GAINESVILLE -- Big game this weekend up in the ATL. Stubhub expects No.2 Florida (11-1) vs. No.1 Alabama (12-0) to rank in its top 10 list for ridiculously inflated ticket prices. And that's not top 10 for a college football game. That's top 10 regardless of sport. Only Super Bowl and World Series tickets have gone for more. Club seats in the Georgia Dome are pushing $1,300.
Gator Clause isn't leaving Gainesville until Friday night, so I'll have plenty of time to bloggy blog until then. Something a bit odd I just realized. While interning for The Birmingham News, I covered Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson when his Hoover Bucs won a high school state championship. As a preps writer for The Herald, I covered Tebow's state championship in 2005. Pretty cool, huh?
Both Wilson's and Tebow's state championship wins were blowouts by the fourth quarter. The only difference in the two state championship games -- and this has something to do with my officially licensed prediction of the game -- Tebow played nose guard in the fourth quarter for Ponte Vedra Beach Nease. So, that whole idea about UA's rough and rugged style of play being too much for UF's dainty little spread-option offense ... it's nonsense. UF 38, UA 18
Saturday's game will be much more than a contest between Tebow and Wilson, of course. There will be plenty of talented players on the Georgia Dome's artificial turf and we're here to highlight a few important match-ups because, well, like y'all, I'm pretty excited about watching this game...
11) UA cornerback Javier Arenas vs. UF receiver Percy Harvin: Assuming Harvin plays more than a decoy role (I doubt it), this could be one of the best one-on-one match-ups on Saturday. Harvin will play receiver if he does anything. Arenas is looking forward to the challenge. When asked about Harvin this week, Arenas said he expects Harvin will play.
10) UA receiver Julio Jones vs. UF cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden: Jones and Jenkins know a little about each other going in. They squared off in a high school all-star game over the summer. Jenkins has three interceptions and leads the team with 10 pass break-ups. Haden is one of the nation's brightest up-and-comers. He's second on the team with 69 tackles and eight pass break-ups. He also has two interceptions. Jones leads UA with 46 receptions for 723 yards and four touchdowns. He's the Crimson Tide's only downfield threat. UA tight end Nick Walker is second on the team in receptions (26 for 262 yards, two TDs).
9) UF quarterback Tim Tebow vs. UA linebacker Rolando McClain: In this corner, the Mac Attack (team-high 82 tackles, 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, three sacks), standing six feet and four inches and weighing in at 249 pounds. Wearing a crimson hat and menacing scowl, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain. And in this corner, The Chosen One (tougher to take down than the Berlin Wall, 12 rushing touchdowns, third-down conversation machine, 43 career rushing touchdowns), standing six feet and three inches and weighing in at 240 pounds, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and heavyweight CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, Tim Tebow.
8) UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen vs. UA defensive genius Nick Saban: Florida's offense leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring. The Gators are averaging 46.3 points per game. (That's a big number.) Alabama's defense leads the league in points allowed. The Crimson Tide is allowing 11.5 points per game. (That's a small number.) Florida's offense leads the SEC in total yards (449.4 yards per game). Alabama's defense leads the league in total yards allowed (248.5 yards per game). Something's gotta give, right?
7) UA tackle Andre Smith vs. UF end Carlos Dunlap: NFL scouts (and me) will be watching this match-up. Many consider Smith the best offensive lineman in the nation. Dunlap leads the Gators with nine sacks and is peaking at the perfect time. Sounds a lot like a young Derrick Harvey.
6) UF center Maurkice Pouncey vs. UA nose guard Terrence Cody: Cody is the guy that allows UA linebacker Rolando McClain to fill the gaps and make the tackles. UF leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (237.1 yards per game) and Cody will do his best to limit UF on first down. Cody (6-5, 365 pounds) will be highly motivated for this game. He's from Fort Myers. Pouncey is one of the best young offensive linemen in the country (along with his brother, of course). Maurkice and guard Mike Pouncey will also be highly motivated for this game. The Pounceys' stepfather, Robert Webster, who was severely injured (lost a leg) at work in Lakeland last week, is expected to make the trip to Atlanta for the game.
