Then (2006) and now (2008)
Published: Friday, December 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 11:03 p.m.
Two years after their big night in Glendale, Ariz., the Florida Gators are in a position to win their second national championship under Urban Meyer, and the third in school history. While there are some similarities between the 2006 and the 2008 teams, there also are some obvious differences. Veteran UF football beat writer Robbie Andreu compares and contrasts the 2006 team with this season's:
HOW THEY'RE THE SAME
The loss and the rebound
In 2006, the Gators lost a gut-wrenching game at Auburn that ruined a perfect season. But it didn't end the Gators' season. Drawing inspiration from some words uttered by quarterback Danny Wuerffel 10 years earlier, UF regrouped and didn't lose again. So far this season, the Gators are on a similar path. After a 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss, quarterback Tim Tebow promised no player and no team would play harder the remainder of the season. Since then, the Gators have been unbeatable, running the table to reach the title game.
The guy in the middle
This season, Florida's defensive leader and leading playmaker is junior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. He seems to lift the level of play of all those around him. What he's done is similar to what another Brandon did at middle linebacker in 2006. Brandon Siler was the emotional leader of a strong, sound defense — a championship defense.
Playmakers in the secondary
This season, a young secondary has evolved into one of the best in the SEC, led by cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. In 2006, the playmakers of a similarly dominant secondary were cornerback Ryan Smith and All-America safety Reggie Nelson.
The James factor
Two years after giving the Gators a home-run threat in the return game, Brandon James is doing the same in 2008.
In 2006, Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin gave the offense two players with multiple skills. They're doing the same now — Tebow as a runner and passer, Harvin as a runner and receiver.
Defense, defense, defense
The 2006 team won the national title on the strength of its defense. This year's defense also has that championship look.
HOW THEY'RE DIFFERENT
In 2006, the Gators had a quarterback (Chris Leak) who was efficient managing the game. Now, they have a quarterback (Tim Tebow) who can take over a game, like he did in the fourth quarter of the win over Alabama. With Tebow the Gators are running a true spread. Two years ago, Leak ran a more basic offense.
The Gators were solid at tailback in 2006 with senior DeShawn Wynn. The Gators have a solid guy again this year in Kestahn Moore, but Moore has pretty much given way to speedy home-run hitters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who have brought a new dimension to the spread offense.
In 2006, Billy Latsko was one of the most valuable players on offense. This season, the Gators basically don't have a fullback.
Both the 2006 and 2008 teams have strong leadership. The difference is a huge senior class led two years ago, while this year's leadership comes from the junior class, Tebow on offense and Spikes on defense.
The Big Nasties
Florida's offensive line in 2006 was solid. This year's offensive front is a huge team strength and one of the best in school history. Conversely, the 2006 defensive line, led by Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald and Derrick Harvey, was more dominant than this year's defensive front.
In 2006, snake-bitten place-kicker Chris Hetland couldn't buy a kick (until the title game). This season, senior Jonathan Phillips was perfect before missing an attempt in the SEC title game.
Offense, offense, offense
The 2006 team averaged less than 400 yards per game and survived several close games. This year's offense is averaging 442 total yards per game and has scored a school record 587 points (45.2 per game). Before the SEC Championship Game, UF won eight straight games by 28 points or more.
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