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College Football

Just what the doctor ordered

Emmanuel Moody and Urban Meyer might be the first to dispute the so-called Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

After all, USC's loss is Florida's gain.

Moody last was seen posing on one of five regional covers of the magazine's 2007 college football preview along with then-teammates Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gable. But days after the issue hit newsstands, Moody headed East to Gainesville.

Moody isn't broken up by the awkward image of himself wearing USC colors for one of the last times. After spending 2006 competing for playing time in a crowded Trojans backfield, missing four games that season with an injury and sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Moody is ready to see the field again.

"If you really think about it hard, what does it really mean? It's just a cover. It's just a magazine," Moody said. "The big picture is football."

After two seasons of inconsistent production from its running backs -- including a national-title campaign in 2006 -- Florida is ready to add a back with supreme talents. As a true freshman in 2006, Moody ranked second on USC with 459 rushing yards.

Florida opens spring practice on March 19, and Moody is considered the favorite to emerge as the starting tailback. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida with 895 yards rushing in 2007, followed by wide receiver Percy Harvin (764). Five tailbacks carried the ball for Florida last season and finished with 761 combined yards.

Before last season, Meyer threatened to play without a running back if the position didn't improve. In the past two seasons, the Gators' running backs have had only 50 more carries than Tebow's 299.

The situation has turned Moody into something of a savior, even in Meyer's eyes.

"I walk by him every day and I don't say hello. I walk by him and say, 'I hope you're really good,' " Meyer said last week at his pre-spring news conference. "I don't know what else to say. ... I hope he's really, really, really good. I don't know if he is."

The lack of production at tailback led to a rocky relationship between Meyer and former running backs coach Stan Drayton, who became the running backs coach at Tennessee in January. Drayton's replacement, Kenny Carter, insists it's not just Moody who has to play better this season.

"The pressure is not on him," Carter told GatorBait.net. "The pressure is on our position group. That group has to step up and get the job done."

It will be a pressure Moody didn't feel at USC. A four-star prospect at Coppell (Texas) High in 2005, Moody originally committed to Texas. But he eventually changed his mind and signed with USC -- along with two other Rivals100 tailbacks.

He played eight full games before an ankle injury ended his true freshman season. Then, an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly all of spring practice in 2007. Meanwhile, USC added two more Rivals100 running backs and one more from the Rivals250, giving the Trojans 10 scholarship tailbacks.

By last August, Moody felt he was lost in the shuffle.

"What the outsiders see is competition, (but) we've got to be realistic," Moody said. "The chances are not open competition. I'm a guy that never backs down from competition, but if you don't get a chance to compete, there's a problem."

This spring, Moody will compete with four others in the Florida backfield. Moody is one of three UF tailbacks from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex; the others are senior Kestahn Moore and sophomore Mon Williams. Moore, from Arlington Mansfield Summit, led Florida tailbacks in rushing last season with 580 yards but averaged only eight carries a game. Williams, from Mesquite Horn, missed last season with a torn ACL.

Sophomore Chris Rainey also fought the injury bug when a shoulder injury ended his season after four games. Junior Brandon James, known best for his return abilities, is the other tailback.

Moody must battle through a quadriceps contusion during the spring. But after a long wait, Moody is ready to put some bumps and bruises behind him.

"I've played football for over 10 years," Moody said. "It got to a point where I felt like I was better not watching a game. It was hard to even go to games because it was hard to watch."

If Moody lives up to his billing, the Florida running backs won't be so hard to watch, either.

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