SunStateFootball Preview: The Florida Gators

The defending national champs return most of their starters and are in position for a rare repeat.

ANALYSIS: Florida has won three national titles in their history with two of them coming in the last three years. Urban Meyer is in year 5 in Gainesville and has a roster full of his players. The defensive side of the ball does not have any real question marks, while the offensive side must replace some key offensive linemen and WR's Percy Harvin/Louis Murphy. Anything less than an undefeated repeat will be disappointing. We do say undefeated as that is something that UF has never done (Miami has three times, FSU once).

QUARTERBACK: Pretty much everything that can be said about Tim Tebow has been said....he is simply one of the most dominant, clutch performers in college football history. There may never be a player quite like him again and his leadership should keep this team from becoming complacent. The scary thing for the SEC is that he has plenty of room to improve as a thrower. John Brantley would be starting at 110 other D-1 schools this year and is a high quality back-up. While he is not the fit offensively that Tebow is, he does have a plus skill set in the passing game. We look for him to get some snaps this year thus preparing him for 2010.

RUNNING BACK: This is the first spot where Harvin's versatility will be missed. Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody do return however and that should be more than enough. Demps was a nice surprise as a freshmen. Moody and Rainey need to live up to their potential. A mild concern is the size of Demps/Rainey, both backs are under 190 pounds and UF does play in the most physical conference in the country. You have to catch both players first and then get a clean shot on them, something both players are adept at avoiding. The speed that Demps/Rainey bring to the table is a perfect complement to Tebow's power running style.

WIDE RECEIVER: Harvin was Tebow's favorite receiver, add in Louis Murphy's graduation and this is the biggest question mark on a loaded team. There is no need to shed a tear for UF however, two players with big time potential are waiting in the wings: Deonte Thompson and Andre Debose. Thompson was a highly coveted recruit three years ago from the Muck and it is his time to shine. It might be too much to ask for Debose to take over the Harvin role.....yet, but he will in time. Few players have the 'it' factor that he has. Of course, both players are blazing fast. Riley Cooper and David Nelson are experienced veterans who figure to play their role. An x factor is Carl Moore. As a JUCO recruit it sometimes takes a year to get acclimated, he has great size and could bust out this year.

TIGHT END: When Cornelius Ingram went down with an injury pre-season last year, that opened the door for Aaron Hernandez. He capitalized so well that he is expected to leave early at the end of this year. Hernandez can do it all and is a key part of this offense. Freshmen Desmond Parks is the backup.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Junior's Maurkice and Mike Pouncey are two of the best offensive linemen in the country. Both are expected to leave early at the end of the year and have lived up to their billing as top tier recruits. Maurkice may have to slide to center if Sam Robey does not take the job. Massive Carl Johnson will need to hold down one of the tackle jobs and he has the potential to play on Sunday's. Marcus Gilbert and James Wilson are fighting for starting jobs and figure to have an edge. Matt Patchan, Xavier Nixon, and Maurice Hurt should be solid depth.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The DE's can be downright scary at times. Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap have both flashed big time potential. Dunlap is looked as a surefire NFLer and has the capability to take over some games. Duke Lemmens, Justin Trattou, and William Green are the backups. The DT situation is not as good. Juniors Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh are solid performer's, but this is one area where UF does not have an elite player. Omar Hunter and freshmen Gary Brown have that type of potential, but both would seem to be a year or two away.

LINEBACKER: The deepest spot on the team with no fewer than 9 players who could be starting in the SEC. Headliner Brandon Spikes did not enter the draft and returns to wreak havoc for one more year. Brandon Hicks and Ryan Stamper are penciled in as starters on the outside, but will need to hold on to their jobs as Lerentree McCray, Jelani Jenkins, Lorenzo Edwards, and A.J. Jones are in the mix. Jon Bostic entered early and consistently impressed in the Spring. Former starter Dustin Doe's status is up in the air after several off the field incidents.

CORNERBACK: Both Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden return as starters and they might form the top duo in the country. Jenkins balled from day one and Haden now has the experience to match his vast physical potential. While there is solid depth with Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson, and Moses Jenkins, there would be a dropoff from the two starters.

SAFETY: A wealth of talent also resides here. Major Wright figures to hold down one of the jobs and Ahmad Black was fantastic last year. Will Hill, Dorian Munroe, and Dee Finley are all pushing for playing time.

SPECIAL TEAMS: What would you expect, the Gators are loaded here too. P Jonathan Phillips, K Caleb Sturgis, and returner Brandon James form the best trifecta in the country on special teams. Will teams finally learn not to kick the ball to James?

SCHEDULE: Fairly soft for the SEC. The big out of conference game is FSU and the Noles come to Gainesville to end the season. UF only leaves the state four times in 2009. On paper the big games figure to be at LSU, Georgia(in Jacksonville), at South Carolina, and FSU. The SEC championship Game of course will be a slugfest. It is hard to see this team slipping up.

PROJECTION: UF will be in the SEC Championship Game: UGA, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt are not strong enough to finish with only one conference loss(in the scenario that one of them upset UF). We don't see how UF could slip up twice...once is of course possible, this is college football and they lost at home to Ole Miss last year. Point being, a one loss SEC champion(particularly the defending champion) is more than likely in the National Title Game. That is where UF is headed, the only questions are who they will be playing and if they have that shot at the elusive undefeated season.

The country finally gets that East-West Coast National Title game with the Gators taking on the Trojans of USC.


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