By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The expectation for the University of Florida football team entering the 2009 season, both internally and externally, was that only another BCS Championship would be considered sufficient. The Gators won the
title in 2008 and returned a wealth of talent from that squad, including star
quarterback Tim Tebow.
The first two weeks of the '09 campaign featured matchups with overmatched
non-conference opponents, and Florida throttled Charleston Southern and Troy
by a combined score of 118-9. The SEC opener took place on September 19th
against Tennessee, and while the Gators certainly weren't dominant, the result
was an acceptable 23-13 triumph. That clash was followed by a 41-7 beating of
Kentucky and a 13-3 triumph over LSU in Baton Rouge, elevating coach Urban
Meyer's team to 5-0.
The Gators were nearly upset on October 17th by an upstart Arkansas squad, but
that tilt resulted in a 23-20 triumph. Five regular-season games remained at
that point, and Florida took care of business by winning each of those tilts
by double figures, setting up a much-anticipated clash with fellow unbeaten
Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. What was expected to be a close game
turned into a one-sided affair in a hurry, as the Crimson Tide dominated both
sides of the ball and rolled to a 32-13 victory.
Bitterly disappointed but determined to finish the season on a positive note,
the Gators trounced Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl by a 51-24 final. The fact
that Florida ranked either first or second in every major offensive and
defensive category among SEC teams is proof of the talent on the '09 squad.
Meyer did resign prior to the Sugar Bowl last season, but he quickly changed
his mind, opting for a couple of weeks of rest instead to get his health in
check. It now seems that the coach is eager to prove that he can handle his
job and keep the Gators at or near the top of the college football world.
OFFENSE: No player nationally has a tougher task than Florida quarterback John
Brantley, who replaces Tebow under center. At the recent SEC Media Days, Meyer
was asked if he is concerned about the scrutiny that Brantley will face.
"If he was a freshman or sophomore, we'd give a lot of thought to that," said
the coach. "We have a real clear understanding of what John Brantley can do."
While he didn't see the field much behind Tebow, Brantley did complete 36-
of-48 passes for 410 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in spot
duty. Meyer went on to say that every successful quarterback benefits from the
talent around him, and Brantley clearly has a number of playmakers at his
disposal. Deonte Thompson had four receiving touchdowns a year ago and appears
ready to take a step forward. As for Chris Rainey, a fellow junior, he is a
true burner who is extremely versatile.
Listed as a tailback, Jeff Demps carried the ball 99 times for 745 yards and
seven touchdowns last season, and he also possesses tremendous speed. With
Rainey and Demps in the fold, Brantley can throw short passes and let his
weapons do the rest.
Three starters are back along the Florida offensive line, and while a couple
of key cogs did depart, this unit should be among the strongest in the SEC.
Afterall, all three holdovers are seniors.
DEFENSE: Florida has co-defensive coordinators heading into the 2010 season,
and while that approach is rather unorthodox, there is enough work to be done
to keep both Chuck Heater and Teryl Austin busy. Six starters are gone from
last season's defense that limited foes to 12.4 ppg and 252.6 total ypg, both
of which placed fourth nationally. Clearly, this defense lost some stars and
now lacks star power.
Ahmad Black, now a senior, is a terrific safety who made 70 tackles last
season. Will Hill will play the free safety position, and with Janoris Jenkins
returning to start at corner, the defensive backfield may very well prove to
be the strength of this unit.
Up front, the tackle position figures to be strong with Terron Sanders, Omar
Hunter and Lawrence Marsh clogging the middle. The same can't be said for the
defensive end positions. Justin Trattou, a senior, finally has his chance to
shine, but many feel that he is more steady than spectacular.
The linebacking corps will miss Brandon Spikes, both for his high level of
play and his leadership. A.J. Jones, a senior, intercepted three passes last
season and will be an asset to the defense. Still, putting up numbers even
approaching those posted last season seems like an impossible feat.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chas Henry is a tremendous weapon for the Gators in close
games, as the punter's ability to kick it long while also pinning opponents
inside the 20-yard line is a huge asset in the field position battle. Caleb
Sturgis, the placekicker, needs to be a bit more accurate, but he certainly
has the leg strength to be one of the top kickers in the SEC. And in regard to
the return positions, Rainey is a threat to take the ball for a score on every
OUTLOOK: With all of the youthful talent and available starting positions at
Florida, Meyer was asked if he would be hesitant to thrust a large number of
freshmen or inexperienced sophomores into the mix.
"If you don't play at Florida, it's because you're not good enough to play,
it's not because we're saving you for down the road," said the coach.
Florida can absolutely win the SEC East and probably will, but the conference
crown seems like a stretch.