LARRY VETTEL: Lots to Gain in the Peach Bowl

Usually there is not a lot on the line in second-tier bowl games. Just ask the last two Gator Football teams, one of which played an exciting, wide-open game with Michigan, the other which dumped in the bed in embarrassing fashion against Iowa. Neither outcome had much to do with the recruiting effort in the month that followed, or the next season for that matter. It's just a game, good for the stat sheet perhaps, a chance to impress the pros, perhaps but that's the extent of it.

Most of the time, but not Friday night.

The Peach Bowl has a number of undercurrents that add drama and intrigue to the normally mundane process of playing in a non-elite bowl game. Those "side bar" story lines range from delivering a message to both the incoming/outgoing coaching staffs to positioning players for million-dollar paydays. Add in some revenge motivation, playing a former teammate and a unique in-state bragging rights opportunity and you have some must-see TV.

Million$ Of Rea$on$ To Play Well And $tay Healthy

Ciatrick Fason has already stated this game is the end of his collegiate career, and all indications are that decision is irrevocable… unless he's injured. Even a modest injury could keep him out of NFL combines and individual workouts, and that could cost Fason millions. Such a scenario might convince him to give it another shot in 2006. Right now, most project C-4 as a mid-second rounder, but if something happens to hurt his availability this spring, his draft projection could drop significantly.

Channing Crowder has a similar situation facing him. Florida's ultra-talented linebacker looks to be a higher pick than Fason should he elect to come out two years early. But Crowder also has more to gain by another year in college, including the very real chance of being the top LB on the board in 2006. NFL scouts would like to see Crowder play with more discipline and would love to see him in his natural outside 'backer slot with Siler manning the middle. Still, an impressive evening in Atlanta almost certainly spells the end of his college days.

Brock Berlin is another player with a lot on the line in this game. Berlin lacks the size the NFL likes to see, but he's roughly the same size as Drew Brees and Rex Grossman. He has a big enough arm for the next level, but has never looked comfortable behind center and no NFL team is going to the shotgun full-time. Berlin will get a chance in someone's camp, but a dominant performance in this game could get him up as high as round four which is sort of the dividing point where teams feel they have an investment in developing you.

Winning The State Championship

Most of these players thought that goal was left behind when they graduated high school, but this has become a regular event in Florida lately. The Peach Bowl marks the fourth Florida-Miami game in five years and offers Florida player a unique opportunity. The Gators have not beaten both Miami and Florida State in the same season since the 1985 Gators did the trick. Of course, there have not been many chance since then. The Gators stopped playing Miami after the '87 campaign.

A State Championship might be as good a springboard for recruiting as the Gators could hope for. To end a season with consecutive wins over FSU and Miami certainly delivers the perfect message. "We caught 'em, and we're ready to pass 'em" would be the mantra in living rooms throughout the Sunshine State.

Historically, winning the state title used to be old hat for the Orange and Blue. Florida beat both state rivals in the same season 15 times in the 28 seasons from 1958 through '85, and the '85 season marked the third time in four years Florida had pulled off the perfecta.

Hey, Coach Meyer Look At Me!

While a state title and impressing the NFL might be on the mind of a couple of Florida underclassmen (and ALL the seniors) for the majority of the team, this is the best chance they get to plant an image in the new coaching staff's collective mind. An impressive performance, an exceptional hustle play, a big hit, a clutch tackle can all give new coaches an idea of what to expect from a returning player come spring practice. By the same token, a fumble, busted assignment, stupid penalty or dropped pass can do the same thing.

Any way you look at it, this game will not determine who will start against Wyoming next September. But it could very well decide who tops the depth chart on day one of spring practice. And as we have seen in the polls - and the same thing applies to depth charts - it is easier to finish at the top if you start there.

As For The Game Itself

I'm more intrigued by what the Gator defense might show than anything else. Interim Head Coach Charley Strong has had more than a month with the handcuffs removed. Not a lot of time to change much, but time to change some things. Will they attack Brock Berlin more aggressively and play more man-to-man defense. Certainly there is a risk in that, but it's what Charley historically would like to do. I also look forward to seeing the defense utilize both Crowder and Siler at the same time as much as possible.

Offensively, the Gators should be able to run on a disappointing Miami defensive front. They just have to be aware of where Antrel Rolle is before every snap. He might be the most dangerous defensive player the Gators have seen all year. After a poor performance against Iowa you gotta believe Chris Leak will be very determined the end the year strongly.

Finally, anyone who authorizes returnable kicks to Devin Hester needs to be beaten over the head with a baseball bat. Florida's kick coverage has been pretty good all year, especially on kickoffs, but Hester is from another planet. Miami might have lost five games without him.

Finally the Peach Bowl is a chance for Charley Strong to make history. He can become the first black head coach in the SEC to win a bowl game. That's something that can never be taken from him. And that, plus a strong showing by the 2005 Gator defense, should put him in prime position for coaching vacancies after next season.


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