2008 CFN Florida Preview
Florida CB Joe Haden
Florida CB Joe Haden
Posted Apr 23, 2008

Everything is in place for Florida to win its second national title in three years ... almost. The defensive tackles are a question, the O line is young, the the secondary, led by CB Joe Haden, has to be much better. Check out the CFN Preview of the loaded Gators.

Florida Gators

Preview 200

By Pete Fiutak

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- 2008 CFN Florida Preview | 2008 Florida Offense
- 2008 Florida Defense
| 2008 Florida Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Florida Preview
| 2006 CFN Florida Preview 

Urban Meyer is known for being a great builder of programs, and even rebuilder. Now for the first time, he has to prove he can reload.

He went 17-6 in two years at Bowling Green, and then he went to Utah where he was a rent-a-coach for two years going 22-2 finishing up with a BCS win over Pitt. He won the national title in his second year at Florida, and then came last season, the worst of his coaching career, when he went (gasp!) 9-4.

Head coach: Urban Meyer
4th year: 31-8
8th year overall: 70-16
Ten Best Gator Players
1. QB Tim Tebow, Jr.
2. WR Percy Harvin, Jr.
3. LB Brandon Spikes, Jr.
4. DE Jermaine Cunningham, Jr.
5. OG Jim Tartt, Sr.
6. TE Cornelius Ingram, Sr.*
7. RB Chris Rainey, RFr.
8. OT Phil Trautwein, Sr.
9. CB Joe Haden, Soph.
10. DE Carlos Dunlap, Soph.
*Knee injury. Out for the year.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Hawaii
Sept. 6 Miami
Sept. 13 OPEN DATE 
Sept. 20 at Tennessee
Sept. 27 Ole Miss
Oct. 4 at Arkansas
Oct. 11 LSU
Oct. 18 OPEN DATE 
Oct. 25 Kentucky
Nov. 1 Georgia (Jack.)
Nov. 8 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 15 South Carolina
Nov. 22 The Citadel
Nov. 29 at Florida State

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 9-

Sept. 1 Western Kent. W 49-3
Sept. 8 Troy W 59-31
Sept. 15 Tennessee W 59-20
Sept. 22 at Ole Miss W 30-24
Sept. 29 Auburn L 20-17
Oct. 6 at LSU L 28-24
Oct. 20 at Kentucky W 45-37
Oct. 27
vs. Georgia  L 42-30
Nov. 3 Vanderbilt W 49-22
Nov. 10 at So. Carolina W 51-31
Nov. 17
Florida Atlantic W 59-20
Nov. 24 Florida State W 45-12
Capital One Bowl
Jan. 1 Michigan L 41-35

Even though a four-loss season isn't currently acceptable in Gainesville, considering the bar has been set so high, it was generally acknowledged that 2007 was supposed to be a year of transition. Nine starters needed to be replaced on defense, a running back needed to be found, and wasn't, and in the SEC, an elite team that's not fully loaded has to take a step back and wait its turn again.

Now the question is whether or not all the growing pains of last season will turn into production this year. Tim Tebow might have been the first sophomore to win the Heisman, but his epic year came partly because there wasn't a running back getting the job done. The pass defense was the worst in the SEC with true freshmen getting their feet wet, there wasn't enough of a pass rush, even with Derrick Harvey at one end, and the defense went bye-bye in key situations against the better teams. While there was a great early win over Tennessee, the second best victory came against, um, uh, Kentucky?!

There's pressure on everyone in the SEC, but Meyer has to prove that his terrific recruiting classes and dizzying collection of athletes can meld together into an SEC championship caliber team. Tebow is a great leader to start with, there's a ton of talent in the backfield to finally get a real running game going from the backs, the receiving corps will be phenomenal, and the defense will be just fine with a little more work.

However, considering all the pieces were supposed to be put in place last year, the depth at safety is extremely thin, two true freshmen will be counted on to play big at defensive tackle, and there are only two upperclassmen on the O line, and both of them, Jim Tartt and Phil Trautwein, while talented, are banged up.

