SEC PREVIEW: THE FLORIDA GATORS

THE FLORIDA GATORS Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to gather post-spring practice outlooks for all the league squads, while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.

Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to gather post-spring practice outlooks for all the league squads, while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.

FLORIDA (12)

By David Stirt
Fightin' Gators

After winning its second national title in three years, the Florida football program finds itself in position to claim a title that is given to very few entities--- dynasty. There is no clear cut definition of what constitutes a sports dynasty, but in the Division 1-A collegiate sports realm, UCLA's seven straight basketball titles and 10 championships in 12 years from 1964-75 certainly sits at the top of a list anyone might want to compile.

When Florida won its third national football title by beating Oklahoma last January, it became only the eighth program in the past 50 years to win three or more national championships. Only Alabama (six), Miami and USC (five) and Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Nebraska (four) have more titles in that period than Florida and Texas (three each).

If you look back at the past 25 years (1983-2008) only two schools: Miami and Florida, have won three or more national titles. Think about that. For all the perceived football "powers" out there, only the ‘Canes and Gators have managed to win at least three national titles since Howard Schnellenberger's UM crew knocked off Nebraska, 31-30, in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

So does that mean Florida is a college football dynasty? Maybe, maybe not. But there will be no maybes about it if the 2009 team can pull off the Gators' third national title in four years. No school has accomplished that feat since Notre Dame did it in 1946, 1947 and 1949 (plus a No. 2 ranking with a 9-0-1 record in 1948 behind Michigan's 9-0 mark).

That's 60 years years ago, in a far different era of college football where unlimited scholarships made it possible for a select group of schools to horde the bulk of the playing talent.

And based on the experience and talent on hand this season, anything less than a national title wil probably be a huge disappointment for Gator fans.

With 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow back for his senior year, the Gators have the greatest on-the-field leader in college football at the helm to make sure his teammates don't let complacency distract them from their chance at making history.

Tebow is surrounded by a cast that returns six other starters to an offensive unit that was the highest scoring in SEC football history with 611 points. Three returnees, Tebow (673), Chris Rainey (652) and Jeff Demps (605) rushed for more than 600 yards last season and Emmanuel Moody added 417 yards. Rainey, Demps and Moody all averaged more than seven yards per carry last year.

The Gators will feel the loss of alltime offensive great Percy Harvin and wideout Louis Murphy, but Aaron Hernandez returns as the SEC's top tight end and Deonte Thompson, David Nelson, Riley Cooper, Carl Moore and highly-regarded freshman Andre DeBose should help fuel another highly-successful passing game.

As strong as the Gators look on offense, the defense and special teams make the 2009 squad the clear-cut favorite for the SEC and national titles.

All 22 of the defensive two-deep return from last season, when the Gators led the nation in interceptions, ranked fourth in scoring defense (12.9 points per game), ninth in total defense (285.3 yards) and held Oklahoma's record-setting offense to 14 points in the BCS title game.

Brandon Spikes, arguably the nation's premier linebacker, returns for his senior year and leads a defensive unit that is so steeped in talent that the biggest challenge for many of the returning starters will be trying to hold onto their first-team status.

With a special teams unit that blocked a school-record nine kicks last year also returning placekicker Jonathan Phillips (12-of-13 field goals and 78-of-79 extra points) punter Chas Henry (43.4 yard average) and kick returner extraordinaire Brandon James, you might as well bestow the title of nation's best on UF's special teams too.

Still, as good as the Gators appear on paper, it's important to note that despite winning three national titles in the past 12 years, Florida has never had an undefeated season. That is the goal Tebow is after, and he knows that if the Gators can pull it off, they just might stand alone as college football's greatest dynasty of the past 60 years.


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