Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gators in prime position for repeat


— Florida coach Urban Meyer wrapped both hands around the crystal football Friday, started to lift it off its stand and then nearly fumbled the whole trophy.

He might have an easier time holding on to the championship next year.

Just hours after the Gators celebrated their second national title in three years, Meyer made it clear he expects them to be in contention again this fall.

A run for the roses? Florida could spend the next seven months as the preseason favorite to reach the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Rose Bowl, especially if quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes return for their senior seasons.

“I’m not sure what the word dynasty means,” Meyer said Friday, about 10 hours after the Gators beat Oklahoma, 24-14, in Miami. “I’m very confident now. I see a program that’s set. We’re good. I didn’t feel that way two years ago. ... Next year is going to be a very good senior class, but behind them is another group, another group. We don’t have that void is my point.”

There could be huge void if Meyer’s three stars turn pro. Tebow, Harvin and Spikes submitted paperwork to the NFL’s advisory counsel last month in hopes of getting a better feel for their draft status. None of them gave any new insight their decisions after the game.

Harvin, considered the most likely to jump to the next level, said it was possible that all three of them might to return and go for a repeat — much like former Florida basketball teammates Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green did after winning the title in 2006.

Meyer joked that he might mention what happened on the hardcourt to try to sway his guys.

“In all honesty, I’m not going to start using angles because I don’t want to ever influence a guy to make a decision,” Meyer said. “Whenever you make a life-changing decision, place of employment, having a family, getting married, all those big decisions you have to make, you put it all on the table and you make sure you’re doing it for the right reason.”

The Gators will lose three senior starters — all on offense. Receiver Louis Murphy and offensive tackles Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins will be gone.

The rest of the team could be intact, and Meyer has another strong recruiting class on the way. But can he ever find another Tebow or Harvin?

Tebow delivered a passionate promise after Florida’s 31-30 loss to Mississippi in late September, vowing to work harder than anyone else in the country. Teammates called him “prophet” leading up to the BCS title game, and he made good on his word again in the second half Thursday night.

Tebow ran for 85 of his 109 yards after the break, bowling over defenders, riling up the pro-Florida crowd and even drawing a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for doing the Gator chomp. Fourth-best quarterback in the country?

Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks said last week that Tebow wasn’t better than any of the top three quarterbacks in the Big 12 this season.

“Maybe we need to send that guy some flowers and some chocolates and a thank you note,” receiver David Nelson said. “That really fired him up. He played outside himself in the first half, trying to do too much. But he calmed down in the second half and was really the Tim Tebow we all know.”

Harvin looked like his usual self, too, even though Meyer said he was about 80 percent following an ankle injury. Harvin ran for 122 yards and a touchdown, added 49 more receiving and had a 52-yard run that set up the go-ahead field goal in the fourth.

“I want to make sure that our players, this team goes down as one of the great teams in Florida football history,” Meyer said. “It’s one of the greatest group of young people I’ve ever been around. Everything they have coming to them, they deserve it.”

It could be NFL riches or maybe a trip to the Rose Bowl.


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