Florida Preview

He hasn't given fans reason to forget the lofty accomplishments of Steve Spurrier, but Ron Zook believes all is well in Gator Country as Florida's football team readies for Saturday's key Southeastern Conference battle with Tennessee.

Zook's overall numbers after two years are not particularly noteworthy. He's now 17-10 after last week's win over Eastern Michigan. But he has fared well in the league, winning 12-of-16 gamed against SEC foes. He also has won five times against ranked opponents away from home and taken the Gators to two Outback Bowls.

Perhaps more importantly, Zook has signed 10 Parade All-Americans during his brief tenure at Florida. In the previous 12 years, Florida landed 20 All-Americans. That could bode well for the near term as Zook and the Gators try to improve on last year's 8-5 mark.

"I said last year that we were going to be a better team than we were in our first year," Zook said. "We will be better this year than we were last year. I am excited about the attitude of this team, and I like the way they are coming together as a team. If we can get our team going in the direction where it is all about team, we will have a great season."

Known for his tireless work ethic and energetic personality, Zook sees some of the same traits in the latest version of the Gator team.

"There is more of a comfort level now," he said. "We seem more relaxed because we are a better football team. We feel better about where we are. I've said all along we are a much-improved team. Now what does that mean? That's obviously why we go out and play the games.

"But I love the attitude of this team. I love the work ethic. The coaching staff gets along. It's really a lot of fun and we're excited to see where we are at. Our attitude since the spring is to just be the best we can be."

Getting to know his players and their strengths and weaknesses has helped Zook immensely. He believes he now knows who he can count on in tough times.

"I feel better about my ammunition," he said. "From that standpoint I feel a lot better about things. Any time you have a group of people that are together for a period of time in the heat of the battle, you know who people are. It makes you more comfortable knowing how people are going to react."

Among the most dependable Gators is sophomore quarterback Chris Leak, who stepped into the starting job early last year and performed admirably. With talented skill players surrounding Leak, the Gators should rank with the SEC's best offenses. Receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell and running back Ciatrick Fason give Leak potent weapons to work with. Center Mike Degory and guard Mo Mitchell anchor what Zook feels can be an improved offensive front.

"We talk before the game about whose hands we want to get the ball in," Zook said. "We have some guys who have a chance to have a big year. All the receivers can make something happen. Andre Caldwell is confident. Chad Jackson is another guy who had a great camp. The running backs have some guys that can really carry the ball. We feel good about the offensive line. We tell them to go out and see what they can do because we have some guys with a lot of potential." Degory likes what he has seen from the offense so far. "Everything is really clicking," he said. "We have a lot of experience. We still have some young guys, but that's great. They all know the system." New offensive coordinator Larry Fedora has received the endorsement of Leak, who likes his philosophy.

"It's a change of tempo," Leak said. "It keeps the defense off balance and makes them more hesitant on some plays."

The Florida defense lost a number of starters to graduation, primarily in the secondary. But standout linebackers Channing Crowder and Travis Harris are back, along with defensive lineman Ray McDonald. The Gator defense hopes to be a unit that causes a number of turnovers, much like last year's group.

"I feel good about the defense," McDonald said. "We have gotten stronger and faster. I think we will be a lot better. We run around to the ball, fly to the ball. We have been working hard to bring the team together."

Zook hopes it all adds up to an SEC championship and perhaps more.

"Our goal at the University of Florida is to go to Atlanta," he said. "You go back to my first year and we are a fourth-and-16 away from it and last year we were pretty close to it.That is where we have to get. We will try to become the best team we can and then see what happens."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories