Carlos Dunlap Back at Florida

You know that players come back to their school every year to work out, see how the new crop of players are doing, watch the spring game, and visit with old friends. You also probably know that some come back to finish their degrees. For football players, it may be a spring semester here and there. For basketball players, they tend to matriculate during the summer. Some of the names aren’t a surprise, and some are.
Ask Florida fans about Carlos Dunlap and you may get a variety of responses. Some will say he was a great player. Some will still be upset over the DUI that caused him to miss the 2009 SEC Championship Game. Whatever you think of him, Dunlap is a Florida student again.
Dunlap returned to Gainesville this semester to take classes with a goal of finishing his degree. Commendable for someone that has moved on to the world of professional sports. The NFL lockout has given him the ability to return to Florida for the spring, and it doesn’t hurt that he gets to work out with one of the nation’s best strength and conditioning coordinators in Mickey Marotti.
Whatever you think of Dunlap, he’s finishing his degree, which can’t always be said of early enrollees in the NFL Draft. To read more about Dunlap and his goal of continuing his education, check out this piece at Inside the Gators (it didn’t require a login to read this morning, fingers crossed it still doesn’t).

The Bull Gator (3/18/10)

Florida’s pro day has come and gone and the new and improved Tim Tebow was on display.  Scouts believe Tebow has worked well on his release and his footwork and probably improved his draft stock.  He keeps the ball higher when he drops back and is getting rid of it quicker, but Tebow still has a tendency to drop it before he makes a throw.  He’s getting there though and a number of coaches were impressed with the former Gator quarterback.  Two other former Florida defenders improved their draft stocks as well as both blazed through the 40-yard-dash.  Cornerback Joe Haden may have solidified himself as a top 10 pick with times of 4.39 and 4.41.  Many thought Haden would drop in the draft after posting a 4.57 at the NFL Combine, but that time doesn’t seem important now that he has shown what he can really do.  Carlos Dunlap also impressed with times of 4.57 and 4.59.  Great times for someone with his size.  Dunlap warrants a good, long look from anyone picking in the first round.  The only former Gator that didn’t seem to really help himself on Wednesday was Brandon Spikes.  Spikes didn’t run very fast, although I’m not sure if many expected him to, but is still seen as a special talent.  He could definitely be a case of someone who plays much faster than he runs in drills.
As expected, Urban Meyer is back as the head coach of the Florida Gators.  After a vacation or leave of absence of sorts (we should really call it a scaling back of involvement), Meyer is back in the driver’s seat and feeling well.  He won’t mention much about his health other than to say he’s doing fine.  And we shouldn’t expect him to comment on it too much anytime soon.  Meyer is tight-lipped about his health and he should be.  At this point in spring practice, Meyer takes on more of an observatory role.  This time of year gives him a chance to see how his assistant coaches interact with players and how all of the new faces get acclimated to the Gators’ system.  Many seem to think 2010 will be a transition year for Florida, but Meyer believes there is still plenty of talent in Gainesville and the Gators will be ready to compete in the fall.
SI.com’s Andy Staples shared his thoughts on the upcoming season in the SEC.  Among them was a belief that the East could be a little more open than the past few years.  While I will admit Florida will be entering a period of adjustment, the level of talent and coaching staff should assure the Gators won’t exactly get off track either.  One interesting point Staples makes about Florida is that the Gators need to find a way to get four – count ‘em, four – linebackers on the field at once.  There were rumors of Florida converting to a 3-4 defense when George Edwards was the coordinator (Everyone remember that week? Fun times!).  But Edwards left and was replaced – if you can call it that – by Teryl Austin who has mentioned there will be a few tweaks although he won’t overhaul the defense Charlie Strong perfected.  With the talent at linebacker, he may have to change more than he planned though.  Brandon Hicks and A.J. Jones have plenty of experience and should see the field a lot, but Austin won’t be able to keep Jon Bostic or Jelani Jenkins on the bench either.  I can’t be the only one drooling at the thought of Bostic and Jenkins on the field at the same time.
B.J. Daniels’ recently repaired non-throwing shoulder won’t keep him out of spring practice after all.  The USF quarterback will be doing pretty much everything during practice except taking hits.  You probably don’t want your starting QB, and the only one with any substantial experience, taking too many hits this far ahead of the season anyway.  Being able to do basically everything else will be extremely beneficial for Daniels as he learns the offense under new head coach Skip Holtz.  Daniels is still developing as a quarterback and a leader and this spring is really his chance to step and take over the Bulls’ offense.  Exciting things are coming and hopefully fans won’t have to wait too much longer for that first Big East championship season.
The List: I’ve given up attempting to come up with some catchy name for this.  Sometimes simplicity is the way to go.  So it’s The List.  Nothing fancy or memorable.  Sort of like the list itself.  Today’s list focuses on that man who improved his throwing motion.  Clip #1 is a quick shot of that new motion that’s all the rage.  It’s just a glimpse, but maybe you X and O junkies can fully appreciate what has changed.
1. The new, improved Tim Tebow.

