Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy last season, but the Florida quarterback didn't get much help from the defense as the Gators failed to repeat as national champions.
If the first three games of 2008 are any indication, Tebow should get plenty of support from that unit this time around.
Backed by one of the nation's top defenses, Tebow and the fourth-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0) will look to keep rolling Saturday when they play their SEC home opener against Mississippi.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Florida -23 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on Florida –23 (View College Football bet percentages).
Tebow was a key member of Florida's 2006 national championship squad as a freshman, providing a multi-dimensional threat in place of starter Chris Leak and finishing as the team's second-leading rusher.
With Leak gone last season, Tebow took over as the starter and was second in the country in passer rating while scoring 55 touchdowns - 23 rushing - en route to the Heisman.
The Gators' defense, however, failed to rise to Tebow's level. Florida boasted a top 10 defense in 2006 but had only the seventh-best defense in the conference last season, allowing 80.0 more yards per game and 10.7 more points than in 2007.
The Gators appear to have regained their '06 form this season despite having the only defense in the SEC without a senior starter. Florida is fifth in the country with 213.0 yards allowed per game, and is yielding 6.3 points a contest and has a plus-nine turnover differential - both of which rank second nationally.
"They're playing great," Tebow said of the defense. "It helps you out so much. You can really count on them. You don't have to force anything. They're out there and they're playing hard and making plays."
The dominant defense powered Florida to a convincing win over Tennessee in its SEC opener last week, forcing three turnovers - two with the Volunteers inside the Gators' 20-yard line - in a 30-6 victory.
"We just came out and played relentless,'' said linebacker Brandon Spikes, who led the team with 10 tackles. "If we come out every week and do that it's going to be tough on opponents.''
The defense's resurgence has kept Florida unbeaten as Tebow has had a less spectacular season so far. His numbers haven't been bad - he's completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 489 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions - but they pale in comparison to where he was at this point last year.
In his first three games of 2007, Tebow completed 73.8 percent of his passes for 835 yards, throwing for eight touchdowns and running for five.
He has yet to run for a score this season.
Tebow ran for two TDs last year against Ole Miss (2-2, 0-1), rolling up a career-high 166 yards on the ground in the then-No. 3 Gators' 30-24 win in Oxford. That snapped Florida's two-game losing streak against the Rebels, defeats that came by a field goal each time in 2002 and '03, the latter being the teams' last meeting in Gainesville.
Ole Miss could easily be 4-0 but has suffered a pair of disheartening losses. The Rebels outgained then-No. 20 Wake Forest on the road Sept. 6, but lost 30-28 on a last-second field goal. After beating Samford the next week, Ole Miss hosted Vanderbilt in its SEC opener last Saturday and outgained the Commodores 385-202. Jevan Snead, though, threw four interceptions and the Rebels lost two fumbles in a 23-17 defeat.
"We just had a lot of missed opportunities that could have really put this game away early," first-year coach Houston Nutt said. "We gave them a lot of good gifts tonight."
Snead, who transferred from Texas and sat out last season, got off to a great start with Ole Miss, throwing two touchdowns in the opener against Memphis and four against Wake Forest. However, he's thrown six interceptions without a touchdown in the last two games.
"He's going to get better. I know he is," Nutt said. "It's just about going back out there, working a little harder, concentrating a little better and expecting different things."
Nutt, who coached Arkansas from 1998-2007, is 0-3 against the Gators. He and Florida coach Urban Meyer have faced each other once, a 38-28 Gators win in the 2006 SEC championship game that put Meyer's team in the BCS title game.
Florida is 21-1 in Gainesville under Meyer.
BETTING TRENDS FOR THIS GAME
OLE MISS is 4-1 against the spread versus FLORIDA since 1992
FLORIDA is 3-2 straight up against OLE MISS since 1992
3 of 3 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
OLE MISS is 1-0 against the spread versus FLORIDA over the last 3 seasons
FLORIDA is 1-0 straight up against OLE MISS over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
OLE MISS is 2-0 against the spread versus FLORIDA since 1992
FLORIDA is 1-1 straight up against OLE MISS since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
KEY INJURIES FOR THIS GAME
[DE] Greg Hardy is upgraded to probable, but may be limited - Foot - 09/18
[WR] Carl Moore is upgraded to probable - Leg - 09/15/08
[TE] Cornelius Ingram is out for the season. - ACL - 08/09/08
[OL] Jim Tartt is upgraded to probable - Shoulder - 09/15/08
[OL] Jim Barrie expected to miss entire season - ACL - 08/12/08
[DL] Torrey Davis downgraded to expected to miss. - Disciplinary - 09/17/0
[DT] John Brown is out indefinitely. - Hand - 09/17/08
[LB] Dustin Doe is upgraded to probable - Groin - 09/15/08
[LB] Brendan Beal is expected to miss entire season - ACL - 08/12/08
[S] Dorian Munroe expected to miss entire season - ACL - 08/07/08
[TE] Tate Casey injured last game, "?". - Arm - 09/10/08
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