2008 record: 13-1 (7-1 SEC, 1st, East)
Head coach: Urban Meyer (44-9, 4 years; 83-17 overall, 8 years)
Returning Starters: 20; 7 offense, 11 defense, punter, kicker
Leaders on Each Side: Offense: Tim Tebow, Defense: LB: Brandon Spikes
Last January, Florida matched LSU’s Bowl Championship Series title mark with a 24-14 defeat of Oklahoma. Eyeing the Rose Bowl in 2010, Tim Tebow and Co. look to snatch their third title in four years – and another Heisman Trophy to boot.
If there were ever a hands down favorite in the Southeastern Conference, the Florida Gators of 2009 would be it. The defense returns all 11 starters and 21 of the 22 players on the two-deep depth chart from last year’s title team.
While the offense loses a number of receivers – highlighted by the departure of Percy Harvin – the unit returns arguably college football’s top talent in Tebow.
If the Gators are going to drop a game in 2009, it likely won’t be in The Swamp – where the toughest games are a toss-up between Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State. Instead, look for the biggest challenge to come Oct. 10 in Death Valley or Oct. 31 against Georgia in Jacksonville.
Tim Tebow – 6’3”, 245, Sr.
John Brantley – 6’3”, 217, So.
The legend of Tim Tebow is already in full construction, and the 6’3”, 245-pound senior does not seem to be slowing down to allow the builders to catch up.
Coming off a 2007 Heisman win, Tebow threw for 2,746 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for 673 yards and 12 touchdowns – all of which were team highs.
Though Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford took the trophy home, Tebow is back for his final collegiate run. He is adamant about not shooting for the Heisman, for a visit to Pasadena in January is on the front of the Florida-native’s mind.
Jeff Demps – 5’8”, 183, So.
Chris Rainey – 5’9”, 175, So.
Speed has always been the first attribute one notices about a Meyer-run offense. With Percy Harvin gone to the Minnesota Vikings, the Gators will place the carries on a pair of speed-backs: Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.
Both Demps and Rainey went over 600 yards on the ground last fall and recorded a combined 11 touchdowns. The big play ability, however, is what Meyer will bank on. In 2008, the tandem combined for 14 runs or receptions of 30 yards or more.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Riley Cooper – 6’3”, 215, Sr.
David Nelson – 6’5”, 212, Sr.
Carl Moore – 6’3”, 225, Sr.
Deonte Thompson – 6’0”, 201, So.
Aaron Hernandez – 6’2”, 250, Jr.
Having Louis Murphy out of the lineup definitely leaves a bruise. Not having Percy Harvin back, however, could leave a scar.
Two of the Gators top four receivers from 2009 are gone, leaving Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper, Deonte Thompson and David Nelson to carry the weight.
Hernandez, the team’s third leading receiver in 2008, worked as the starting tight end in place of the injured Cornelius Ingram – and Hernandez will be back at the spot this fall.
Cooper, who has logged just 30 catches in 37 career games, will match up with Nelson, also a senior, to form Tebow’s go-to-guys at wide out.
If T.J. Lawrence or Carl Moore can’t produce from the third and fourth spots, look for five-star freshman Andre Debose to make his debut.
Carl Johnson – 6’5”, 342, Jr.
Maurkice Pouncey – 6’5”, 318, Jr.
Sam Robey – 6’4”, 291, Fr.
Mike Pouncey – 6’5”, 320, Jr.
Marcus Gilbert – 6’5”, 320, Jr.
Sam Robey won the starting job at center this past spring, which moved Maurkice Pouncey to left guard. That means that the Pouncey twins will be separated for the first time, with Mike Pouncey lining up at right guard.
Carl Johnson returns to his starting spot at left tackle, while junior Marcus Gilbert moves into the top spot on the right tackle depth chart for the first time.
Justin Trattou – 6’3”, 264, Jr.
Terron Sanders – 6’2”, 309, Jr.
Lawrence Marsh – 6’4”, 304, Jr.
Jermaine Cunningham – 6’3”, 252, Sr.
Juniors Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders should lock up their spots at defensive tackle, but the competition in the middle is definitely heating up.
Senior Troy Epps is vying for time, while Omar Hunter’s breakout spring and Brandon Antwine’s recovery from injury have defensive coordinator Charlie Strong with more bodies than positions – which is always welcomed news.
Watch for the production on the outside from Justin Trattou, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap. The trio, who combined for 118 tackles last fall, will all see time at defensive end.
Ryan Stamper – 6’2”, 235, Jr.
Brandon Spikes – 6’3”, 258, Sr.
Brandon Hicks – 6’2”, 221, Jr.
When Brandon Spikes announced that he would return for his senior season, offensive coordinators around the league cringed. The 6-foot-3, 258-pound linebacker led the team with 93 tackles in 2008, and should be the headman of the side once more.
Ryan Stamper and Brandon Hicks were also starters on last year’s title team, which has the Gators sitting pretty in the middle of the field. One better, backups Dustin Doe and Dee Finley were both one-time starters for Meyer.
Joe Haden – 5’11”, 190, Jr.
Janoris Jenkins – 5’11, 188, So.
Ahmad Black – 5’9”, 185, Jr.
Major Wright – 6’0”, 204, Jr.
If you had to pick the Gators strongest suit (and there are many), it would be tough not to settle on the secondary – which could be the best in school history.
Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are two of the top cornerbacks in college football, lockdown specialists who have Sunday written all over them. Juniors Ahmad Black and Major Wright line up at safety, with a pair of backups – Will Hill and Dee Finley – who are just as talented.
If defense wins championships, the Gators have all the right cards – and plenty of experience to add to it.
Jonathon Phillips – 5’10”, 218, Sr.
Chas Henry – 6’3”, 222, Jr.
Kicker Jonathon Phillips is back for his senior campaign after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. That is great news for the Gators, as Phillips made 12-of-13 field goal attempts and went 78-for-79 on extra points.
At punter, Chas Henry returns to the starting spot – where his 43.4 average was third in the conference last season.