2. No list would be complete without the pledge.
3. A little practice Tebow.
4. The ad the world lost its mind about.
5. Tebow vs. Eric Berry. Surprised existence didn’t end after this collision.
The Sixth Man: Despite losing to NC State in the first round of the NIT, we have to give a big round of applause to the USF men’s basketball team for the season they just completed.  It’s easy to assume nothing out of the Bulls.  Since the move to the Big East, they’re just not expected to compete.  The size of the school should allow USF to build something over time and have a decent season now and then, but I’m not sure if anyone really saw this season as being the one in which they broke out.  At times, there were serious talks about the Bulls possibly making the NCAA Tournament.  As you know, they didn’t.  But an NIT appearance shouldn’t be seen as a letdown.  This program is headed in the right direction under Stan Heath and if Dominique Jones returns, the Big Dance could definitely be in sight for next season.  Watching the Bulls improve over the course of this season was exciting and has fans actually looking forward to the future.  Good job men, you should be proud.

The Long Snapper (2/22/10)

Let’s hope the most recent five-star defensive tackles Florida has signed take a different path than that of Torrey Davis and now Gary Brown.  Brown was arrested after slapping around two women at a party – one of which he scratched when he smacked her (come on Gary, cut your fingernails) – and has now been dismissed from the Gator football team.  It has been said that Brown has not met expectations since he joined the Gators last year and this was the last straw.  Hopefully his dismissal would have also occurred if this was the first straw.  It’s time to clean up this program.  The number of arrests is staggering and not a good reflection on a school you hear repeatedly referred to as providing a damn good public university education.  Mistakes will be made and not every player can be controlled, but hopefully Brown’s dismissal can act as a message to others going forward.  A player who had a bright future ahead of him (regardless of what people think about the incoming class, Brown had a good chance to play extensively over the next few years) is gone because of a bad decision he made.  You aren’t given multiple chances if you screw up your original ones in the way Brown did.  This should now be set as the standard.
A host of new stars take over the nation’s best conference in 2010.  Sorry USF fans, I’m not talking about the Big East.  Argue all you want about the Big 12 or even the Big Ten – as some seem to do – but the SEC has produced the last four national champions, putting them firmly on top of the heap.  So who will it be this year?  There’s a great chance Alabama and Florida will face off in Atlanta once again, but don’t count out the next set of SEC teams just yet who are ready to take over at the top for the Crimson Tide and Gators.  Auburn is a program on the rise.  You can never write off LSU.  Even South Carolina looks like it could realistically make some noise.  Any way you slice it, the Southeastern Conference will be as competitive as ever and could very easily bring home a fifth consecutive BCS National Championship.
