Florida preview

How does a football team defend a championship without defenders? That's the task facing the Florida Gators this fall. Urban Meyer's team must replace nine defensive starters from the 2006 team that captured SEC and national titles.

The departures include four underclassmen who picked pro ball over another year of college – end Jarvis Moss, linebacker Brandon Siler, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Ryan Smith. Moss and Nelson were first-round NFL Draft picks.

It's true that Ohio State reached the 2007 BCS Championship Game after replacing nine defensive starters from the year before, but the Buckeyes had more help from their offense. It featured the Heisman Trophy winner (Troy Smith) at quarterback, two first-round NFL Draft picks (Ted Ginn, Jr., Anthony Gonzalez) at wide receiver, and a big-time weapon (Antonio Pittman) at running back.

Conversely, the 2007 Gators appear shaky on offense. They must replace five first-teamers from their 2006 attack, including quarterback Chris Leak, who went 35-12 in 47 games as a college starter. Heir-apparent Tim Tebow is a proven runner but a suspect passer. He carried the ball 89 times as a freshman backup in 2006 while throwing it just 33 times.

Tebow suffered a shoulder injury during the spring but still performed well in the Orange & Blue Game, completing 17 of 27 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns.

In addition to Leak, the Gator offense must fill voids left by the loss of starting running back DeShawn Wynn, wideout Dallas Baker, fullback Billy Latsko and guard Steve Rissler from last year's No. 1 offensive unit.

Head coach Urban Meyer stands 22-4 in two seasons at Florida, including a 13-0 mark in Gainesville and a 10-0 record in non-conference games. Counting his stints at Bowling Green and Utah, he is 35-2 in home games.

Meyer's overall winning percentage of .836 (61 victories, 12 defeats) ranks second nationally among coaches with at least six years' experience. After dropping three of his first six games at Florida, he has won 15 of 16.

Even with three years of Ron Zook, Florida has posted 19 consecutive winning seasons, longest streak in the SEC. The Gators have won their last 15 home games, which also ranks No. 1 among league programs.

Next up: Georgia


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