Is the dominance over? I don’t have an answer yet, but it’s a question well worth asking. There is a lot of change surrounding the University of Florida’s football program at the moment. None of those changes by themselves are earth shattering, but there seems to be a lot happening at once. Florida may come out smelling like roses, however, for UF fans there is enough uncertainty to make one pause.
I'm saying the Gators are going to simply disappear from the ranks of the top 25. What I am saying it that they have enjoyed an impressive run of dominance over the past several years, and it’s at least possible that run is coming to an end.
After the jump we discuss the factors that got them there, how those factors are being threatened, and why this is a critical time for Urban Meyer and the University of Florida…
Why so Good?
Before we begin to explore the factors that currently threaten the dominance of Florida’s program, it is necessary to take a look at what got them there in the first place.
Right Place Right Time: Easy there! No way am I saying that Urban and the Gators success is a fluke. Urban is the real deal with recruiting, what was a fairly unique scheme, and the know-how to build infrastructure. What I am saying is that the LEVEL of his success was without a doubt aided by being in the right place at the right time.
First, he’s in Florida. One can argue the veracity of Florida’s High School Football talent pool compared to a few other states, but a good long look at the results from College to NFL, combined with per capita statistics say that the argument will ultimately be lost. There is no better place to call home when it comes to talent bases and recruiting.
Second, He caught the Big 3 just right. FSU was in the middle of a steady decline when Urban arrived. And Miami was shortly to follow. That combined with a hungry UF fan base and football team created a vacuum for recruiting and coaching that sucked the players right in. Not only did these declines effect recruiting it showed up in wins and losses. UF beat the dog snot out of FSU for the past 6 years. And while it doesn’t play Miami as frequently it certainly won the PR battle by hitting the gas pedal just as UM hit the brakes.
Third, He had a fairly fresh scheme. Meyer’s scheme along with a few other coaches at the time caught much of college football off guard – especially the man-heavy South. Defensive coaches have been cramming ever since, in an effort to muzzle the loudness that is spread offense scoring. Call it a gimmick offense, but it is the simplest form of match up exploitation, or better yet creating matchups TO exploit. While I think that an unbalanced use of these offenses will eventually get some coaches in trouble (ahhmm… Rich Rodriguez) at the time they wowed fans and bewildered coaches.
What a man-child: Tim Tebow has been called many things since his arrival at Florida, some good and others not so good. I find that my comments mostly fit in the "not so good" category. Whatever you choose to call him one thing is for sure. At the collegiate level he was a match-up nightmare.
Tebow’s strange combination of athletic ability will probably let him down at the next level. (It’s a very odd combination of skills that ultimately places him in NFL no-mans-land) In Urban’s scheme, however, was a match made in heaven. Pun intended. Having to cover a QB who could plow through college defenses to the tune of 5 yards a pop, and emerge from the pile virtually unscathed was a major problem for opponents. Tim’s passing is questionable when picking receivers, but this scheme called for very little of that. Most of the passes where set up by spread running looks, so that formations and the threat of multiple runs and screens set up easy pass and throw combinations and a lot of one-on-one throws that are super simple to read. Bottom line Tebow’s size speed and arm matched with Urban Meyer’s scheme to give defenses fits.
Defensive Assistance: Coordinator Charlie Strong proved to be one of the games better Defensive signal-callers. Florida’s spread attack offense, and having the run of the state in recruiting gave the Gator’s an almost unbeatable combination. It’s short and sweet but it is a major factor in the Florida run of dominance. Charlie…good. Talent…good. Result…..Good!
No front-runners abound: Yes the SEC has been the hands down favorite in college football over the past decade or so. Yes Ohio State was very much up for the first decade of the 2000’s, and yes Pete Carol proved to be a phenomenal college recruiter/coach. The truth is that there were no other truly good front runners to contend with the Gators. USC had a penchant for losing an easy W somewhere along the line in the Pac-10. Ohio State couldn’t win the big one. And, no other team in the SEC could wear UF’s jock strap. Urban is the consummate front runner. He puts his foot on your neck and then squeezes. He doesn’t even lose sleep afterward. You get in his way and get leveled. This attitude seemed to permeate the entire Florida team including Tebow who was often to be found taunting fans of opposing teams and giving completely jacked up pep talks. They were the front runners in CFB when none of the more likely candidates had the gall. No, they didn’t have the perfect season, but that’s rare. Bottom line: When the chips are down, don’t bet against the Gators.