I won’t get into the hatred that spews from the mouths of Gator fans for draft guru Todd McShay, but to say you would think people can’t change…ever.  Tim Tebow the quarterback is broken and can’t be fixed.  At least that’s what McShay and others would lead you to believe.  But Tebow is trying because he’s not going to give up based on what someone who is making a guess at his future has to say (let’s be honest for a moment, hate McShay or not, he’s got a damn cool job that most of us would take in a second).  So he’s working on a couple of specifics in preparation for his pro day.  First of all, Tebow is attempting to keep the ball closer to his shoulder instead of dropping it to his waist.  Hopefully that will reduce some of the release speed issues.  If you remember (and I think I’ve mentioned it on this site before), one of the things that got Rex Grossman drafted so high was the fact that he had such a quick release.  Tebow, does not.  Keeping the ball higher should allow him to get rid of it faster.  Tebow will also be working on his footing.  Up to his pro day – and assumedly beyond it – he’ll be working on three- and five-step drops.  All of this is in hopes that he can actually fix some of the negatives that so many seem to think he can’t.  Here’s to believing he can get better.  Tebow will never be the prototypical passer in terms of what the NFL looks for, but he will improve and should get looks at quarterback at the next level.
Sticking with orange and blue for today’s Long Snapper, former Gator defensive end Carlos Dunlap is doing everything he can to prepare for the NFL Draft.  Dunlap was once considered a lock to go in the first half of the first round in April.  There was even talk of him being a top five pick.  Then came the questions about effort; followed up by his DUI arrest which immediately put a red flag next to his name.  In response, Dunlap is training and training and training.  His goal is to get himself in the best shape possible for the NFL Combine.  On talent alone, Dunlap is one of the best athletes entering the NFL this year and that would warrant a top pick.  If he can silence the critics about the other points, he could make that happen.
My jump into the world of Facebook has been exactly what I expected for the most part.  The Bull Gator fan page has more fans than I thought it ever would and continues to grow, so that’s a plus.  But on the negative side, I check my personal account way more than most should.  I post relatively infrequently, but I still look.  Then again, I expected that from the beginning.  I do, however, stay away from controversy.  I am a fan of exactly two pages – the TBG one and the alumni association of my high school.  No political or religious affiliations for me.  No support of anything the slightest bit off color.  Nothing of the sort.  My posts are even good natured.  Basically I’m saying, I will not be taking the Jamere Holland route anytime soon.  The Oregon wide receiver has been kicked off the Ducks’ football team after a profanity-laced post that appeared on his Facebook page.  Holland had thought linebacker Kristian Kiko Alonso (I need more people named Kiko in my life) had been dismissed from the team and that apparently set off his tirade.  For good measure, Holland even brought race into it.  Oregon head coach Chip Kelly didn’t explicitly state Holland was kicked off for the post, but sure hinted at it: “I won’t get into the specifics, but you’re smart enough to figure it out.”

The Long Snapper (1/30/10)