5) UA tight end Nick Walker vs. UF strong safety Ahmad Black: Here's a match-up that will draw my attention. Nick Saban loves to get his tight ends involved and UA will be looking to isolate Walker (6-5, 248-pound senior) in one-on-one coverage against Black, UF's undersized (5-9, 185 pounds) strong safety. Walker is Alabama's second-leading receiver (26 receptions for 262 yards). Black (What a story this kid has turned out to be, right.) leads UF in interceptions with six. Another thing: Getting Black out of the run-box will be one of the top priorities for UA quarterback John Parker Wilson. In the words of Black, "Pick party!"
4) UF linebacker Brandon Spikes vs. UA running backs Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch: UF linebacker Brandon Spikes leads the Gators in tackles (80) and is a finalist for the Nagurski Award. UA's trio of power running backs are all downhill runners. Coffee is averaging 6.2 yards per carry (102.9 yards per game). Ingram and Upchurh are just as tough to take down. Expect some big collisions, folks.
3) UA's sure hands vs. UF's defensive thievery: UF has forced 21 turnovers during its current eight-game winning streak and converted 16 of those turnovers into touchdowns. Alabama has lost nine fumbles this season and quarterback John Parker Wilson has only thrown five interceptions. Alabama cannot afford to turn the ball over.
2) UF nose tackle Lawrence Marsh vs. UA center Antoine Caldwell: The importance of this match-up cannot be overstated. Marsh, recovering from a sprained medial-collateral ligament, has been UF's most reliable interior defensive lineman. Caldwell is a finalist for the Remington Award, given to the nation's best center, and helps pave the way for Alabama's between-the-tackles running game. UA is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (201.5 yards). Florida is third in the league in rush defense (102.8 yards per game).
1) UF quarterback Tim Tebow vs. UA nose guard Terrence Cody: UF leads the SEC in third-down conversions (48.9 percent). UA leads the league in third-down conversion defense (25 percent). Another interesting statistical comparison: UA leads the SEC in fourth-down conversion (8 of 9, 88.9 percent). UF's defense leads the league in denying teams on fourth down (8 of 21, 38.1 percent).
1A) UA strong-side linebacker Cory Reamer vs. UF scatbacks Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey: What!? All this hard work in the middle of the night and this is your No.1 match-up of the biggest game in SEC history? I can hear you now, "Goodman, you're an idiot." Well, hear me out first before you leave a snarky comment. UA is allowing an SEC-best 73.6 rushing yards per game, but the Crimson Tide hasn't faced a running game quite like Florida's. That's where Reamer comes in. This guy is fast. Reamer (6-4, 218 pounds, another Hoover High guy) was actually a defensive back in high school. UF leads the SEC in rushing (237.1 yards per game) on account of the team's speedy backfield. With Percy Harvin likely injured, the bulk of UF's rushing responsibilities will fall to Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey, who, gulp, limped off the practice field on Thursday after reaggrevating his groin pull. Demps and Rainey like to get outside. Reamer will be waiting.
GAINESVILLE -- Shortly after his sophomore season, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow told Gator Clause that he would play four seasons for the Gators. He changed his stance slightly this season and now says he will wait until his junior season is complete before he makes a decision on whether or not to turn pro.
On Thursday, Tebow might be leaning towards returning to school for his senior season. Scouts Inc. released its first-round NFL Draft projections today (CLICK ME!) and Tebow isn't on the list. Junior quarterbacks on the list: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, No.1 pick; Georgia's Matt Stafford, the No.5 pick; USC's Mark Sanchez (redshirt junior), the No.12 pick.
While Tebow isn't listed in the early NFL Draft projections, other Florida juniors are among Scouts Inc.'s Top 32. Percy Harvin is No.22, the third-ranked wide receiver. Brandon Spikes is No. 26, the fourth-rated linebacker.
Other instate notables: South Florida junior defensive end George Selvie is No.24. Florida State defensive end Everette Brown is No.21. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas alum Geno Atkins is No. 16 and the fifth-rated defensive linemen. (Note: ESPN lists Atkins as playing for Texas but Atkins actually plays for Georgia.) Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, a Lake Butler, Fla., native, is No.32.
