CBSSports.com BlogPoll – Final – First Take

As usual, your thoughts appreciated.
The last poll of the season.  Provide your thoughts if you must.  The final will be posted on Monday.
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Florida (+2)
4. Boise State (+2)
5. TCU (-2)
6. Ohio State (+2)
7. Iowa (+2)
8. Cincinnati (-4)
9. Penn State (+1)
10. BYU (+6)
11. Oregon (-4)
12. Virginia Tech
13. Pittsburgh (+1)
14. Nebraska (+8)
15. Wisconsin (+5)
16. Georgia Tech (-5)
17. Utah (+2)
18. LSU (-5)
19. USC (+6)
20. Ole Miss
21. Texas Tech
22. Central Michigan
23. Miami (-8)
24. Oklahoma State (-6)
25. West Virginia (-8)
 

Joe Haden Will Leave Florida and Enter the NFL Draft

That heading should be of no surprise to anyone.  Florida All-American cornerback Joe Haden will forego his senior season and enter the 2010 NFL Draft.  Haden’s world-class speed and physical play has him regarded by many as the top corner among draft prospects.  A lock to go in the first round, Haden could even go as high as the top 10.  Possibly top 5 if you believe the draft “experts.”  But do that at your own risk.
Haden will always be known of as the first true freshman to ever start at cornerback for the Gators (a feat that would be matched the following year by Janoris Jenkins).  All the more impressive considering he was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in high school.  Haden set records as a passer in Maryland and was regarded as one of the top athletes in the 2007 recruiting class.  No one was completely sure where Haden would end up when he arrived at Florida – on offense or defense – but he quickly took to corner and never looked back.
Haden leaves the Gators with career statistics of 218 tackles and eight interceptions and a number too high to count when it comes to hits and tackles a typical corner doesn’t make.  They used to say no one ever threw to Deion Sanders’ side of the field, but if they did complete a pass on him, he’d have trouble bringing the receiver down.  That’s not the case at all when it comes to Haden.  Over his three years in orange and blue, he was one of the team’s surest tacklers.
If Haden had one weakness early in his career it was deep man coverage, but that was one of his stronger points as his final season went on, easily seen by the way he closed to break up a trick play attempt by Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.  The receiver had broken open deep, but Haden caught up and knocked the pass down.
The floodgates may have been opened with Haden’s announcement as a number of other juniors are also expected to declare for the draft in the next couple of weeks.  Although he will be gone, Haden left a great legacy behind him and one that may keep going with the growing interest his family has in Florida.  Brother Josh is transferring from Boston College and considering the Gators among others and brother Jordan is committed as part of the 2010 recruiting class.
 

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.
 