Things have been very interesting in the USF recruiting world over the last 24 hours or so.  Tampa’s Terrence Mitchell was the first to make a splash.  The Rivals100 member switched his commitment from FSU to the Bulls, instantly becoming USF’s highest rated prospect.  Then Skip Holtz and company pulled the scholarship offer they had given to Bradenton’s Brion Carnes.  Carnes was still looking at Nebraska and Western Kentucky and the Bulls may have gotten impatient.  And finally, Dunedin’s Adarius Bellamy had his scholarship offer pulled as well.  Bellamy was one of the crown jewels of the 2009 recruiting class, but when he didn’t qualify academically he went off to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy.  Bellamy was able to get his grades in order and reconfirmed his commitment to the Bulls, but in the end USF didn’t have room for him.  Very interesting way to write the final chapter of recruiting this year.
It’s no surprise that both Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat ended up at Texas.  Both had been said to be heavy Longhorn leans for quite some time.  What is interesting is that the Urban Meyer situation at Florida has been rumored to be a factor in both of their decisions.  It’s hard to fully understand what leads to an athlete’s decision, but I think we all had to believe Meyer’s resignation/leave of absence/work as usual would have an impact on at least a player or two.  For the most part, those who want to be Gators either don’t care or are not worried, but those that are unsure may have leaned elsewhere.  Florida may have not ended up with Hicks or Jeffcoat anyway, but we’ll never know what would’ve happened if December 26 had never occurred.
Former Gator defensive end Carlos Dunlap has plead no contest to the DUI he was charged with on December 1.  Dunlap will enter the NFL under probation with his driver’s license suspended for six months.  In addition, he will have to complete 5 hours of community service and pay around $1,000 in fines.  Hopefully the sentence is a dose of reality for Dunlap and he never appears in the news for something like this again.  Sacks, good.  Arrests, bad.
Andy Staples has taken some heat (if you can call criticism via Twitter that) for having two classes from the 1940s among his top five recruiting classes of all-time (1946 Notre Dame at #1 and 1945 Michigan at #5), but you have to take eras and what those classes did into account.  If we wipe out the fact that there may have not been as much competition throughout the nation decades ago, every all-time list would consist of players from the last 20-30 years.  By recognizing what some of the more successful programs did even 60+ years ago, it’s a much truer reflection of “all-time.”  Sure a team from today would run over a team from the 40s or 50s, but that doesn’t make the historical significance of those classic teams any less.  Kudos to Staples for not filling the top of his list with only classes from the era of recruiting sites and reports popping up from everywhere.
St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, FL pumps out high profile prospects year after year.  Lamarcus JoynerSam YoungCody RiggsBrandon LinderDuron CarterMajor WrightGeno AtkinsMarcus Gilbert.  Wes Bynum (that’s right Gators fan, that Wes Bynum).  One of the stars of this year’s class is Giovanni Bernard.  Bernard is one of the nation’s top running backs who had previous been committed to Notre Dame.  After visiting UNC recently, he decommitted and this week made it official that he will become a Tar Heel.

The Inferno: The Best Recruiting Class Ever?

by One Eyed Willy
A lot of people are saying this year’s Florida recruiting class is shaping up to be the best class ever “on paper.”  After hearing it enough times, I wanted to know if it was true.  So I went back and looked at the Rivals.com (the main site The Bull Gator and I typically use when it comes to recruiting) team rankings dating back to 2002 and although the Gators are close, they’re not quite the best as of right now.  In fact, this isn’t even the best Florida class yet.
Here are the teams that have had a point total of over 2,800 since 2002:
USC (2006) – 3,018
Florida (2007) – 2,959
Florida (2010) – 2,925
Florida (2006) – 2,901
USC (2004) – 2,908
Alabama (2008) – 2,836
The recent loss of Demar Dorsey (TBG will have more on that later) dropped the Gators a few points, but if Florida pulls in a few more guys (which it seems they will) between now and National Signing Day, they are guaranteed to blow past the 3,000-point mark, making the 2010 class truly the best ever.
I found it extremely interesting that the 2007 class with Carlos Dunlap, Torrey Davis, Cameron Newton, and James Wilson leading the charge is actually Florida’s highest rated class over the Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, and Carl Johnson class of 2006.  Of course, how they rank and how they play isn’t always comparable
Despite not having the highest ranked class ever just yet, one thing is certain, as of right now Florida is kicking the crap out of the other schools more than anyone has in the past.  Since 2002, the average distance between the #1 rated class and #2 rated class is 200 points.  The Gators are currently beating out #2 Texas by 501 points.  The biggest difference previously was in 2004 when USC beat LSU by 416.  Unfortunately for Florida, Texas probably has a better chance of landing a couple of bigger guys than the Gators do at this point, namely Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks.  But you never know who Florida is going to get either!!!  And think about this…the second best SEC East recruiting class is Georgia and they are nearly 1,100 points behind us.  It is great to be a Florida Gator.
Not bad at all considering the amount of drama and turmoil this team has gone through in the past two months.

Do Five-Star Recruits Become Five-Star Performers?

