Senior Day is Here, But What If?

The Florida Gators will have senior day on Saturday as the Gators take on Appalachian State at home for the last time this season. At stake is pride for a team that hasn't lived up to many expectations. In a season that won't see a championship for this Gator team, a question to ask is what if the roster was a little different?

Florida lost five players early to the NFL, if they didn't, could we be singing a different tune?

Teams face many issues when players leave early or unexpected. First and foremost is the talent itself. Florida lost two first round talents and five players that went overall in the top three rounds of the 2010 draft, all of them should have been in uniform for one more season as Gators.

The second issue is recruiting behind that talent and the gaps that are left when those juniors bolt for the money of the NFL. There is at least one year of empty space when a big time player moves on early.

On defense, Carlos Dunlap would have provided a pass rush that never materialized from a defensive end group that was usually strong against the run, but never materialized as a force to rush the passer. In 2009, Dunlap played in 13 games and had nine (9) sacks. So far this season, the six-pack of defensive ends Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens, William Green, Earl Okine, Lerentee McCray, and Kedric Johnson that play both defensive end positions have a combined seven (7) sacks.

I don't know, maybe Alabama's Greg McElroy doesn't scramble for three very significant third-and-long conversions in that game if Dunlap is there to run him down. Certainly it would have taken more than that to have a chance to win the game, but it would have caused a lot of headaches for the Crimson Tide as well. We will never know because Dunlap was off to NFL fortunes before his senior year.

In the secondary, Joe Haden (1st round) and Major Wright (3rd round) were three year constants that seemed to always be there to make the play. Between them, the duo had 100 tackles, seven interceptions, and 12 pass break ups in 2009. More than anything, they provided a deterrent to passers to throw against Florida and they still had outstanding numbers.

Will Hill has come on late and Jeremy Brown has played pretty well in his first season of football in three years, but the two combined for 53 tackles and five interceptions, and six pass breakups in 10 games.

Do the receivers at LSU make those plays in a closely fought game with Haden and Wright in the game? Maybe so…but probably not. A single play or two was the difference in that game.

On offense, Maurkice Pouncey was a bigger loss than anyone could have known. The first round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Rimington Trophy winner as college football's best center is going to be up for rookie of the year honors in the NFL and is already carving his niche as one of the best offensive linemen in the entire league.

Florida returned four starters on the line, but the continuity among the group has been a mess since the start of the season. Injuries plagued the group early and caused positional changes and shifts on the line that really seemed to set them back. There were also the early season snapping issues that plagued his brother Michael Pouncey.

Having Maurkice Pouncey would have kept the jockeying and juggling to a minimum and added a big time Pro Bowl type player to a line that needed his strong and consistent play.

In 2009, Aaron Hernandez won the Mackey Award for being college football's best tight end. Hernandez finished with 68 catches for 850 yards (61 yds. / game) and five touchdowns. The combination of freshmen Jordan Reed and Trey burton have combined for 35 catches and 258 yards (25.8 / game). The freshmen have probably done more than expected, but they are still on the field a year too early.

The passing game has been way subpar in 2010 and part of the problem has been the lack of a go to guy as a receiver. Hernandez was that guy for Tim Tebow and he showed he could perform from the outset of the season in 2009. Having him here in 2010 would have at least provided a safe haven for John Brantley to try and get the ball too early in the season and see if he could make a play.

While we are at the what if game, what would the season have been like if Cameron Newton hadn't bolted two years ago and was still on roster to compete at quarterback. Let's just say that John Brantley was still the leader of the offense early on….that the offensive staff wanted to form an offense around Brantley's skills like they have tried to do.

When Brantley was hurt in the Alabama game, is there anyone around that believes Cam Newton wouldn't have finished that game and played in the next two games that the Gators ended up losing in hard fought battles? The fact is Brantley was hurt badly in those games and played through it, but a healthy Cam Newton would have allowed for the team to carry on and who knows what would have happened.

College football is a game that is reshaped every year by a revolving roster. At a school like Florida, there are always going to be great players to replace when others leave.

At the same time, it is hard to recruit to the roster when those players are here and have eligibility left. A team really needs a buffer year to put a star player on the field. The likelihood of a freshman to come in and make a real impact is extremely difficult.

This 2010 Gator team was void of a true pass rusher with any experience, a seasoned and talented corner to come in and help lock up the secondary, a go-to receiver with experience and leadership ability, and a second quarterback that would be able to come in and play at an SEC level.

These holes in the roster are mostly caused by very talented players that other talented players don't want to play behind and so the recruiting isn't the same. The void is widened when the NFL comes calling for that talent, and youth and inexperience must be served.
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