but a lot is riding on Fortson being as good as most people expect. At the TE spot, youngster Beau Reliford is unproven, but he has generated plenty of buzz with his athleticism, his further development is key.SCORE: 7 points.
FLORIDA: Few teams have recruited as well as the Gators along the offensive front. Uber talented Xavier Nixon and senior Marcus Gilbert will hold down the tackle positions. Senior Carl Johnson and junior James Wilson the guard spots. Mike Pouncey returns at Center where he has an NFL future.
Senior Maurice Hurt and junior Matt Patchan are the depth. UF has a host of bodies here for depth and this should be one of the best units in the country. Their depth gives them an edge over the Noles.SCORE: 9 points.
FSU: This was a massive rebuilding project for Coach Trickett when he arrived and FSU will finally see the fruits of that labor in 2010. Ryan McMahon and Rodney Hudson headline what should be the best OL in years. The continued development of Andrew Datko at OT along with several other youngsters will be the key. This is not a very deep unit, so this is one area that the Noles will need to avoid injury.
Trickett is one of the best in the business and there is no reason to think this won't be one of the better offensive fronts in the country, however the depth does concern us enough to keep them behind UF. SCORE: 8 points.
MIAMI: Miami should be strong on the interior with Brandon Washington, Joel Figueroa, and Tyler Horn. The tackle positions are the reason for concern. Two year starter Orlando Franklin will move from guard to LT where he played the last two games in place of Jason Fox. Franklin was excellent vs. USF, but struggled against Wisconsin. The RT job appears to be a battle between Ben Jones and Jermaine Johnson.
There is some depth here with Harland Gunn, Malcolm Bunche, and Cory White. Newcomer Brandon Linder is capable of playing right away as well. Like UF at QB with Brantley, this unit will need to prove themselves, but the potential and pedigree are there. SCORE: 7 points.
FSU: 31 points
Miami: 31 points
Florida: 31 points
This shows just how close these teams are this year(for the first time in awhile) on the offensive side of the ball. There are few weaknesses and each of the Big 3 should have productive offenses.
Tomorrow NoleDigest.com will break down the defenses.