This time of year the college football world goes into a recruiting frenzy.  The season has ended.  Spring games are still months away.  Fall practice seems like it may never get here.  So every fan (at least every diehard) focuses on recruiting.
If you’re like the rest of us fanatics, you want to know anything and everything about the recruits your school is after.  And if you cheer for a big program, five-star prospects offer bragging rights.  Remember that movie with Shaq?  No, not Kazaam.  That other one in which he played (and it was a stretch) a basketball player?  Blue Chips.  That’s what the five-star recruits are.  Blue chips.  They are considered the cream of the crop.  And you want as many of them as scholarships your school has available.
For Florida, the Army All-American Game was a big moment.  Huge in the recruiting world.  The Gators went from having not one five-star prospect committed to have three (according to Rivals.com) in only a matter of a few hours.  And if the Under Armour All-American Game the week before was a barometer of those who may get that elusive fifth star in the coming weeks, Florida may end up with five or six when all is said and done.
Since 2002 (and not including the current recruiting class), Florida has signed 22 five-star prospects.  Looking back over the 22, you can see some definite success stories and some definite misses.  Due to this, a few friends (One Eyed Willy, KP, and Vanilla Bear) and I decided to perform a little exercise and rate each player from one to five stars based on how they played or the potential they now present.  In the end, we only rated 19 of the 22, leaving off the three from the 2009 recruiting class (Gary Brown, Andre Debose, and Jelani Jenkins) due to redshirting and lack of anything to accurately rate them on.  Our goal was to determine who lived up to the hype and who went in the other direction.  And here are the results:
5.00 Stars – Derrick Harvey, Percy Harvin, Jarvis Moss, Brandon Spikes, Tim Tebow – These are the guys that met the hype head on, ran it over, and never looked back.  It was unanimous that each one of them lived up to their five-star status.  It’s no coincidence the three of the five that have been drafted all went in the first-round and the remaining two most likely will.  These were definitely the men among boys.
4.75-4.50 Stars – Andre Caldwell, Carlos Dunlap, Chad Jackson – Two receivers that came in together and a stud defensive lineman.  Caldwell left Florida as the career leader in receptions and Jackson left with the single-season record.  Dunlap will test the NFL waters after a dominant junior year.
4.25-4.00 Stars – Ciatrick Fason, Will Hill, Matt Patchan – Fason might have had a chance at a place higher in the rankings had he not left after his junior year and Hill and Patchan are still fighting hard to realize greatness.  Hill’s only knock is having to split playing time, but five-star status may be in sight as he gets on the field more in 2010.  If Patchan is left at one position, he could still blossom into a star.
3.75-3.50 Stars – Omar Hunter, Dee Webb – Realistically, Hunter gets an incomplete at this stage in his career.  With years still ahead of him, he will have plenty of chances to shine.  Webb was another one of those that could have cashed in on greatness with one more year.  As it was, he was consistent, but rarely spectacular for three seasons.
3.25-3.00 Stars – Joe Cohen, Carl Johnson – There was talk for a while at trying Cohen out as a power back, so that may have slowed his development, but in the end he was an important part of the defense, just never a true star.  Johnson has one final year to pull it all together.  He’s been good, but not great just yet.
2.75-2.50 Stars – Torrey Davis – Davis probably gets more credit than he deserves for one spectacular play.  In the end, he left Florida after never becoming the player he was expected to be and spending most of his time in the doghouse.
2.25-2.00 Stars – Carl Moore, Cameron Newton, James Wilson – Moore and Wilson still have a chance to prove themselves, but they may not become more than solid athletes.  Newton on the other hand still has a chance to be great, but if he does, it will be while wearing the orange and blue of a different SEC school.
 

Major Wright Joins the Exodus, Will Enter the NFL Draft

After the 2006 National Championship season, four players with eligibility left – Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, and Ryan Smith – decided to depart Florida for the NFL.  This time around the exodus is even worse.
Junior safety Major Wright marks the fifth early entrant for the 2010 NFL Draft to leave the Gators.  He joins Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, and Maurkice Pouncey and may very well be the most surprising of the bunch to throw his hat into the ring.
Wright is an extremely talented safety, but one can’t help but wonder if he is nothing more than a mid-round pick.  Not that the money offered to mid-round picks is anything to turn a cold shoulder at, but just something to consider.  However – as One Eyed Willy so graciously pointed out – could Wright realistically up his stock by returning for his senior season?
The answer is no.  Wright is most likely a mid-round pick in 2010 and would probably be a mid-round pick in 2011.  He is a physical safety who can cover a large area of the defensive backfield, but needs to improve his reads on receive route running.  He can get better and probably will, but the odds he will boost his draft stock by sticking around for the 2010 season are slim to none.  After all, the Gators have enough defensive backs to fill the rosters of the entire SEC.  Despite being entrenched as a starter, Wright could’ve actually seen his playing time decrease in 2010.
 