Sugar Bowl Preview: Florida Gators vs. Cincinnati Bearcats – 1/1 – 8:30

After all that’s happened in the last four weeks or so you’d think the Gators were 1-12 and not 12-1.  The majority of Florida fans seem to have abandoned ship and are ready to fast forward five years into the future.  If you believe everything you read (and you should, no one lies on the internet), Urban Meyer will resign again right after signing day, every draft-eligible Gator will leave Florida early, each verbal commit will sign elsewhere, every assistant coach will take jobs at other schools, and there’s no chance the Gators will win even half of their games in 2010.
Take it all with a hearty laugh Florida fans.  You were there for the Ron Zook era.  You may have even been there for the pre-Steve Spurrier era.  Dark times aren’t on the horizon.  Every season may not bring 12 or 13 wins.  There may be a Capital One Bowl (shudder!) appearance in there now and again.  But the Gator run isn’t over.  Those that think the run started when Meyer got to Gainesville are mistaken.  The run started years before that.  There were those three five-loss seasons under Zook, but there were still bowl appearances and some big wins.  Not all programs can say that.  The last time the Gators lost six games in a season?  1987.  FSU lost that many this season.  Miami lost at least six in 2006, 2007, and 2008.  Michigan hasn’t gone bowling in two seasons.  Alabama has lost at least six in four of the last seven years.  Even USC lost six as recent as 2001.  Florida?  1987.  Relax Gator fans, the end isn’t near.
With the pro-Gator rant over, it’s time to focus on the Sugar Bowl.  With New Year’s Day being the quintessential (spelled right on the first try, take that spell check!) day of lists, the usual list of things to look for is gone.  Call it a case of list overload or call it trying something new.  Too much structure leads to headaches and a desire to consume Busch Light at all too rapid of a pace.  So Florida takes on Cincinnati and here’s your preview.
Last season a certain team was 12-0 heading into the SEC Championship Game.  That team lost and was relegated to the Sugar Bowl.  In that game, they faced an undefeated, underrated team and lost.  Fairly handedly.  They didn’t want to be there and it showed and that team went from 12-0 to 12-2 in what seemed like a matter of seconds.  Last season, that team was Alabama.  The Crimson Tide then watched Florida win the National Title.  This time around the roles are reversed.  The Gators consolation prize is today’s game.  The Crimson Tide play for it all.
There can be no letdown.  No “we didn’t want to be here.”  There’s still a lot for play for.  That whole pride thing people talk about.  Apparently it’s pretty important to some people, so do it for that Florida.  There are the seniors (and those juniors who may be wearing orange and blue for the last time) playing their last game.  I could mention to obvious one, but that has been done too much lately.  Not to diminish Tim Tebow’s last game, but there are plenty of other Gators playing in their last game as well.  Recognize their contributions too.  There is Meyer and his health.  We still don’t completely know what’s going on, but we wish him well and hope he is back for the 2010 season opener.  Play for pride, play for the seniors, play for Meyer.  Whatever the reason, play and don’t give in before the game even kicks off.  Play to win.
And play to not be that team.  There are already enough of that team.  The team that didn’t get where they wanted at the end of the year and lays a Terrence Cody-sized egg in their bowl game.  Cincinnati wants this final win.  They want the undefeated season.  They want to prove they can finish the perfect year without Brian Kelly.  They won’t roll over and neither should the Gators.
And that’s that.  The last Florida game preview of the season.  There’s not much more about the game and matchups you can be told.  You’re nursing the hangover of all hangovers at the moment anyway.  You know the players.  You watched ESPN.  You’re popping Tylenol to get yourself ready for tonight.  You’ll be ready to cheer.  Whether you view the last few weeks of Gator history as a disappointment or not, you’ll be ready.  Go Gators!
 

Urban Meyer Turns Resignation into Leave of Absence

So Urban Meyer is still the head coach at the University of Florida.  He will coach the Gators in the Sugar Bowl and even stated he believes there’s a really good chance he will be on the sidelines for the 2010 season opener.  Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but all signs point to the positive (or negative if you’re a fan of any school on Florida’s future schedules).  The resignation has become a leave of absence of the indefinite kind.  It will start after Florida faces Cincinnati on January 1, 2010 and last as long as Meyer sees fit.  He took some time to rethink his choice and realized it wasn’t the one he wanted to make.  He didn’t want to hang it up completely.  He wanted to recharge and come back in good health.
As a Gator fan, you can’t help but be overjoyed by the news.  The man that brought two National Championships to Gainesville in his first four years at the helm is remaining in charge.  Meyer is taking some time to get himself tuned up and cleaned out and ready for his future as the head coach of the Gators.  But let’s hope he takes more than enough time to get his health in order.  There’s no need to rush it.  The program will be held in good order and will move “full steam ahead” (to quote the man himself) with him in a reserved role and although we all want him back, we all want him back in perfect health.  As he said numerous times during his press conference, his family comes first.
Resignation, over.  Leave of absence, forthcoming.  Sugar Bowl, on deck.  Who else wishes the game was tonight?  No more of this waiting around.
 

