Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Hate Smart Sportswriters

Stewart Mandel's a sharp dude. I like him a lot. His college football book "Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls" is a lot of fun. He's a fine writer and a credit to his profession. So it kind of sucks when he says something negative about your team.

"2. That the Urban Meyer aura is wearing off. He arrived from Utah as the sport's most intriguing new coaching figure, and he backed up the hype almost immediately by delivering a national title in just his second season. But following the Gators' inexplicable home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Meyer's team has gone just 6-4 over its past 10 SEC games. Most puzzling of all is how the coach's once-feared offense -- the one that was expected to truly take off once he had "his own guys" -- has regressed considerably in Tim Tebow's second year at the helm.

While Tebow, whose rushing stats are way down from his Heisman season, is the easy scapegoat, the bigger mystery is how, despite four loaded recruiting classes, there are seemingly so few weapons around him. On Saturday, stars Tebow and Percy Harvin combined for 401 of the Gators' 443 yards. Where were RBs Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody (six combined carries)? And how is it that none of Florida's young pass-catchers have stepped up to fill the void left by Andre Caldwell and Cornelius Ingram? Until they do, the Gators will be very predictable."

Mandel's point is an uncomfortable one, but it's also legitimate. I caught some flak on another board for saying here that if the Gators go 9-4 again this year, Meyer might find his seat getting a little hot.

I stood by that then and I stand by it now, and Mandel touches on why. Meyer's put together four recruiting classes, three of them very highly ranked, and yet the list of Florida's weapons includes just two names: Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. Aaron Hernandez is working his way onto the list.

Make no mistake, luring guys like Tebow and Harvin to Gainesville is an extraordinary accomplishment. But it's hard to compete for SEC Championships with just two studs. If you look at the other skill position players recruited by Meyer, there's just not a lot that remains.

Louis Murphy's a solid player and decent deep threat, but no one really game plans for him. Kestahn Moore was a decent enough back his first three years, but he was never a playmaker and he's seen his touches fall to nothing this year. David Nelson is a complete non-entity. Nyan Boateng transferred after the 2006 season and did nothing of consequence his first two years.

Harvin and Tebow were signed in 2006. Also signed that year was Mon Williams, who's done nothing in three years. Riley Cooper's a starter this season but has been wildly inconsistent and can't be relied on in third down situations. Brandon James is a dynamic returner and an unquestionable recruiting success, but his role in the offense is a limited one. Jarred Fayson transferred after not being given the same touches as Harvin. Chevon Walker did nothing for two years and bolted town.

Deonte Thompson was a five star receiver and big "get" in 2007, but he redshirted last year and hasn't done much of anything this year. It's way too early to write him off, of course. Bo Williams didn't even wait two years to try and get in the running back rotation before he transferred. Chris Rainey has shown flashes of potential, but after a great first game against Hawaii he's barely shown up this year. As mentioned above, Hernandez has been a success and looks like Tebow's second-favorite target.

Last year's recruiting class included TJ Lawrence, Omarius Hines, Jeff Demps, Carl Moore and Frankie Hammond. All have the potential to become great players, especially Demps with his mind-blowing speed, but none of them are Julio Jones-AJ Green caliber playmakers, the kind who can come in and make an immediate impact.

All of that leaves Florida with a shockingly thin collection of playmakers on the offensive side. Combined with a surprisingly porous offensive line, and you've got a unit that operates about as smoothly as an East German car.

Let's be fair here: Florida's situation isn't disastrous. The Gators control their own destiny in the SEC: win out and they're in the championship game. Most teams don't have the luxury of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. The improved defense will help Florida win games even when the offense sputters. (For example, the Gators wouldn't have won this year's Tennessee or Miami games with last year's defense)

But Meyer's inability or unwillingness to find options outside the Tebow-Harvin duo is troubling. And with 1/3 of the regular season down the tubes, it seems unlikely that he'll be able to conjure up playmakers out of thin air.

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