The Pounceys Spilt and Carlos Dunlap Heads to the NFL

2010 will mark the first time since the 2001 season in which Florida will not have a set of twins on the roster.  If that doesn’t concern you, you better get your head checked.  Junior center Maurkice Pouncey surprised no one when he announced his intentions to head to the NFL, but the decision of twin brother Mike Pouncey to stay was a shocking one.
Both decisions actually make sense.  While both are extremely talented offensive linemen, Maurkice has a little more experience (Mike contributed on the defensive side of the ball during their freshman year).  He was rated higher by most NFL Draft “experts” and appeared to be more, even if only slightly so, ready for the next level.  Still, the fact that one will go and one will stay is befuddling to stay the least.  However, the Pounceys did choose to not live together during the junior year in anticipation they would end up in different NFL cities.
Be happy at least one of them returns to anchor the offensive line in 2010.  And anchor Mike might do.  Word is he wants to move over to center to fill the void left by Maurkice.  Just be careful when you two go out together next season Pounceys.  One of you is in the NFL now and can’t be footing the bill for a collegiate athlete.
Jump across the line of scrimmage and the Gators lose another junior to the NFL with the declaration of Carlos Dunlap.  The defensive end is another one where the decision shouldn’t surprise you, even if there was some word last week he was considering a return.
The last two games of Florida’s season may have had the biggest impact on Dunlap’s draft status despite the fact he didn’t appear in one of them.  We all remember the DUI and subsequent suspension for the SEC Championship Game.  And even remember saying we weren’t sure Dunlap’s absence would be as detrimental as we first thought.  One Alabama victory march later and Gator fans missed big #8 even more.
He returned for the Sugar Bowl to cap off his Florida career by showing just how dominant he could be when he turned it on.  Dunlap continues a strong line a Gator pass rushers in recent years that turned their Florida success into becoming first-round draft picks.  There is some concern over character after the DUI arrest, but talent can’t be denied.
Both Maurkice and Dunlap will be missed as they join Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez as early entrants.  And they may not be the last.  Rumors are circulating about Major Wright and who knows what Ahmad Black is thinking.
 

Sugar Bowl Recap: Florida Gators 51 – Cincinnati Bearcats 24

A number of Florida Gators had their college careers come to an end on Friday night, but none went out with more style than Tim Tebow.  The senior, two-time national champion, and former Heisman Trophy winner finished with numbers fit for a video game.  #15 now holds the Florida single-game record for passing yards.  Not bad for a guy with a poor throwing motion who doesn’t stand a chance of being an NFL quarterback (not our words).  The final line: 31-of-35, 482 passing yards (!!!), three passing touchdowns, 14 carries, 51 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown.  In other words, sick.  Absolutely sick.
Although Tebow’s numbers jump off the page at you like nothing you ever expected, there were other stars as well.  Senior Riley Cooper was on the receiving end of the longest passing touchdown of Tebow’s career when he scored on an 80-yarder in the second quarter.  Cooper finished with seven catches for 181 yards and the score.  Junior Aaron Hernandez also went out on a high note if the Sugar Bowl did indeed turn out to be his last game as a Gator.  Hernandez caught nine balls for 111 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side, senior Brandon Spikes and junior Joe Haden (also likely to enter the NFL Draft) led the team with six total tackles.  Haden had one of the best plays of the game breaking up a pass on a trick play that looked like a sure thing for Cincinnati.  A Bearcat receiver had broken free, but Haden closed ground very quickly and was able to knock the deep pass down.  And yet another one of those juniors likely to leave had a big game as well.  Returning to action, Carlos Dunlap toyed with the Cincy offensive line to the tune of two sacks.
And don’t think those leaving (or possibly leaving) were the only ones displaying their talent.  Chris Rainey led the Gators with 224 all-purpose yards.  Deonte Thompson looked every bit the all-world talent Florida recruited a few years back.  And the defensive line harassed Tony Pike all night.  The defense did soften a little in the second half (hence the 24 points allowed), but overall it was a good night and a big win for the Gators.  The man that’s led that unit since 2002 can be proud.  We’ll miss you Charlie Strong and yes, we suddenly became Louisville fans even if only slightly.
It was a great night for the Gators and fans alike.  One to be proud of.  And one to end a period of a few weeks most would like to forget.  Florida now enters the Steve Addazio era even if it is brief.  More to come on it, but post-Sugar Bowl recruiting got off to a bang as well with the commitments of Chris Dunkley and Dominique Easley on Saturday.  All if well in Gatorland at the moment and we enter the offseason with a smile and even a sigh of relief.
 

