With Razorback fans bracing themselves for another Saturday whipping, we thought it would be a good time to check in with a Gator expert. Joel from The Bull Gator was kind enough to answer our questions about this year's Florida squad. Read on to his take on the Gator's strengths and weaknesses, last year's Heisman Trophy race and the love that Florida fans continue to feel for Darth Visor. (And click here to see our answers to his questions.) Many thanks, Joel. And now, on with the show …
Give us a quick scouting report on this year's Florida team: strengths, weaknesses, etc.
Florida’s biggest strength is the capabilities of its offense. Its biggest weakness is the coaches’ lack of realization of those capabilities. The Gators have the talent and firepower to put 40+ points on anyone. They also have the playbook to do it. So far in 2008, we haven’t seen it all come together for an entire game. Florida is averaging 35.5 points per game this season – which is nothing to put down – but this is a team built to do even more. The Ole Miss game exposed the fact that when behind in games, Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen panic and only go with the guys named Tebow and Harvin. The playbook is practically closed and the same 3-5 plays are used in hopes we can will a win.
In pressure situations, the Gators get away from what worked and go into panic mode. Not that I should complain too much about being 3-1 with big wins over hated rivals Miami and Tennessee, but the Ole Miss game made me very nervous for the rest of the season.
Other strengths include the starting defensive ends – Carlos Dunlap is a star in the making – and the linebackers. However, a weakness is still the secondary. Although vastly improved over last year, the Ole Miss game proved they are still a ways off from being among the SEC’s elite units.
What are fans' expectations for this season?
Whoever the coach is will always tell you that Florida doesn’t look beyond winning the SEC East. Once that goal’s accomplished, it’s winning the SEC Championship. Then we can actually discuss the national title. Most fans I know think slightly different. We start at the top and then settle for the rest. Sure winning the SEC East is nice. Taking home a SEC title is all good and well. But fans want a national championship. The 2006 one is so fresh in our minds, we want another one. After losing to Ole Miss, we didn’t think "it’s okay, we still control our destiny in the East, win out and we’re in the SEC title game." No, we thought "crap, how can we get back in the hunt for the national title?" Sure we’d settle for a 10-win season with a conference championship if we have to, but our expectations are a national title. We feel Florida has the program and talent to compete with anyone, so there’s really nothing else.
Do you feel last week's surprising loss to Ole Miss was a fluke, or did it reveal real problems that might plague the team the rest of the season?
The way Florida played for the first three quarters against Miami and at certain points during the Tennessee game, I actually don’t believe it was a fluke. The Ole Miss game exposed the team to itself I think. Too much reliance on only Tebow and Harvin. Not utilizing the entire playbook. Bad play calling when behind. Despite wins by at least 23 points in the first three games, we saw some holes in Florida’s offense that weren’t expected. But watching those first few games, it was also apparent that some team could easily sneak up on the Gators. Ole Miss did exactly that.
It’s hard to say there are problems that will plague Florida for the rest of the season, because they are fixable issues. The Gators have the right coaches and players; they just have to utilize both effectively.
Do you have a hard time sleeping at night knowing that Tim Tebow wrongly won the Heisman last year instead of Darren McFadden?
Do you have a hard time sleeping at night because of Reggie Fish’s decision to try to field the punt?
Obviously I wanted Tebow to win the Heisman, but in all honesty the award could’ve gone either way and I would’ve been fine with it. I don’t think that was a situation where one player was robbed or where one was hands down the favorite either. Both players had tremendous seasons. What I believe pushed Tebow over the edge was the fact that he had one of the greatest statistical seasons in the history of the game (like it or not it’s true). Not that McFadden didn’t have an amazing season himself, I just think the combination of passing and rushing touchdowns pushed Tebow over the top.
Which national championship was more meaningful to you - 1996 or 2006?
1996. You always remember your first time.
I was a senior in high school at the time and the school I was headed to won the national title. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was going to the school of the defending champions. Unfortunately, I would be long gone from Gainesville when they won their second title.
That and because of who the Gators beat to win it. Blowing out FSU in any game puts a huge smile on my face, but doing it to win a national title was simply perfect. I could understand how younger Florida fans may have better memories of 2006, but I remember both clearly and 1996 will always hold the top spot.
Who do Gator fans revere more - Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer?
Spurrier – hands down. Spurrier is the face of the program. He made it possible for someone like Meyer to be able to come in years later and win a title. There were times before Spurrier that the program was very good and competed well on a national level, but he turned Florida into one of the elite programs in the nation. He brought a swagger to the school and an increased feeling of confidence. It’s viewed as cockiness, but athletes should be cocky. They compete to win. Plain and simple. Once you’re at that level, you don’t play for fun anymore. You play to win. They should be cocky.
Spurrier being a Gator before becoming the coach also adds to this. Not that we don’t love Meyer too, but he had nothing to do with UF before he became the coach. Spurrier played for UF, won a Heisman there, and came back and turned the program into what it is today.
Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game? Will you guys score 70 on us?
Could Florida score 70? Yes. Will they? No. If the Gators learned their lesson against Ole Miss, it could be a long day for Arkansas. If they didn’t it could be much closer than everyone thinks. I’m going to pick the glass that’s half full here and say Florida puts it all together and wins convincingly, but in the range of 38-17, not 70-7.