Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Florida Gators
2009 Record: 13-1 (9-0 in SEC)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
John Brantley :: Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
at Mississippi State
vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
at South Carolina
vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Cincinnati (Sugar Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jeff Demps, RB: The home run hitter may be college football's fastest player. He rushed for 745 yards last season with seven scores.
Chris Rainey, WR: He rushed for 575 yards last year but will move to the Percy Harvin position this season to take advantage of his skill set.
Mike Pouncey, C: He was first-team All-SEC last year as a guard, but will move to center this season with twin brother Marquis gone to NFL.
A.J. Jones, LB: He had three interceptions last year and was becoming a star before injury cut his season short.
Janoris Jenkins, CB: The two-year starter had two interceptions last year and needs to show he can be a lockdown corner.
Tim Tebow, QB: The former Heisman winner's shoes might be the biggest to fill in the history of college football.
Aaron Hernandez, TE: The tight end became a go-to guy on third downs, but left early for the NFL.
Carlos Dunlap, DE: Although there were times when he took plays off, he could dominate when he wanted to in SEC play.
Brandon Spikes, LB: He had an uncanny knack for finding the ball and returned four interceptions for touchdowns during his career.
Joe Haden, CB: The former quarterback transformed himself into one of the best cornerbacks in the nation by his junior year.
2: Florida finished No. 2 in the SEC in four key defensive stats -- scoring defense, total defense, rush defense and pass efficiency defense. Alabama, the SEC champ, finished first in all four.
Losing one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game plus two top pass-catchers should curb the excitement about an offense. But there is definitely a buzz around Gator Nation now that it's finally John Brantley's turn. The strong-armed quarterback waited three years behind Tim Tebow to get his chance.
Brantley figures to be one of the best pure passers in the conference, but nobody knows how he'll handle the pressures of being the starter. One thing is for sure: He'll have plenty of weapons around him. Florida is loaded at running back and boasts a solid offensive line that returns four starters, most notably guard-turned-center Mike Pouncey.
Brantley will be looking to establish a go-to receiver among a group of quality athletes. Deonte Thompson and Carl Moore are the top candidates. Chris Rainey, a former running back, and redshirt freshman Andre Debose will be used in the slot, similar to the role Percy Harvin played two years ago.
And just because Tebow is gone, don't expect the Gators to abandon the quarterback draw. True freshman Trey Burton and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed, who will double as the starting tight end, will both take short-yardage snaps.
There are plenty of questions surrounding a defense that lost six starters, but as usual there's a long line of new Gators waiting to step up.
The Gators will be looking to replace both defensive ends and hope Justin Trattou, a situational player in the past, is ready to man one of those spots full time. While Florida is loaded at defensive tackle, the linebacker position is up for grabs with a half-dozen players vying for starting spots.
In the secondary, Florida has an all-conference performer in cornerback Janoris Jenkins, but the other corner spot is wide open. With Ahmad Black and Will Hill manning the safety spots, the deep area is covered. True freshman Matt Elam, one of the gems of the 2010 recruiting class, will be in when the Gators use five defensive backs.
Chas Henry may be one of the best-kept secrets in the country, because the Gators don't punt much. But his hang time is a big reason why teams don't return punts against Florida. Caleb Sturgis has the leg to make 60-yard field goals, but must improve on his consistency. After four years of Brandon James returning every significant punt and kick, the Gators will turn to Rainey this season.
Despite a mass NFL exodus, the cupboard is hardly bare. The Gators have the most talented team in the SEC East, but will need young players to blossom into their new roles. With games in Knoxville, Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee, these kids will be tested plenty.
It's clear, however, that Urban Meyer likes the 2010 Gators. "I've got a team with a chip on its shoulder," he said. "That's exciting to have again."
Meyer might have a chip on his shoulder, too, as he's eager to prove he can handle the stress of the job after his bizarre resignation flip-flop last December. The Meyer who appeared gaunt and listless in New Orleans during Sugar Bowl week has been replaced by a stronger, motivated coach who is ready for his sixth season in Gainesville.
Of course, he hasn't lost a game yet in 2010.