Deflating issues for Gators


Florida coach Urban Meyer hoists The Coach's Trophy following the Gators' 24-14 win against Oklahoma for the BCS Championship on Jan. 8.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 9:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 9:57 p.m.

Florida seems to be receiving more preseason love than any other college football team in recent memory. Everybody loves Tim Tebow. Everybody has the Gators starting out the season No. 1. Almost everybody is projecting UF to reach the BCS title game in Pasadena.

Urban Meyer saw all this love coming back in the spring. Thatís when he gave the order to strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti to put the Gators through the hardest offseason in the history of the program. While the Gators have been grunting and sweating through the summer, the expectations for this team have rocketed right off the charts.

Meyer is hoping this team isnít paying any attention, but itís hard not to notice when everyone keeps telling you how good you are.

With that in mind, veteran Sun football beat writer Robbie Andreu offers up these five issues that could deflate those expectations with the start of preseason camp now less than a week away:

1. Mercy, no Percy

Percy Harvin was a special player, and the kind of playmaker that doesnít come along very often. Replacing him in the offense is a major concern because his big plays (running and receiving) were such an integral part of the offense. Take him out of the equation in the national title game against Oklahoma, and it would have been a real struggle for UF. The Gators also must replace wide receiver Louis Murphy, who made clutch catch after clutch catch. With Harvin and Muphy gone, the wide receiver corps is a little low in experience, depth and in numbers. For this offense to be effective, the wide receivers have to make a bunch of plays. The big unknown right now is where are those plays going to come from, especially those big, game-turning plays.

2. The schedule

Itís tougher than it looks on paper. For starters, Tennessee isnít going to be as down as many think. Thereís some talent there and the new coaching staff has injected some much needed enthusiasm and confidence. It could be a tight battle in The Swamp. The trip to LSU, of course, is huge. The Gators are 0-2 in Baton Rouge under Meyer. Both those losses were heartbreakers. A week after that, UF faces much-improved Arkansas. Could the Hogs be this yearís Ole Miss? Some think so. Georgia is flying under the radar, but could be a national contender if Joe Cox comes through at quarterback. Facing Steve Spurrier on the road is a challenge. And FSU is the pick to win its division in the ACC. Thereís one other potential bump in the road weíll mention later.

3. Hernandez better stay healthy

The good news is the Gators have one of the nationís top pass-catching tight ends. The bad news is UF doesnít have a proven player to back up junior Aaron Hernandez. The No. 1 candidate is a true freshman (Desmond Parks) who is coming off a knee injury that cost him most of spring practice. Behind Parks is a walk-on and thatís it. If Hernandez gets hurt, itís big trouble for the offense.

4. Tender tailbacks

If, as expected, Jeff Demps tries to fill the Percy role, that leaves the tailback position in the hands of undersized Chris Rainey and underplayed Emmanuel Moody. Both have speed and talent. Both have a history of missing time with injuries. So, thereís a good chance the Gators are facing a season without an every-down tailback. Thereís potential instability here.

5. Ghosts of Mississippi

Donít laugh, the Oct. 24 trip to Mississippi State could be a little scary. It has been in the past. Spurrier was 0-2 in Starkville, Ron Zook lost his job with a loss there in 2004, and the Gators havenít won there since 1985. UF has a history of playing poorly in Mississippi. And nobody knows Meyer more than new íDog coach Dan Mullen. Could be interesting. Could be scary.

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