Spikes is Back, Harvin is Gone

January 15, 2009

The decision as to whether to turn pro or not depends on a lot of things.

One consideration is which position you play. Some positions, like running back and defensive line, easily translate to the next level. Others, like quarterback and receiver, are notoriously difficult to play well in a rookie season.

Another consideration is the year’s draft class. If your position is stocked with good guys, the numbers dictate that someone is going to fall to the second round when he could be a first rounder in a normal year.

From there you can go forever on smaller considerations like the type of scheme you come from, whether you’re injury-prone, and things like that.

The second consideration appears to be why Brandon Spikes will again be in Gainesville next season. With higher profile guys like Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis coming out, this year’s draft is stocked at linebacker.

While Spikes made a lot of improvement this season, most notably in leadership and pass coverage, he reportedly would be the guy who gets bumped to the second round. For that reason, it makes sense for Spikes to come back.

Percy Harvin is leaving however. I don’t think it was considerations one or two that got him, but more likely a host of other ones. The primary concern would be his injury-prone nature. I’ve said it several times: it makes more sense to be paid millions to rehab than to do it for a scholarship.

He also is coming out at the right time. Similar players Ted Ginn and DeSean Jackson had good years, so players like him are enjoying success now. Plus, he can operate the wildcat that is so en vogue.

He will have stiff competition for draft position from Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, but if he can be healthy by the combine, Harvin will do fine for himself. The fact that he can be both a credible running back and receiver means he can have a nice long career in the mold of a Brian Westbrook or a Marshall Faulk.

I am very excited about the 2009 Gator defense, now that it officially has every member of the two-deep coming back. It could end up the best in school history. It will definitely have a shot of getting there statistically thanks to the schedule rotating Miami, Hawai’i, and Ole Miss out for Troy, FAU, and Mississippi State.

I also wish nothing but the best to Percy Harvin in the NFL. I have no doubt that if he can keep in one piece, he will excel on the next level. Thanks for being an awesome Gator, Percy, and you might give me a reason to actually pay attention to some part of the pro game next fall.


Tebow is Returning

January 12, 2009

With these words, Tim Tebow announced his intention to return to campus next season. It wasn’t as dramatic as the 04s’ return announcement where they dropped and broke a fake crystal basketball trophy, but it will do.

The immediate reaction has been to already name Florida as next season’s sure preseason No. 1 pick. Given that it took months for the consensus to form around Georgia as 2008’s preseason No. 1, it’s a bit hasty. However when at least 10 starters on defense, most of the offense, and the Heisman-winning quarterback are all coming back from a national title winning team, it makes sense to go ahead and call it now.

Tebow dropped hints all along the way that he would come back, the first probably before he even thought about 2009. During his famous speech after the Ole Miss game, he said that his goal for the season was to go undefeated, something that had never been done before at Florida. That signaled to me that no matter how the year ended, he’d have that unmet objective in the back of his mind.

Then of course throughout December he was asked about staying or leaving. The whole time he did an admirable job of making it sound like he was going to give the NFL a fair shot, but you could hear in his voice and read between the lines that his heart is not with the pros yet.

Percy Harvin hasn’t decided his course of action yet, but he meets with Urban Meyer today to help make up his mind. It’s encouraging that he said he’s leaning towards coming back, but honestly I’d tell him to leave if he asked me for advice. He’s been hurt so often, why risk another bad injury when you’re not getting first round money for it?

Ryan Stamper says that on the plane back from Miami, Brandon Spikes told him he’s coming back. I wish I still had the links (sorry), but I’ve seen one place where Spikes said Tebow’s decision would influence him greatly, and another where Charlie Strong said his advice would be to stay. Strong’s rationale was that Spikes might grade out a second or third round pick by the NFL draft report, and that the coaches only tell players to go if they grade out as first rounders.

Only one other Gator asked for a draft evaluation, and that was Brandon James. He has no intention of leaving early, but he desires to play in the NFL and wanted to know what he needed to do to get there. Makes sense.

I always try to control my expectations for this team, but I can’t this time. There is no reason to think that Florida shouldn’t be the national title favorite (catastrophic injuries not withstanding) with so many people coming back from a title-winning squad. I felt the same way about the 2006-07 basketball team, and the same applies with these guys.

How long is it again until September?