Game Preview: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide – 12/5 – 4:00

Rematch.  Florida vs. Alabama for the SEC Championship.  Again.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  The top two teams in the nation playing for the conference title.  Why can’t we just have them play best of three for the national title?  There are those that obviously feel strongly either way about who will come out on top in this one and play Texas/Cincy/TCU for the big trophy in about a month.  I know how I’d like it to turn out, but I’m not a psychic.  All I can offer are my 10 things:
1. Predicting the winner.  Anyone that says “the Gators don’t stand a chance!” or “Bama will lose by at least three scores!” is an idiot.  Good-natured trash talk is always fun.  Sounding like an ignorant asshat while pounding your chest is another.  You don’t know how this one will turn out any better than the next guy.  All you know is that at this exact moment Florida is favored.  But that really doesn’t mean a damn thing.  Two undefeated teams are facing off and it really could go either way.  For my prediction, I’m throwing my hands in the air and saying “who the hell knows!”  Or, as One Eyed Willy suggested to me, I’ll let my XBOX play it out on its own tonight and see who comes out victorious and go with them.  Last year, the Gators were 10-point favorites.  They won by 11.  So maybe there’s something there, but this is a new game and you can’t take the 5.5 points Florida is giving to the bank.  Well you can, but that bank’s name is Las Vegas and in most cases they keep your money.
2. Senior day, redux.  So it’s not senior day on Saturday, but it might as well be.  For the seniors, this is SEC Championship Game appearance number three in four years.  Most of us Gator fans choose to forget everything about the 2007 season with the exception of Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy, so we don’t like to take that one into account anyway.  These seniors have experienced something special.  Yes there was the four-year conference title streak in the 90s, but there was only one national championship with those four.  These three appearances have already produced two national titles and the jury is still out on the third.  Basically, it’s great to be a Florida senior.
3. Random Omarius Hines fact.  There’s probably a pretty good chance we won’t see Hines lined up on offense in this game.  There’s probably a pretty good chance we won’t see Hines lined up on offense again until the 2010 season.  If that’s the case Hinesy, know that you’ve impressed us and we’re thrilled to be able to be witness to your future as a Gator.
4. 49-3.  That’s the combined record of these two schools since the start of the 2008 season.  25-1 for Florida.  24-2 for Alabama.  Those are video game numbers.  Ones it doesn’t look like either team will stray too far from in 2010 either.  It equates to a win percentage of 0.942 over that time.  Texas rivals that with a 24-1 record, but adding in Nebraska puts the Big 12 Championship Game participant’s combined record at 42-8.  That’s only 0.840.  The Gators and Tide are two very big reasons why many think the SEC is the nation’s premier conference.  And why they may be right.
5. Alabama has only ever faced Florida in the SEC Championship Game.  This is probably not important at all because of that whole “this is a new game” thing I mentioned earlier.  But it’s interesting to note this will be the seventh time the Crimson Tide have played for the conference title and the seventh time they have done so against the Gators.  Florida is 7-2 in the SEC Championship Game and 4-2 when playing Alabama.  This will mark the 10-year anniversary since the Tide won their last conference championship.  I’m sure they’ll want to end that drought and there’s probably no other team they’d rather take down in the process.  The Tide also have a chance to become only the third program with at least three titles since the championship game format was introduced.  The Gators will try to add to their comfortable lead when it comes to title game victories.