It should be noted that Scouts Inc. does not project any Miami Hurricanes in the first round. At least one Miami Hurricane has been drafted in the NFL first round each of the past 13 seasons. That streak is in jeapardy this season.
URBAN MEYER/PERCY HARVIN HATE SPEECH
This from The Miami Herald's own Dolphins columnist Armando Salguero. Mr. Salguero analyzed some Dolphins NFL Draft projections today and he apparently couldn't help himself by adding this zinger to his biting prose:
"Also: I know Florida faithful will shout from the rooftops that Percy Harvin deserves mention here as a top receiver prospect. But the guy has had some injury issues this year, is not a big guy per se at 5-11 and 195 pounds, and I just don't like Urban Meyer. So there."
Say it ain't so, Armando! Say it ain't so!
For what it's worth, Gator Clause believes Harvin would make a great addition to the Dolphins' line-up.
BILLY DONOVAN FROM SEC MEDIA DAYS
When Billy speaks, you should listen. Click the play button. Live from Birmingham, Ala.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has made a point to not speak publicly about the upcoming election. (Raise your hand if you assume Tebow is a left-winged liberal.)
Tebow's apolitical stance hasn't stopped other team leaders from trumpeting their favorite Presidential candidate. Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes has created a little buzz around campus by wearing a Barack Obama shirt to football practice. Spikes is a North Carolina native.
Florida coach Urban Meyer welcomes his players' involvement in the political process.
"I love when our guys talk about that stuff," Meyer said. "I actually hear them a little bit this year. I just think that's great and that's very mature. When I was 18 years old, that wasn't at the top of my list."
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
If you're making the trip to Gainesville on Friday for Gator Growl, then make sure to pack a raincoat or umbrella. According to weather.org, Friday's forecast calls for rain/thunder/wind. Things should be cleared up by the 12:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, but pack a poncho just in case.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Atlanta Journal-Constitution college football columnist Tony Barnhart wrote earlier this week that UF should be ranked No.4 in the BCS. Here's an excerpt from Mr. Barnhart's column:
"Bottom line: After watching Ole Miss take Alabama to the limit in Tuscaloosa, the Gators’ 31-30 loss to the Rebels should be viewed in a different light. They have a scary collection of fast players. If Florida finishes 12-1 and beats Alabama in Atlanta, the Gators should be considered the best one-loss team in the mix."
Barnhart has Florida ranked ahead of Oklahoma. Gotta disagree there based on what I've seen from both teams so far this season.
Should one-loss Florida be the nation's top-ranked one-loss team?
COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S GRAND FINALE
Just got an email that the annual Army-Navy game will be moved back an additional week next season. The game will now be played on the second Saturday of December and be the final regular-season college football game of the year. (One week after the SEC championship game.)
Question: Does anyone care? Who out there actually watches the Army-Navy game?
Thoughts on UF linebacker Brandon Spikes' bulletin-board material ...
GAINESVILLE -- Brandon Spikes has no friends in Knoxville, Tenn., -- not after his comments earlier this week about the Tennessee Volunteers.
Spikes told reporters on Monday that Tennessee "quit playing" during last season's rivalry game against Florida. Florida won 59-20.
"They kind of gave up," Spikes said. "Our whole program is about, backed up against the wall, you've got to keep fighting. We saw them give up. ... They quit playing."
Want to add a little spice to a local pick-up basketball game? Call your opponents quitters. Want to set off a raging firestorm of hate before one of the biggest Southeastern Conference college football games of the season? Call Tennessee a bunch of sorry quitters.
And you thought LSU's Tigers Stadium was a hostile crowd last season. Ha! In all my years, I've learned two certainties of life.
2. Call a redneck a redneck and he takes it as a compliment. Call a redneck a quitter, and you might as well have spit on his momma.
Spikes ended his brilliance with this: "I know they are going to be pretty jacked up."
What Spikes meant to say: "I know they are going to try and jack me up."
OK, to put this whole controversy into some kind of perspective, you've got to know the context of Spikes' remarks. The story begins with a dude by the name of Derek Baldry.
Derek Baldry was pretty much the toughest son of a gun to ever play football in the SEC. How can I possibly write such a statement about a walk-on? Well, Baldry was a journalism major and ... OK, that Baldry majored in journalism has nothing to do with this story.
Baldry didn't know much about football before he walked on the team in 2006. Here's what Baldry did before he walked on the team: Fought in the mountains of Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. (I wrote a story about this last year.) Quitting really isn't an option for those guys.
Now, knowing Baldry's background, you can fully appreciate the surprise he felt last year when a Tennessee lineman told Baldry not to bother blocking him on an extra point attempt late in the game. The Tennessee lineman told Baldry he had no intention of trying to block the kick.
Baldry relayed this message to his teammates and reporters last year and reporters brought the story up again on Monday. (As good reporters are prone to do.) Spikes obliged by talking about Baldry's story. (Tennessee, by the way, denied that this happened.)
"That kind of surprised me, for him saying I don't want to rush," Spikes said. "But I know they are not really as tough as us."
That a Tennessee player would actually quit trying was a big topic among the Gators last season, according to Spikes. Especially since the story came from Baldry, who is pretty much the essence of toughness and integrity.
Spikes said he had never experienced anything like that, especially "at this level." Of course, Spikes also told reporters that he has observed Tennessee quitting before and he really wasn't that surprised. (No clue what Spikes meant by that statement other than to inflame this rivalry.)
OK, now for some real talk. I don't really think it matters much that a Tennessee player told Baldry last year that he wasn't going to try and block an extra point. Not a big deal, as far as I'm concerned. Tennessee was losing badly and the extra point didn't matter.
And if you try and tell me some cliche like, "Goody, all plays matter and Florida Gators never quit on any play," I'll just have to remind you that Tennessee won the SEC East last year and nearly beat LSU in the SEC championship game.
What is interesting about all this? For the second game in a row, a Florida "team leader" talked some major smack before playing a rival. (I have nothing against this but I don't think UF coach Urban Meyer likes it much.) Receiver Louis Murphy called out Miami in similar fashion two weeks ago.
Murphy got the muzzle but his teammates apparently didn't get the message.
Florida coach Urban Meyer did not have a Sunday teleconference today. A spokesman for the Gators told me receiver Carl Moore's diagnoses on Sunday is still a "hip pointer."
GAINESVILLE -- Here are some random thoughts popping into focus as I watch the NFL today, reflect on last night's game and flip through the pages of my reporter's notebook...
--I used to like Brett Favre.
--Why was Florida tackle Phil Trautwein flagged for that personal-foul penalty? I couldn't figure it out from the press box. Whatever the reason, it ruined the Gators' momentum in the first quarter.
--Trautwein's personal-foul penalty wasn't as costly as the one charged to UM lineman Orlando Franklin at the end of the first half. It led to Jeffrey Demps' blocked punt.
--Florida receiver Louis Murphy apologized after the game for his smack talk earlier in the week. I don't know what to think about this. On one hand, it seems commendable. On the other hand, it's not like Murphy called out someone's mom. Whatever...
--Florida free safety Major Wright only had two tackles.
--Florida strong safety Ahmad Black appeared to hold his own against Miami's athletic skill players.
--Miami's only scoring drive featured a Wondy moment. Does anyone remember this? I had to chuckle a little bit in the press box.
--Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez said after the game that he was benched for the season opener because he didn't practice hard enough the week before Hawaii. Yeah, right...
--Linebackers: How many future first-round picks were on Florida Field last night? Two, I say. Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and UM freshman reserve linebacker Sean Spence.
--The fourth quarter was Tebow time. That's a good sign for the Gators.
--Several reporters who cover Miami keep telling me that Florida will lose at least two games this season. Doesn't say much for Miami, I guess. I thought the Canes were pretty good.
--UM quarterbacks Robert Marve and Jacory Harris are both going to be excellent. Will one transfer?
--Tebow has 130 pass attempts without an interception, a new Florida record. Danny Wuerffel held the previous record at 121 pass attempts.
--Florida has not committed a turnover in each of its last four games.
--Florida had five penalties for 35 yards. Not bad for the Gators. One of those penalties was on redshirt sophomore guard Marcus Gilbert (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), who filled in for Jim Tartt. Meyer said he wants to get Tartt back into the line-up as soon as possible.
--The Gators started the second half with two fruitless offensive drives. Tebow appeared to be pretty frustrated after the second drive. He was seen on the sidelines screaming at Meyer to leave the offense on the field for a fourth-and-two from the UF 48. Meyer punted.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney said on Wednesday evening that Ronnie Wilson has been moved back to the offensive line and could begin competing for a spot on the Gators' two-deep offensive line depth chart immediately.
"Tough guy and strong guy," McCarney said. "He's got to help our team somehow, some way."
Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Wednesday that reserve offensive lineman Maurice Hurt (neck stinger) will be unavailable for Saturday's season opener against Hawaii. Hurt is a second-string right guard behind Mike Pouncey. Meyer also said that receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes are doubtful for Saturday.
There are two likely reasons why coaches moved Wilson back to offensive line. One, Wilson wasn't very good at defensive tackle. Two, they don't need him anymore because freshman Matt Patchan is wowing coaches in practice. Patchan has only been back to full-contact practice for three days and already McCarney likes what he sees.
"His motor never stops and when you say go play relentless for the Gators he understands that about as good as anybody," McCarney said. "The short time he has practiced he has really, really left a strong impression on everybody."
McCarney plans to play 9-10 players in the defensive line rotation. Here's an educated guess at list: Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens, Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, Matt Patchan, Troy Epps, William Green and Javier Estopinan.
--Torrey Davis is not working with the defense. He is out of shape, according to McCarney and working with trainers during practice.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Urban Meyer indicated on Tuesday that he was discouraged with the apparent severity of Brandon Spikes' toe injury. But Meyer said it was too early in the week to rule Spikes unavailable for Saturday's season opener.
Replacing Spikes in the starting line-up would be redshirt junior Ryan Stamper, who defensive coordinator Charlie Strong says is one of the most reliable players on the team. Stamper saw action in 13 games last season and started against Georgia. He has a cursory knowledge of each linebacker position. On Tuesday, Stamper said that Spikes' injury seemed "pretty serious."
"I don't know if [Spikes] is going to be out a couple of weeks but it seems like a pretty serious injury," Stamper said. "Coach probably doesn't want to stress the injury too much. He probably could play with it but I don't know if they want to take that chance."
If Spikes is unavailable on Saturday, Stamper said he will be excited to start for a season opener, something he has never done. Coaches have told Stamper to be prepared to replace Spikes for the first three games of the season.
"If [Spikes] can't go and I get that opportunity that's just a great honor for me -- first game," Stamper said. "I'll be ready to go any game: Hawaii, Miami or Tennessee. I've just got to be ready if my number is called."
FOLKS, DON'T FORGET TO SEND A LINK TO C.I.'S GET-WELL CARD TO ALL YOUR GATOR FRIENDS...SIX DAYS LEFT UNTIL I GIVE C.I. THE CARD!
GAINESVILLE -- Florida's annual preseason media day was this morning. It's when all the reporters from around the state (and some from around the country) travel to Gainesville to interview the Gators' players. It's really a shame that two of the team's most important players decided not to show.
Percy Harvin was nowhere to be seen and neither was Brandon Spikes. Florida's official statement as to why these players skipped out: No clue.
I've got a suggestion. Maybe it's because a Sports Illustrated photographer wasn't there. No Erin Andrews, then no Percy, right?
Let the speculation begin, I guess. What else are reporters supposed to write about today? Percy Harvin, the Heisman Trophy candidate who is slow to recover from offseason heel surgery, can't even meet the press? (Must be pretty bad.) Spikes can't either?
Well, at least we know Tim Tebow is an accountable team leader. Tebow spoke at length with reporters today. In other words, Percy didn't show and Tebow was stuck answering questions about why his best receiver isn't practicing right now.
I don't know much about Percy's situation (He's hurt) but I do know this: Don't expect Percy or Spikes to be around next year for media day either.
(Check back later for more from media day, including behind-the-scenes pictures of Florida's new weight room and coaches' offices.)
Less than 24 hours until fall camp. Hope everyone enjoyed our CAMP COUNTDOWN. Posted below are individual links to the series...
7: TIGHT ENDS
6: SPECIAL TEAMS
5: BRANDON SPIKES
4: OFFENSIVE LINE
3: WIDE RECEIVERS
1: And the No.1 team strength entering fall camp is ... experience.
GAINESVILLE -- Last season was more about learning than it was about winning for the Florida Gators. The team that won a national championship in 2006 and the team that returned for 2007 were entirely different. From Tim Tebow to Urban Meyer, everyone had something to learn. Experience came in different forms.
For Meyer, 2007 was the first time he had ever been a third-year head coach with a team. There were signs of inexperience. A number of Gators were arrested in the offseason following the national championship. The experience led to some in-house changes this offseason, including the hiring of full-time player mentor Terry Jackson. Distractions were limited this offseason. (Jamar Hornsby was dismissed from the team but that was addition by subtraction. Just my opinion.)
For Tebow, 2007 was about learning how to lead. He cried after losing to Georgia. The quarterback displayed a much different emotion after the Michigan defeat. He was just plain angry and admitted that his team lacked focus leading up to the bowl game.
Brandon Spikes wasn't in top form last August when the 2007 fall camp began. The experience helped him prepare his body correctly this offseason. Now, UF strength coach Mickey Marotti says Spikes is one of the Gators' most physically fit players.
One of the Gators' starting cornerbacks was a true freshman last season and the other was still learning how to play football. As a result, Florida's secondary was the worst in the Southeastern Conference. Joe Haden [PICTURED] and Wondy Pierre-Louis begin this season as preseason all-SEC defenders.
Those are just a few examples of how the Gators begin fall camp on Monday with the experience needed to vie for a conference and national championship. All told, the Gators return 17 starters. Depth and team speed are two of the Gators' greatest team strengths this season but experience might be the most important.
"With guys leaving early now -- and our championship year we had four guys on defense leave as juniors; last year we lost Derrick Harvey as a junior -- I think the shift of leadership has to go from the young players," Meyer said. "That's a big point of discussion with our group, and already has been, that just because you're a senior, that's not entitlement. We had some issues a year ago that weren't very good for our outfit. (Tony Joiner/Kyle Jackson?) If you're a sophomore, you walk the walk, talk the talk, do everything the right way, then you're a leader."
OK, with the countdown done and fall camp set to begin. Let's have some fun and predict the two-deep depth chart for offense and defense.
LT: Phil Trautwein; Matt Patchan
LG: Jim Tartt; Carl Johnson
C: Maurkice Pouncey; Mike Pouncey
RG: Mike Pouncey; James Wilson
RT: Jason Watkins; Marcus Gilbert
TE: Cornelius Ingram; Aaron Hernandez
WR: Percy Harvin; Deonte Thompson
WR: Louis Murphy; Justin Williams
WR: Carl Moore; David Nelson
RB: Kestahn Moore; Emmanuel Moody
QB: Tim Tebow; Cameron Newton
DE: Jermaine Cunningham; Carlos Dunlap
DT: Javier Estopinan; Torrey Davis
DT: Terron Sanders; John Brown
DE: Justin Trattou; Duke Lemmens
SLB: A.J. Jones; Ryan Stamper
MLB: Brandon Spikes; Lorenzo Edwards
WLB: Dustin Doe; Brandon Hicks
SS: Ahmad Black; Will Hill
FS: Major Wright; Will Hill
CB: Joe Haden; Markihe Anderson
CB: Wondy Pierre-Louis; Jacques Rickerson
K: Caleb Sturgis; Jonathan Phillips
P: Chas Henry; Caleb Sturgis
PR: Brandon James; Chris Rainey
KR: Brandon James; Chris Rainey
FRIENDLY REMINDER: Free doughnuts!!!
There will be plenty of time during preseason practice and two-a-days to write about the unknowns. For one week, let's break down the Gators' perceived strengths...
FIVE DAYS TO GO ... BRANDON SPIKES
GAINESVILLE -- Consider this when you're in the local sporting goods store, trying to figure out which UF jersey to rock on Sept 6: The success of the 2008 Gators might have more to do with No. 51 than No.15. (Interesting how those numbers mirror each other, isn't it.)
Gator Clause posed this question to Florida coach Urban Meyer during SEC Media Days: All things considered, is the leadership of Brandon Spikes more important to the team's success this year than Tebow's?
