|COLLEGE FOOTBALL '07: Gators turn to experts for advice on repeating as champions|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 August 2007 08:57|
He called on Bill Belichick, who led New England to three Super Bowl titles in four years and visited the team during the spring.
Closer to home were Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan and former star Joakim Noah, fresh from back-to-back NCAA titles. How's that for handy?
``I talk to Joakim Noah a lot about what it takes to compete again and who's going to be gunning for you,'' safety Tony Joiner said.
The key to a national championship repeat, Joiner said: ``Don't bask in your own glory.''
If the pep talks and expert seminars don't get the Gators' attention, the rugged realities of SEC football might. Among the obstacles facing Florida:
- LSU's defense. The Tigers were landslide picks to win the league by SEC media. Not Florida, which lost nine defensive starters.
- Alabama's new $4 million man, coach Nick Saban. He was lured from the NFL to restore that proud program.
- Eastern Division rival Tennessee, with seasoned quarterback Erik Ainge and a fan base desperate for its first SEC title since 1998.
- Arkansas and first-team preseason All-SEC tailbacks - yes, plural - Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
- Auburn, which has quietly won 33 games the past three seasons, behind only Southern California and Texas.
With Saban's return to the league from the Miami Dolphins, the SEC boasts four head coaches with national champion's rings: Saban (LSU), Meyer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (Florida) and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer.
``I don't think there's any question that this is the best league in the country,'' Fulmer said. ``There's nobody else in the country that can talk about four coaches that have won national championships.''
Perhaps the most intriguing player is Gators' sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow, who gained more yards rushing (469) than passing (358) last season after a prolific prep career.
Tebow replaces BCS championship game MVP Chris Leak. He brings a rough-and-tumble running style and the mysterious ``It'' factor.
``He has the 'It.' Everybody wants the 'It' in that position,'' Meyer said. ``That's a competitor, intelligent, a guy that will do anything for the team to help you win.''
A look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
TENNESSEE - Ainge might be this season's Leak, a quarterback who put up big numbers but fell short of a title in his first three seasons. ... He lost his three favorite targets from last season, but can hand off to dangerous sophomore RB LaMarcus Coker (6.4 yards per carry). ... S Jonathan Hefney and LBs Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl combined for 245 tackles.
FLORIDA - Florida has only 21 upperclassmen on scholarship, fewest in the league. ... WR Andre Caldwell and rushing/receiving threat Percy Harvin return, and the linemen have combined for 65 career starts. ... On defense, Gators must replace 10 of top 12 tacklers, including NFL first-rounders Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson. ... DE Derrick Harvey is a big-time playmaker.
GEORGIA - QB Matthew Stafford made huge strides late in freshman season, but still was intercepted 13 times against seven TDs. ... Kregg Lumpkin leads deep backfield that includes heralded freshman Caleb King. ... O-line could start a freshman and redshirt freshman. ... Five of top six tacklers are gone. FS Kelin Johnson and DT Jeff Owens are among returnees.
SOUTH CAROLINA - Look out, Spurrier is touting his team as a contender. ... QB Blake Mitchell's career completion percentage (61.2) is tops among SEC passers, but he no longer has WR Sidney Rice. WR Kenny McKinley (880 yards) and RB Cory Boyd (823 yards rushing) are back. ... Defense returns all but one starter, including top six tacklers, led by LB Jasper Brinkley (107 tackles).
KENTUCKY - Fresh from best season in 22 years (8-5), Wildcats are led by the Big Three on offense: Andre' Woodson (3,515 yards passing), the preseason All-SEC QB, plus 1,000-yard WR Keenan Burton and all-purpose threat Rafael Little. ... Team has eight home games for first time. ... Assistant Steve Brown promoted to run defense that yielded 28.4 ppg last season. ... LB Wesley Woodyard's 122 tackles ranked No. 2 in SEC.
VANDERBILT - Seventeen starters return, including the entire offensive line. ... Junior WR Earl Bennett needs 48 catches to become SEC's top career receiver. ... QB Chris Nickson is run-pass threat but threw multiple interceptions in five games in 2006. ... RB Jeff Jennings returns after missing season with injury. ... MLB Jonathan Goff (93 tackles) shed a few pounds and could be a step quicker.
LSU - Coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons and has 15 returning starters and 24 seniors. ... QB Matt Flynn replaces NFL No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell. ... All-America DT Glenn Dorsey one of nation's top defensive players. ... RB Alley Broussard left team in July, but several solid backs remain along with veteran line and WR Early Doucet. ... Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton replaces Jimbo Fisher.
AUBURN - King Dunlap is only offensive line starter back. TBs Brad Lester and Ben Tate trying to keep string of top runners intact. Only proven receiver is Rodgeriqus Smith, a former walk-on. ... DE Quentin Groves returns for senior season with shot at Auburn's career sacks mark. ... Twice-suspended LB Tray Blackmon could be a star if he stays out of trouble.
ARKANSAS - Heisman contender McFadden and Jones provide devastating RB combo for defending SEC West champions. Both topped 1,000 yards last season, but line has only two returning starters... QB Casey Dick is finally unquestioned starter. David Lee is new offensive coordinator. ... Three starters back in secondary, plus pass-rushing end Antwain Robinson (8.5 sacks).
ALABAMA - Saban inherits 6-7 team with promising QB John Parker Wilson. ... Entire starting O-line returns, but could be shuffled since the unit struggled last season. ... Glen Coffee, Jimmy Johns and Terry Grant vying for RB job. ... WR DJ Hall needs just 153 yards receiving to set Alabama career mark. ... All-SEC CB Simeon Castille, MLB Prince Hall and DE Wallace Gilberry lead defense.
MISSISSIPPI - Brent Schaeffer and former walk-on Seth Adams battling for QB job. ... RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a 1,000-yard rusher, has all five top blockers back. ... Coach Ed Orgeron has won seven games in first two seasons. ... Must replace Butkus Award winner LB Patrick Willis. ... MLB transfer Tony Fein is 24-year-old Army veteran who served a year in Iraq.
MISSISSIPPI ST. - Sylvester Croom's team has won three games in each of the past three seasons, losing four times by three points last season. ... QB Michael Henig, WR Tony Burks and the entire line lead nine returning offensive starters. ... DE Titus Brown returns on defense, but two transfers projected to start on interior line.