Gators on the All-SEC Team

December 9, 2008

Normally today is the day where I tell you which Gators made the all-SEC team for the week. Seeing as how the season is over, the all-SEC team for the whole season came out yesterday.

Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and Phil Trautwein made the first team. Percy Harvin, Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, and Joe Haden made the second team. There is no third team, but Brandon James, Jonathan Phillips, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Jason Watkins, and Ahmad Black made honorable mention.

Tebow was named Offensive Player of the Year.

It’s somewhat puzzling to see Harvin on the second team behind LSU’s Brandon LaFell and Georgia’s A.J. Green, but I guess the selectors were looking for traditional receivers first. It’s great to see Black on there, considering he wasn’t even going to start until he was forced to by injury. All he did was tie for the second-most interceptions in the country with six.

All told, 13 Gators were recognized for excellence by the conference. Four of the five offensive linemen were recognized, all except Carl Johnson who did not play a full year at guard.

One name that will certainly be on this list next year (barring injury) is Janoris Jenkins. Man, is that guy good.


Gators Potentially on the Move

December 8, 2008

When you go to the national title game twice in three years, you can expect to see assistant coaches start looking around at other opportunities. Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin left USC for the NFL earlier in the decade, and Mark Mangino and Mike Stoops left Bob Stoops’ staff too. It comes with the territory, two guys on the staff are browsing at head coaching jobs.

It should come as no surprise that defensive line coach Dan McCarney is looking at the opening at New Mexico. He is the winningest coach in Iowa State history and took them to bowls with more regularity than anyone else has. It amazed me that they let him go, and they have done nothing but suffer under his successor. Apparently the AD at New Mexico hired Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and Meyer recommended that McCarney look at the job.

Dan Mullen was rumored to be in play at New Mexico State not that long ago, but that talk died down. He is now said to be a major player for the Mississippi State job, though he is not a confirmed finalist as had apparently been reported in some corners of the Internet. When you’re the offensive coordinator for the most dominant offense the SEC has seen in a long time, you’re going to get some interest, but I don’t know if that’s a good fit for him.

Tim Tebow, for his part, says that he once thought going to the national title game would affect his decision to go pro or not, but now he doesn’t think so. He says he wants to stay, but ” it also would be great and really fun to go to the next level and see how that goes, too.”

The fact that he used the word “want” with coming back to school and “see how that goes” when referring to the NFL makes me think he’s leaning towards coming back. It’s a weak quarterback class, but I think the scouts probably want to see him go back another year. Of all stats, the only one with a high correlation to NFL success is total collegiate starts, so they are probably right.

The other Gators I see potentially leaving early are Jermaine Cunningham, Percy Harvin, and Brandon Spikes. Spikes missed out on winning the Bronko Nagurski award, given annually to the nation’s best defensive lineman or linebacker, finishing behind Texas DE Brian Orakpo. It’s understandable because he’s an absolute beast and he helped cover for a woefully young UT secondary.

An interesting report from that ceremony is that Orakpo gave Spikes some advice on beating the Sooners. You know that Texas is the only team to beat Oklahoma, but did you know Orakpo had two sacks, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in the game? I’m sure whatever he had to say pales in comparison to what Florida’s film staff can tell him after a month of study, but there are certainly worse people to ask for help from.


Demps Honored by SEC

October 28, 2008

Jeff Demps was honored by the SEC as the special teams player of the week after blocking a punt against Kentucky. I’m not sure why he was singled out over William Green and Joe Haden, who also had blocks, but probably it was to honor his overall play for the whole game. It’s the second time he’s been named all-SEC as he was freshman player of the week after Arkansas.

Florida’s streak of having at least one player selected as some sort of SEC player of the week after every win has continued, thanks in part to Brandon Spikes getting defensive player of the week after LSU (which I neglected to mention last week).

In other news, Jim Tartt will be back for the game this weekend. Even though Carl Johnson has been playing well, Tartt has the edge in experience and will help anchor the line on the big stage. If (or perhaps sadly, when) Tartt has to come out, Johnson can go back in and I will feel fine.

Apparently, Ryan Stamper will keep the starting weakside linebacker spot over Dustin Doe until and unless Doe can win it back in practice. Stamper has impressed me a lot this year with his versatility and quality play. If/when Brandon Spikes declares for the draft, the Gators should be in good shape at middle linebacker with Stamper moving up to starter. His ceiling is not as high as Spikes’ is, but he can flat out get the job done.