I got some weird looks (well, that's nothing new) from some of the 56,003 reporters in the press conference who wanted nothing more than to talk about Tim Tebow for 30 minutes. But Meyer's answer confirmed my suspicion: Brandon Spikes' responsibilities this season are just as demanding as Tebow's.
Meyer's response: "That's a great question. I'd probably agree with that. You're asking me the question, I'd probably say yes. I thought about that quite often. That's a big part of our success. It was a void last year. Brandon Spikes is a great player. Could be a great leader. That's going to be a big part of our success, if that happens."
Brandon Spikes didn't begin to fully develop into a good football player until the second half of the season last year. That was the case for three reasons: 1. He was a first-year starter; 2. He was a sophomore; 3. He had a poor offseason.
According to Meyer and UF strength coach Mickey Marotti, Spikes didn't improve himself physically or mentally during the summer before his sophomore season. In short, he didn't feel like he needed to earn his starting position. Spikes' lack of preparation left a major hole in the defense when Brandon Siler left for the NFL.
Marotti tells a different story about Spikes one year later. According to Marotti, Spikes was one of the Gators' hardest workers this summer. Marotti now says that Spikes has the work ethic of a captain and will be the fulcrum of the Gators' defense.
Spikes led the Gators with 131 tackles (81 solo) in 2007. He begins fall camp on the Ronnie Lott Trophy and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch lists.
HERE'S SOMETHING WE CAN ALL ARGUE ABOUT ...
GAINESVILLE -- For those video game nuts out there, here's a sneak peek at some individual player ratings for NCAA '09. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has an overall rating of 99. Percy Harvin has a speed rating of 98.
Some random thoughts: Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't rated among the Gators' best...LSU defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois appears to be underrated...Florida linebacker Dustin Doe is overrated...What, no Drew Weatherford?...A punter is Tennessee's second highest rated player...Georgia's video-game likeness looks pretty stinking good.
Tim Tebow, junior, quarterback 99
Percy Harvin, junior, wide receiver 96
Brandon Spikes, junior, middle linebacker 95
Dustin Doe, junior, outside linebacker 93
Phil Trautwein, redshirt senior, offensive tackle 92
Jim Tartt, senior, offensive guard 91
Maurkice Pouncey, sophomore, offensive guard 91
Eric Moncur, senior, defensive end, 93 (Miami)
Randy Phillips, senior, cornerback, 92 (Belle Glade)
Lavon Ponder, senior, safety, 91 (Miami)
Colin McCarthy, junior, outside linebacker, 91
Jason Fox, junior, offensive tackle, 90
Graig Cooper, sophomore, running back, 88
Darryl Sharpton, junior, linebacker, 88 (Coral Gables)
Myron Rolle, sophomore, rover (strong safety), 97
Derek Nicholson, junior, middle linebacker, 94
Everette Brown, redshirt sophomore, defensive end, 94
Antone Smith, junior, running back, 92 (Pahokee)
Marcus Ball, sophomore, outside linebacker, 92
Preston Parker, sophomore, wide receiver, 92 (Delray Beach)
Patrick Robinson, sophomore, cornerback, 91 (Miami)
Knowshon Moreno, sophomore, running 96
Dannell Ellerbe, senior, middle linebacker 95
Asher Allen, junior, cornerback 95
Jeff Owens, senior, defensive tackle 95 (Plantation)
Trinton Sturdivant, sophomore, offensive tackle 93
Matthew Stafford, junior, quarterback 93
Prince Miller, junior, cornerback 92
Herman Johnson, redshirt senior, offensive guard, 96
Tyson Jackson, senior, defensive end, 93
Darry Beckwith, senior, middle linebacker, 95
Curtis Taylor, senior, free safety, 94
Ciron Black, junior, left tackle, 94
Al Woods, junior, defensive tackle, 93
Kirston Pittman, senior, defensive end 93
Demonte Bolden, senior, defensive tackle, 94
Britton Colquitt, senior, punter, 94
Robert Ayers, senior, defensive end, 94
Eric Berry, sophomore, defensive back, 94
Rico McCoy, junior, outside linebacker, 91
Lucas Taylor, senior, wide receiver, 91
Josh McNeil, junior, center, 89