Brandon James’ Florida Gator Football Career Comes to an End

Return man Brandon James has played his last game in a Florida uniform.  James had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot suffered during the SEC Championship Game against Alabama.  Although the surgery repaired the problem, he will not be ready in time to join the Gators on the field in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
James ends his Gator career as the SEC’s all-time leader in return yards (4,089).  Although James punt return average hit a career-low 5.5 in 2009, he was nearly as dangerous because of what opposing teams had to prepare for when kicking to him.  He wasn’t able to return a punt for a touchdown for the first time in his career in 2009, but did take score his first kickoff return touchdown.
James was one of those players that never got as much credit as he deserved.  Due to limited opportunities on offense until his final season, James may have been an afterthought to many fans.  A number will remember him lined up a wide receiver, which isn’t the way you want to recall his career.  Florida has plenty of explosive athletes that may be able to take James’ spot return kicks, but few will ever have as much of an impact as he did.  You rarely ever have one position locked up for four straight years, but that’s exactly what James brought to the return game.
 

One Eyed Observations: The BCS National Championship Game, Charlie Strong, and the Sugar Bowl

I ask the questions.  One Eyed Willy provides the answers.
1. Alabama vs. Texas.  First thoughts?  My first thoughts of this game are that I could care less because Florida isn’t in it.  Oh who am I kidding?  I still care because I love college football.  I think if Alabama plays the way they did against the Gators (or maybe more importantly if Texas plays as bad as the Gators played against Alabama) then Bama will easily walk away with the crystal ball.  In a way, I guess I am rooting for Alabama because I always want the SEC to do well and I don’t have nearly as much hatred for Nick Saban and Alabama as I used to (thanks Lane Kiffin).  But there is something inside of me that keeps thinking that if you tell a good team that there is no chance they are gonna win, they seem to show up and surprise everyone more often than not.  Texas for the next month is going to hear from all the “experts” that they don’t stand a chance.  Reminds me a little bit of when Florida played Ohio State or when Texas played USC in the national championship game a few years ago.  And what happened in those games?  The underdog won.  I know there are plenty of examples that prove the contrary, but something about this Texas team led by a stud QB/WR combo tells me that they will take all of the negative and turn it into positive.  Right now (and this could change) I am saying that Texas will win a close and well fought game.  Actually looking forward to this one a lot!
2. What effect does Charlie Strong’s departure have on the defense?  Being that I think Urban Meyer will promote from within to replace strong, I don’t really think there will be a huge difference on defense in the next couple of years.  Strong seemed to really like the Joker defense this year (3-3-5 defense) more than most people do so I am not positive that we will see that as much going forward, but I think it will mostly stay the same besides that.  We still have good players across the board and seem to still be recruiting well so I am not too worried.  I do think it will take a year or so for the new DC to get his feet wet and to feel really comfortable calling schemes and plays, but after that I think we will be fine.  And three years from now that person will take off for a HC job and we will be right back to where we are now.  One thing I am glad about, we have had three coordinators leave in the past 12 months or so but almost no position coaches have gone with them.  So even though the head of the ship is gone, all the understudies seem to be staying around and “keeping on keeping on”.
3. Anyone you’d rather see Florida play than Cincinnati (national championship game aside of course)?  Yes, pretty much anyone on the planet.  It’s funny, because when I thought UF was going to the NC game, the only team I really didn’t want to play was TCU because I think they are REALLY good and have the potential to beat anyone.  It would have been a lose-lose for the Gators.  But once we got beat, the team I really wanted to play was TCU.  Granted it still would have sucked to get beat by a mid-major team, but I think it would have salvaged something to beat the team that many people think could be the best in the country.  Even though Cincy is ahead of TCU in the BCS now, I don’t have much respect for Cincy, especially their defense.  Besides that, the only other team in a BCS game that I would like to play is Oregon just because I am one who really doesn’t like Oregon, yet I understand all the Nike-made hype about them.  It would be fun to shut those neon bastards up for a bit!
 

