Alex Brown understands the question and concedes that it's fair:
How could Brown, the junior defensive end, dominate in two games
last season and disappear in several others? Against SEC powers
Tennessee and Georgia, Brown was a monster, getting a total of
seven sacks, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a pair of
passes. Brown showed flashes of brilliance in a few other games,
too, but as coach Steve Spurrier says, "For the most part he
looked like a pretty ordinary player."
Still, the 6'4", 265-pound Brown set a school record with 13
sacks and became only the third sophomore in Gators history to be
named a first-team All-America. But Brown was often chided by
coaches and fans for his inconsistent play and questionable
conditioning. "A lot of people said I should have had more
sacks," says Brown. "Looking back, I should have gotten at least
18 or 19. I'm ready to have a better season."
So are the Gators. In 1999 they started 9-1 but lost their final
three games. "We understand that last year was unacceptable,"
says senior quarterback Jesse Palmer.
Spurrier has named Palmer his starter, but Palmer knows he's
getting only a mild vote of confidence. ("Jesse realizes that he
has to play better than he's ever played here if he wants to
continue to be the guy," says Spurrier.) If Palmer sputters, the
Gators have two high school All-Americas waiting to step in:
redshirt freshman Rex Grossman and true freshman Brock Berlin,
the 1999 USA Today offensive player of the year.
Whoever is at quarterback will benefit from an experienced
running game anchored by tailback Earnest Graham, a bullish 5'9",
214-pound sophomore who last year led the team with 654 yards
rushing despite missing nearly four full games with a thigh
injury. The Gators, though, don't have a proven receiver after
losing Travis Taylor and Darrell Jackson to the NFL, and Spurrier
hopes to find a go-to guy among the six freshman wideouts he
signed from a recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 by several
The Sept. 16 game at Tennessee will make or break the Gators'
season, and Brown insists Florida will be ready. "There's been a
dark cloud hanging over Gainesville since the end of last
season," he says. "It's time to let the sun shine."
1999 record: 9-4 (7-2, 1st in SEC East)
Final ranking: No. 12 AP, No. 14 coaches' poll
Consecutive losses to end the '99 season, the Gators' longest
losing streak since 1988.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Gators
"Florida is controlled by how well its quarterback and receivers
play. Palmer has shown signs of doing things, but he's never
been the Man. The Gators have no experience at
receiver....They've got everything else. Good linemen, good
defense....Ball State and Middle Tennessee will help them
develop a quarterback, whoever it is....Steve got his dander up
by losing those last three games. He worked 'em hard in the
Strength: 54th of 115
Sept. 2 BALL STATE
9 MIDDLE TENN. ST.
16 at Tennessee
30 at Mississippi State
Oct. 7 LSU
28 vs. Georgia*
Nov. 4 at Vanderbilt
11 SOUTH CAROLINA
18 at Florida State
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]