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Early Spring Football Preview: Florida Gators

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The incomparable cultural and sports wizards of Every Day Should Be Saturday are fresh off their recent trip to Gainesville to catch the Florida spring football game. Continuing our early football preview series, they were kind enough to lend us their insights on the upcoming Florida Gator football team.

Previous Spring Previews: Georgia Bulldogs, Michigan Wolverines

BON: First things first. The Gators made the title game in baseball (only to lose to Texas) and just won the national championship in hoops. It's a good time to be a Gator, huh?

EDSBS: Certainly. Walking around the campus this weekend only confirmed our suspicions that the people in charge of things generally have a decent clue as to how to do things. In fact, if not for the hiring of [NAME REDACTED], we'd be touting Jeremy Foley for a Nobel right now. It's not just the sports wing of things, either. Some of the most notorious cockroach farms on campus have simply disappeared, replaced by spanking new dorms done in the Florida mock-Spanish style. We even have the totem of great Gator football teams back: a shit-talking, badass gangsta safety in the form of Reggie Nelson. So yes, not a bad time to be a cold-blooded, orange-sweater-wearing reptile at all.  

BON: This, of course, leads us to football and Year II of the Urban Meyer era. Optimists point out that Year II in Bowling Green and Utah under Meyer were the big leaps forward. How high are the expectations for Florida fans this year?

EDSBS: Given the schedule the local expectations are not as high as the national media's, for sure. We play the entire state of Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State. Even if two of those teams soiled themselves and turned in mediocre years, that's still a beastly schedule by any standards.

At this point, we're talking about acceptable improvement versus ideal improvement. The media's selling this equation: "YEAR 2=12-0=LEAK HEISMAN=MASSIVE PROFITS." This is still a different scale of competition and parity than Meyer's ever seen, so assuming equal performance across the board make little to no sense. (As Texas fans will gleefully point out, Franchione's similar systematic results pointed to a breakthrough year for the Aggies last year. Which did not happen in grand fashion, if you'll remember.) Nothing should be assumed, including Chris Leak performing anywhere close to the level of an Alex Smith in this system.

Personally, we see year 3 as the potential watershed year, with a 10-2 season in 2006 being a real accomplishment for a youngish team still forging the wideout corps, offensive line, and defensive backfield they need. Anything less and requisite grumbling and jean-short burning begins.

BON: Chris Leak had a good-but-not-great last year. Is he ready to be great?

EDSBS: No, because at this point you can only say he's merely very good, and hasn't shown any real signs of greatness, not only in this system but in any other of the 17 different offenses he's been forced to play in during his tenure at Florida. Leak's most notable trait is his caution, and when you talk about a great quarterback one rarely leans back with a snifter of brandy while watching ESPN Classic and says, "Ahh, he was so...prudent." Ultimately, he may become an honorary Clausen: ballyhooed, distinguished in the recruiting wars, and damned to the fate of being simply good.

Good, however, will get you a long, long way. He'll leave with a number close to Danny Wuerffel's number of total victories. He's been as loyal a teammate as one could possibly be, especially given the tumult in the program during his term at UF. Leak's been tough, but especially tough for the blue-chip messianic recruit he came in as; where others transferred (Josh Portis, for example,) Leak stayed and showed not one whit of prima donna in taking a beatdown last year prior to the UGA game and playing through what could have destroyed lesser quarterback psyches. He deserves good things, and if there's any justice in this cold world, he'll get some of it on the field this fall.

Match his risk-averse savvy, an improved run game, and a defense threatening to evolve into somethign truly epic, and Leak will likely slide into the Brodie Croyle resurrection storyline slot for 2006.

BON: Most of the top teams this year seem poised to try to win on the strength one side of the ball, but Florida has a really nice balance of returning offense and defense. Which are you more concerned about?

EDSBS: Offense, specifically the run game and the offensive line. Losing four line starters sounds worse than it actually is since many of the replacements played in rotations where they garnered significant  playing time and a year in the zone blocking schemes. The real concern is the loss of center Mike Degory, a linchpin senior whose reads and calls rarely slid protection wrong. He will be missed. The good news out of spring ball: the line looks at least fifteen pounds lighter across the board, and in practice it showed. This year's line hops off the ball and pulls like the Utah line of 2006, essential for the run blocking schemes in the spread, and at times you could even call them nimble without laughing too hard into your Bloody Mary from the sidelines.

Running back sits on the shoulders of DeShawn Wynn, whom Meyer damned with faint praise throughout the spring. He'll be the starter in game one, but game eight could feature anyone from fullback Billy Latsko to UF President Bernie Machen in the backfield. Meyer has zero patience with the current stable of backs and will rotate them in and out until one of them throttles their way into the starting role. As Spurrier was to qbs, Meyer is to his backs.

BON: What's the biggest story in Spring Ball for Florida?

EDSBS: The biggest story has been the emergence of Cornelius Ingram at wideout. A converted qb who drifted to tight end before coaches decided he was simply too fast to be properly called that, Ingram's the feel-good story of the spring, a basketball star who quit the hoops team just prior to the championship season to focus on football. Ingram may have finally found his niche at wideout, and the timing is immaculate considering the need for depth at the edges in the spread scheme.

BON: Fearless prediction: The SEC looks loaded this year. Give us an early gut call, though: Florida (does/does not) win the SEC and makes a BCS Bowl, and has a __% chance of playing in the national title game.

EDSBS: Florida wins the SEC with two losses (one to Auburn, one to South Carolina) and goes to a BCS bowl. (The Cocks will become Meyer's big stumbling block thanks to Spurrier's tendency to run long streaks one way or the other against opponents; he either beats you almost all the time, or you beat him almost all the time. See Georgia and FSU for examples.) Florida has a 15% chance of winning the national title, which is a number pulled squarely from our ass and is NOT intended for gaming purposes.

BON: Thanks for chatting with us fellas.