CBSSports.com BlogPoll – Week 14

Rank Team Change
1 Alabama 2
2 Texas
3 TCU 1
4 Cincinnati 1
5 Florida 4
6 Boise State
7 Oregon
8 Ohio State
9 Iowa
10 Penn State
11 Georgia Tech 1
12 Virginia Tech 1
13 LSU 1
14 Pittsburgh 3
15 Miami (Florida) 2
16 Brigham Young 2
17 West Virginia 5
18 Oklahoma State 2
19 Utah 5
20 Wisconsin
21 Stanford 4
22 Nebraska 1
23 Arizona
24 Oregon State 9
25 Southern Cal 9
Last week’s ballot
Dropped Out: Houston (#19), California (#21).
 

CBSSports.com BlogPoll – Week 14 – First Take

As usual, your thoughts appreciated.
1. Alabama (+2)
2. Texas
3. TCU (+1)
4. Cincinnati (+1)
5. Florida (-4)
6. Boise State
7. Oregon
8. Ohio State
9. Iowa
10. Penn State
11. Georgia Tech (+1)
12. Virginia Tech (+1)
13. LSU (+1)
14. Pittsburgh (-3)
15. Miami (+2)
16. BYU (+2)
17. West Virginia (+5)
18. Oklahoma State (+2)
19. Utah (+5)
20. Wisconsin
21. Stanford (+4)
22. Nebraska (+1)
23. Arizona
24. Oregon State (-9)
25. USC (-9)
 

First Thoughts: Florida Gators vs. Cincinnati Bearcats, Sugar Bowl

So it’s not exactly where we as Florida fans want the Gators to be, but it sure as hell beats the Outback Bowl (which I’ve been to way too many of in recent years).  If you can’t play for the national championship, you might as well head to a BCS bowl with a chance to knock off one of the few remaining undefeateds in Cincinnati.
The biggest story leading up to this game will of course be that this will be the last time we get to see Tim Tebow play college football.  There are only somewhere around 60 more plays in which #15 will be on the field.  Like him or not, he is one of the greatest to play the game.  People tend to get upset at Tebow himself for how the media portrays him.  He’s a Heisman Trophy finalist again and somehow that’s his fault.  I’ll never understand that, but then again I had an extreme dislike for J.J. Reddick when he was at Duke for no good reason either.  No one is completely sure what Tebow will do at the next level or even what position he’ll play, but take in this final game for what is it.  One more chance to see one of the greatest in the history of college football and one Gator fans will surely miss.
You’re also going to hear a lot about Urban Meyer being a Cincinnati alum, but that really doesn’t affect much.  He has a great amount of respect for the school and for the program Brian Kelly has been able to build in a very short time.  You’ll hear that a lot and it’s a very good thing.  These two coaches seem to have a good deal of admiration for one another and are both happy to be in this game (even if deep down inside they’d both rather be playing in that other game a few days later).
Unless something is finalized before then, and even if it is, you’re also going to hear about two other schools not involved in this contest: Notre Dame and Louisville.  If Charlie Strong ends up being named the Cardinals’ next head coach, he could still run the Florida defense in the Sugar Bowl.  After all, Dan Mullen did is last season.  Of course that was the national title game.  Louisville may want Strong to come in immediately if he does in fact end up being their choice.  And on the other side, you have Kelly and the Fighting Irish.  Meyer to Notre Dame is a dead issue for the time being.  That’s not to say he might not end up there sometime down the road, but right now, he’s staying put.  So that puts Kelly as the one that could be on the move.
This game is really a defining moment for both teams.  For the Bearcats, they can prove their worth.  Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they were in a situation this season where they really couldn’t win.  Too much had to happen for them to get a realistic shot at the national title.  They weren’t in a position Alabama, Texas, or Florida was where they just had to win out and were almost guaranteed a shot.  For the Gators, it’s erasing memories of the SEC Championship Game.  Florida has had a very successful season and can put an exclamation point on it by ending it all with a win.  We already tend to forget exactly how good Alabama was last season due to what they followed up their SECCG loss with.  The Gators don’t want the same to happen to them.