The overall talent level is there to win a second national title in three years, but everything has to fall into place around the mega-stars. In reality, the program is still probably one more year away from being a championship juggernaut, but the same can be said for Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and even Alabama. In the SEC, you have to take advantage of every opening, and Florida has to make it happen this year. It could be its turn again.

What to watch for on offense: Less Tebow, but a better Tebow. The idea will be to keep the star fresh for later in the season and for the fourth quarters. Even Superman wears down, and Tebow's production suffered after getting beaten on game in and game out. There will be a rotation of quarterbacks, but that's more to get the young guys some work than it is to keep Tebow fresh. In a perfect world, his carries are cut in half after running it 210 times last year, while he's still used to barrel it in around the goal line.

What to watch for on defense: Carlos Dunlap. Derrick Harvey might have been considered a star, but the eighth pick in the draft was way too inconsistent as he disappeared over parts of the second half of the season; he didn't do nearly as much as his press clippings suggested. Even so, Florida needs Dunlap to generate the 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss that Harvey did, and if this off-season was any indication, he will. At 6-6 and 290 pounds with good speed, he could quickly become a superstar.

The team will be far better if … it could stop someone from throwing the ball. To be fair, several teams had to abandon the running game and bombed away in an attempt to keep up the pace, but it's not like the Gators played Texas Tech and Hawaii every week. Everyone fattened up on the Gator secondary, and now it's time for true sophomores Joe Haden and Major Wright to play like seasoned veterans.

The Schedule: There are just enough problems to keep the Gators from going unbeaten, but this is still a slate good enough to win a national title with. Getting Ole Miss from the West is offset by the home date against LSU, while the non-conference schedule is easier than it appears on paper. Playing Miami and at Florida State might be nasty again in a few years, but not now for a superior Florida team. Of course, in SEC play it's all about the East, and if the Gators can get by the early showdown at Tennessee it all opens up with South Carolina and Kentucky going to The Swamp.

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Tim Tebow. Have you really taken a look at what Tebow did last year? He's 6-3, 232 pounds, averaged 4.3 yards per carry while running for 23 touchdowns, led the team in rushing with 895 yards, was one of the nation's most efficient passers completing 67% of his throws for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions, and yet there were still many who blew off the stats like they weren't that big a deal. It's not like he did all this in the Sun Belt; he was the one player everyone had to stop in SEC play week in and week out, and no one did it. If what he did was so easy, and if most of his touchdowns came on short runs, then why hasn't anyone else ever run and thrown for 20 scores in the same season?

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Brandon Spikes. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis might be the fashionable household name who'll get all the recognition as the nation's best middle linebacker, or it might be USC's Rey Maualuga who garners all the attention, but if Spikes chooses to skip his senior season, he could be the first linebacker taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Key player to a successful season: Freshmen DTs Omar Hunter and Matt Patchan. The two might be top-shelf, elite of the elite recruits, but it's still asking for the world for two true freshmen to step in and solve the problems at defensive tackle. Hunter is an ideal nose tackle who might have the starting job from the moment he sets foot on campus this fall, while the undersized Patchan has to first get healthy after suffering a gunshot wound to his shoulder. If these two aren't tremendous, a dream season might go bye-bye by mid-October.

The season will be a success if ... Florida plays for the national title. Tebow, Harvin, and Spikes are just a few of the phenomenal talents on team that's ridiculously good in some places, like receiver, tight end, and linebacker, and strangely mediocre in others, like defensive tackle and safety. Meyer and the Gators have overcome more. It's national championship or bust for a team this good.

Key game: Nov. 1 vs. Georgia. As the last two years have shown, an SEC team can suffer a loss, or even two, and still play for the national championship. However, winning the conference title is a must, and the loser of the Cocktail-Don't-Call-It-A-Cocktail-Party will likely be out of the hunt. If Florida wins at Tennessee early on, this, along with the SEC title game, will be the one big hurdle to getting to Miami on January 8th considering LSU and South Carolina have to come to The Swamp.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Penalties over the last two seasons: Florida 223 for 1,693 yards - Opponents 164 for 1,195 yards
- Punt returns: Florida 26 for 392 yards - Opponents 5 for 22 yards
- Third down conversions: Florida 78 of 146 (53%) - Opponents 80 of 194 (41%)