6. 0 rushes, 0 yards, 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns.  For all that’s been said about the effect of Percy Harvin’s absence on the offense, that’s the stat line he put up in the last year’s SEC Championship Game.  Harvin didn’t play a single down against Alabama in 2008 and Florida still came away with a 31-20 win.  That’s not to say we all wouldn’t love to have him on the field this time around, it’s just to put everything into perspective.  The offense may not be as flashy.  There might not be as much excitement.  But the Gators still know how to win.  So much so that they’re one game better than they were heading into last season’s conference title game.  There’s no denying the impact Harvin could have on the 2009 offense, but there’s no better position Florida could be in right now then where they are.  Number one and 12-0.  Here are the Gators that scored touchdowns in last season’s game: Carl Moore, David Nelson, Jeff Demps, Riley Cooper.  You won’t find Harvin or Louis Murphy on that list.
7. Keeping Mark Ingram out of the end zone.  The Alabama running back and Heisman hopeful has only been kept from scoring in three games this season.  It just so happens those three are also the only three the Crimson Tide won by less than 10 points.  Keeping him out of the end zone is of the utmost importance.  Ingram may still gets his yards (and if he doesn’t, Trent Richardson could pile up a few), but the Gators need to stop him from gaining that final yard on the way to pay dirt.  It’s no coincidence those three games were also three of quarterback Greg McElroy’s five highest passing attempts outings of the season.  Force the Tide to throw and the Gators stand a better chance.  Of course the other side of that coin could be said as well.  Eliminate Florida’s run game, and Alabama could gain the advantage.
8. Tony LaRussa Carlos Dunlap.  Let’s try to put a positive spin on this, shall we?  First of all, damn you Carlos Dunlap!!!  Okay, that’s out of our system.  Dunlap is talent.  There’s no denying that.  We’re looking at a kid that will be taken in the first half of the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.  He could even push himself into the top five.  But like any athlete, he does have some parts of his game that are stronger than others.  Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a weakness, defending the run isn’t Dunlap’s best quality.  A few of the other defensive linemen may actually be better suited to matchup against a team like Alabama.  Then again, this is one of the most feared defensive ends in the nation we’re talking about.  Of course, last season Dunlap totaled one solo tackle and two assists against Alabama.  That’s it.  Not to say he didn’t do his part occupying offensive linemen, but he was far from the defensive MVP of that game.  You’d like every player available for every game, but go back and read point number six.  You do what you need to do to get by when one of your stars is unavailable.
9. Play up to the excitement.  A lot of people will say “treat this like any other game.”  I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that.  It’s not any other game so why pretend it is?  The fact of the matter is Florida is going up against an undefeated Alabama team.  Why act like that’s not true?  The Gators shouldn’t be scared.  After all, they’re undefeated too.  But they should recognize what this game means.  It’s an SEC title.  It’s a shot at the national championship.  It’s not just the next game on the schedule.  The stakes have been raised.  Act accordingly.  Get excited and up your game.  12-1 with a loss to one of the top teams in the nation is nothing to throw out, but how much better is 13-0 and another conference championship?  That’s what you’re playing for.
10. Stay undefeated.  I’ve been alive for six one-loss Florida seasons.  I’ve watched two 12-win teams and two 13-win teams.  This team has a chance to be the first 14-win team in school history and the first undefeated, untied squad as well (if the records I found are correct, the 1911 team went 5-0-1).  And don’t bring up that crap about not losing a single game in 1943.  If you have no team, of course you can’t lose.  Getting to 14-0 won’t be easy.  Getting to 13-0 is a hard enough battle.  But both are within reach.  This team can make school history.