The Enemy of Consistency: Change!
The thing that kills consistent high-level success more often than anything is change. Change isn’t always bad, but when you’re the one on top it’s an unavoidable annoyance. Just ask Bobby Bowden. The only constant in life is that things never stay the same. They key to staying on top is to constantly evolve. Even though you are the best you have to keep getting better, make adjustments, etc. (side note: This is the kind of thing I love about what Jimbo Fisher is saying these days more than anything else. He understands that keeping up, evolving etc is a must.)
The biggest battle is convincing yourself you need to change when you are already the best. The second biggest is making sure that nothing is sacred. In other words any area from X’s and O’s to structure and down the line is on the table for possible adjustments. Nothing is ever completely off limits to the critical eye. Ironically, I think Meyer is actually doing well in these two areas. But there is another area – Change that occurs beyond your control. Usually if one takes these changes in stride they are not extremely difficult to over come. Occasionally, though a real poop storm hovers over your head. Enter official UF category 4.
Urban Meyer’s Health: I’m less worried about his health, at least as it concerns football. I’m more interested to see what his involvement looks like after this year’s turn of events. I fully expect Urban to coach, but how much time will he put in? And, what effect will that have on the team/staff? Will he rely more on assistants to recruit? Will he rely more on assistants to scheme? There are a lot of potential trickle down affects related to Urban Meyer’s health. Who he is and what he did in every facet of the team made the players and the coaches who they were the past several years. What impact will even seemingly meaningless changes have on those players and coaches.
Coaching /Player Changes: There is a real potential leadership vacuum at Florida. Tebow’s gone, a lot of other players are gone and a handful of new coaches arrive as well. These changes combined with possible adjustments in how Urban coaches the team have the potential to be huge! Again, they easily weather the poop storm with a couple good umbrella’s, but nothing is automatic. With coaches AND players changing one would this might need to be one of his harder coaching years since arriving at Florida.
Scheme Changes: Admittedly, I haven’t studied up on UF’s new DC. However, one would think there will certainly be some changes on Defense. To boot, Florida is supposed to rock a new pro-style scheme under Addazio. We didn’t see it last year. It could be that Tebow couldn’t flourish under it. Also, it’s possible Urban kept intervening. In any case it was not the Florida offense of old. If that trend continues things might get more murky. Personally Brantley’s potential scares me, but they still have to put it all together. By the by, Johnnie Brantley has very little game reps.
A New Sheriff(s) in town: While there seemed to be a lack of front runners in the recent past. That is no longer the case. In the SEC there is a new front runner and his name is Nick Saban. Like or dislike, there is no arguing that Saban has the gall to lead the pack. While he is in a different division of the SEC, there is no doubt that Saban will be a regular obstacle for UF to SEC and national Titles.
As far as the Big 3 is concerned Jimbo Fisher is on the move. He looks to reclaim second place in recruiting and put the Big back in the Big 3. Admittedly, Fisher seems to be focused on taking out Miami first. Keep this in mind though. Every step closer to winning the ACC and getting back in the top 10 makes life that much harder for Urban Meyer. No longer will he seemingly have free reign in the state. He and his staff will have to keep up the tireless work on recruiting and developing players, possibly even take it up a notch if FSU starts winning.
The potential problem for UF is that FSU is out of conference. They have been virtually unchallenged by them up till now. If Alabama is the new big brother in the SEC, and FSU even finds a way to win half the time, no way can UF dominate the way it has in the past.
Summary: Any one of the above changes is not overwhelming, but I believe together they have big implications. They CAN be overcome. And Urban is a good one to do it, but as far as overcoming outside change, the ride is just getting started for the Gators. Florida is on the clock and I will be watching with anticipation to see how well they handle the pressure over the next few years.
More importantly what do you think?