Another Gag Order

October 27, 2008

After players talked some trash in public before the Miami and Tennessee games, it appears that Urban Meyer has issued a preemptive strike against it by issuing a blanket gag order on the team. Or, at least, the Associated Press thinks so.

The theory stems from a sound bite Brandon Spikes made after the Kentucky game where he said he wouldn’t comment on the celebration because he didn’t want to get in trouble. Such a gag order, if it exists and Spikes wasn’t just trying to be funny, would fit in with his prior maneuvers surrounding player comments. Meyer is one of the most paranoid coaches in the game, which is why he tries to keep his players from talking smack and why he leaves his starters in games longer than most do.

Tim Tebow only said it would fire him up and that’s it. Percy Harvin said that Florida wouldn’t try to do a similar display, something they team has said since last year and that’s never been in doubt. Brandon Hicks is the only other Gator quoted in the piece, and he basically just said they got rattled by the celebration last year and that they’ve had this game circled for a while.

On the Georgia side of things, Mark Richt is steadfastly refusing to talk about it, referring everyone to what he said during SEC media days. LB Rennie Curran just said some boilerplate material about how Florida is a good team and that the Bulldogs are going to try their best.

Meyer for his part tried to downplay it, saying that it was “old news” and had nothing to do with this year’s game. That is in direct conflict with things he said over the summer and in the book that Buddy Martin wrote about him. In those cases, he said it was a big deal and something he’d never forget. I would expect a good number of folks from the UGA commentary community to jump all over that and try to say that he’s a liar, or duplicitous, or some stuff like that.

I really just think that’s his way of trying not to answer questions about it everyday until the game. It won’t work; he’ll likely be asked about it more days than he won’t this week. I guess he figures he’d give it a shot an establish a precedent for avoiding the issue for the rest of October.

Behind closed doors though, I have no doubt that the celebration last year is being used by the Florida coaching staff. Meyer is a master motivator, and I seriously doubt that he’d forgo using something so perfect for getting the guys amped up for this game. Not that the fact the SEC East and the rest of the season are on the line isn’t enough.

Things are going well for Florida right now. They are peaking and getting healthier at the same time. They rolled up 63 points with Harvin getting only three touches for goodness sake. Meyer even hinted that he’s having trouble keeping the team from being too amped for the game saying, “I’m emphasizing with our players that we don’t play this thing until Saturday at 3:30.”

Motivation is no trouble for either side in this one. The winner is in the driver’s seat for the SEC East, with the loser needing the other to collect two improbable losses to go to Atlanta. The winner is also still in the national title race for that matter too.

What happened in the first quarter of last year’s game doesn’t need to be even discussed for both the Gators and Bulldogs to be at their best on Saturday. Yet still, I have a feeling it will be a theme all week. We’ll see.


Tuesday Morning Miscellany

October 21, 2008

Tim Tebow believes Colt McCoy is the front runner of the Heisman Trophy race. Not sure why this is news since everyone else on the planet does too. He’s the quarterback of the No. 1 team and he’s completing 81% of his passes.

Despite this not being “news” in most senses of the word, the AP decided to write an article longer than most game recaps about it. Go figure.

Brandon Spikes has been named a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation’s top lineman or linebacker. He’s definitely earned that in every game except one this season. For some reason he looked like he was running in sand all day against Arkansas, but he’s been a force in every other game.

I’m not sure when the cut from semifinalist to finalist is, but I don’t know if it’s a sure thing that he’ll be one of them. There are 12 guys on the current list, and it gets winnowed down to four in the finalist stage.

There are guys with more national hype than Spikes probably has on the list like Ohio State’s James Laurenaitis, USC’s Rey Maualuga, Ole MIss’ Michael Oher (a near-consensus top-5 pick in next year’s draft), USF’s George Selvie, and now, thanks to the past two weeks, Texas’ Brian Orakpo.

Meanwhile at Kentucky, the injuries are mounting. Perhaps their two best offensive players have fallen out in consecutive weeks, with Derrick Locke joining Dickie Lyons, Jr. in the “gone for the season” club. A couple of key defenders are hurting too.

With UK being borderline decent to begin with and now this, Florida shouldn’t have too much trouble Saturday. The Wildcats barely squeaked by Arkansas, for crying out loud. Still, they play some defense so don’t expect free-flowing offense from the Gators all game long.