ACK: Meyer Has Gators Ready To Play

Florida and Iowa are putting together their final prepartions for the Outback Bowl as they ready for what should be a good matchup in Tampa. On paper this is a pretty even matchup but in bowl games what we see on paper is not always what we get for a game. How a team prepares and focuses on the game will dictate a lot. Other than injuries to key players team bowl games are decided by three major factors:

1. FOCUS: This includes practice and attention to detail. Do teams go out and really enjoy the bowl experience or do they push the envelope and have a really good time? The lack of focus results in penalties, turnovers and sloppy play.

2. STYLES: Sometimes teams clash in styles and it is just a bad matchup. Nebraska 1996 was a great team but not 40 points better than Florida but it was a tough style matchup for the Gators and in my opinion that contributed to a one-sided outcome.

3. DEFENSE: Teams with good defenses have a shot to win their bowl games. If you are good on defense then you can adapt to any offense during a one-month preparation period. I think you can look at the past five national champions in USC, LSU, Miami and Ohio State and see great defense.

The final intangible is respect. You must respect your opponent and believe they deserve to be there. Sometimes teams spend so much time talking about themselves and not their opponent and this can contribute to the lack of focus. Coaching experience plays a factor in bowl success and with a win Urban Meyer can join Mark Richt and Tommy Tuberville as the only SEC coaches to win three straight bowl games.

Urban Meyer has shed some light on how this program will be run in the future over the last month. First he had his team jacked and ready to play a wounded arch-rival in FSU. He refused to let his team overlook a dangerous opponent and got UF to forget about the loss to South Carolina. He then went out and loaded up with early commits on the recruiting trail. Whether this was a result of the FSU win or just the fact that Meyer and the Gators need players he has done a great job. It seems to be his modus operandi to offer great ones early and take them as soon as they want to come.

He spent some time telling us this week about the personality of his team this season and how that they were not completely "invested." I think we had a clue he had some resistance after the LSU game but for the most part this guy has portrayed his football team as one of hard working loyal football players and to me that is the way to do it.

He has kept stories like the South Carolina plane trip in house and made those "team" issues. I like this and I don't believe that we in the media or as fans should have to know about every problem, confrontation or adjustment inside the program. By bringing it up this week Meyer has opened the door for more "attrition" that is going to take place to make this his program.

Finally, in the last month I think we have gotten a feeling about Meyer's thoughts on the NFL. I said that when Urban got the job that is he is a "college" guy. I really think Meyer loves the college game and everything that goes with it. He sounds like a guy who does not want NFL talk in his bowl preparations and if he had it his way the NFL paperwork process would happen after New Year's Day. I think Meyer will encourage all his players to come back and not to take the money and run. I know he said if you are a first rounder you must go but Meyer thinks college is such a great experience that guys should want to stay.

Keys for the Gators to win: With a month to cover this game everyone has broken it down in every which way but here are my keys.

  1. Chris Leak must play well. He needs 200 yards passing and he needs to be in control of the offense the entire day. He makes everything go and would love to finish strong.

  2. Turnover margin. This is the formula in Meyer's plan to win. Turnovers are key in bowl games and Iowa was not very good at getting them during the regular season. UF must protect the football and not give the Iowa offense a short field.

  3. Stop the run. Two years ago Iowa dominated the Gator defense and ran all over them. The Gators must make the Hawkeyes one-dimensional and show toughness. Florida has a better defense than two years ago but Brandon Siler must be healthy and play well.

Final Thoughts: This is my final column of the year and I have enjoyed writing about the Gators and the games each and every week. I appreciate all the emails, criticism and comments throughout the season. I struggled with my picks this year but did have a good year being close to the total. I am on a one-game winning streak having picked UF over FSU, so I am on a roll. I will be back during the 2006 football season once again. It's a privilege to work with all the folks here at Gator Country and I look forward to doing it. Before I make my last pick of the season let me throw a shameless plus in for our final college kickoff show on Sun Sports. It is January 6 and we will be doing our All-Florida team. Please go to www.sunsportstv.com and vote for whomever you believe should be on the team and then tune in to see who makes it!

I like the way Urban Meyer has approached this game with regards to preparation. I think the practices have been good, the focus has been good and the plan to win will be good. I think Kirk Ferentz is a terrific coach and will have his team ready to play. This will not be a sloppy game but I do think UF's defense will be the difference. The front for UF played so fast against FSU that I am not sure there is another team in the Big Ten that has that speed. The defensive line will create havoc in the passing game and shut down Iowa's running game. I like the Gators to win two games in a row to end a season for only the fourth time since 1985. UF 24-17.


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