Stunning news about Meyer means a seismic shift in college football

December 27, 2009

Florida head coach Urban Meyer will face a barrage of questions on Sunday about his stunning decision to step down from his job after the Sugar Bowl.

There will be questions about his health, what he will do in the future, whether he is gone from coaching for good, and how he will assist in finding his own replacement.

But the biggest question of course is….what happens next?

The news about Meyer – combined with Bobby Bowden’s departure – is a seismic shift in college football in both the state of Florida and the nation.

Meyer brought the Gators to unprecedented heights and made them the most dominant program in the state. The list of accolades is long, including 2 national titles, an amazing winning percentage and a 15-1 record against the Gators biggest rivals.

Keeping that intact won’t be as easy as some might think regardless of who is picked as a successor. Gainesville-bound recruits will pretty soon hearing whispers in their ears that they should think about going someplace else.

Meyer already had a bit of rebuilding job ahead of him in 2010 thanks to the departure of Gators legend Tim Tebow. And the Gators earlier this month lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. So while there will be a lot of blather about how this is one of the most attractive jobs in the nation the truth is that the next coach for the Gators will have tremendous challenges when he walks through that door.

The biggest challenge will be the immediate pressure on the next UF coach to match the recent successes of the Gators. That could be a tall order given that Meyer is leaving while the Gators are at their peak. I don’t think next season would have been a down year for the team, but it’s hard to imagine the Gators would have been as good as they have been the last three years.

This change, in many ways, may be a Christmas gift for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, Mark Richt at Georgia….and even Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (Just as an aside – it’s interesting how Spurrier is not viewed right now as a top contender for the opening. Um, hey Gator Nation, he’s the one that made the job so attractive to Meyer in the first place….)

But this decision could result in more than just a realignment of the SEC.

For three decades the programs in the state of Florida – University of Miami, Florida State and UF – have dominated college football in a way that no other state can rival. To have 3 schools from the same state battle it out for national championships is truly unprecedented. The fact that the three schools have combined for 11 national titles in the last 26 years is astounding.

The end of the Bowden era, and now the end of the Meyer era, could wind up as the demarcation point of a new period in college football where the Big 3 Florida schools no longer dominate the national scene like they once did. Other schools have already begun poaching players from Florida high schools and this could just accelerate it. This could also be the opening that programs at the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida need.

Or maybe even worse to FSU and UF fans – this could mark the starting point of a new time of dominance for the U.

While Miami’s season was a disappointment, the team is still playing in a bowl and Jacory Harris is an extremely talented quarterback who will probably get a lot better. And there is hope that the defense – which was Miami’s biggest weakness – will become a dominant unit next season.

It’s too early to tell of course just how all this will play out, but it’s a gamechanger all the way around.

A No. 1 ranking means next to nothing right now

September 25, 2009

If there was anything to be learned from South Carolina’s dominating win over No. 4 ranked Ole Miss on Thursday night, it’s that once again poll rankings in the month of September mean next to nothing.

Oh, I know that the Gators fans will soon be frothing at the mouth. That doesn’t mean that UF doesn’t deserve any respect as the defending national champion. Any team that returns all defensive starters and its star quarterback should automatically be seen as the frontrunner at the start of the season. (Although I still think UF could lose in the next two weeks.)

But the Rebels loss is just another reminder that current poll rankings are based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors and that any fan – or alumnus  – should not get their hopes up based on what some silly poll says.

For as great as FSU’s win over Brigham Young was, the fact that BYU was a No. 7 team was meaningless. Let’s see where the Cougars are in December before declaring this a victory over a substantial foe. Likewise, I’m not sure Miami’s win over Georgia Tech  is as big a deal as some might think it is. (What made it a good win for UM is that Tech rolled over them a year previously and Jacory Harris looked spectacular ripping apart the Yellow Jackets secondary.)

The plain fact is that just like the BCS is a fraud, so are these polls. They are based on the votes of people, coaches and sportswriters, who look at a box score, see a 15-second highlight, and spend maybe a nanosecond thinking about their pick. Maybe that explains why FSU – after obliterating the Cougars – is still ranked five spots BEHIND BYU in the latest coaches poll.

If polls remain a necessary evil – and as long as the Bowl Championship Series continues to legitimize them – they should not be done until at least the first four games of the season are done and over. It was a travesty that Tommy Bowden got run out of Clemson last year based on some erroneous pollster decision that the Tigers were suddenly a Top 5 team.

It is of course great to see all 3 Florida teams ranked in the Top 25 – but it won’t mean a thing if FSU loses to USF, UF loses to Kentucky and Miami loses to Virginia Tech. It will mean that this week’s poll rankings were nothing but an illusion and a tease to the fans of all three schools.

Maybe Tim Tebow isn’t the best quarterback in the Sunshine State

September 18, 2009

C’mon admit it.

After Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris torched Florida State for nearly 400 yards, your first inclination was to think ‘Wow, FSU’s defense is really, really bad.’

Well it’s beginning to look that may not be the whole story. Harris – with the help of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple – showed to a national audience that Tim Tebow may have another Heisman Trophy contender to worry about this year.

He was just about flawless against Georgia Tech, going 20 for 25 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He hit 9 different receivers — nine!

Against the Noles Harris light up the night sky for 386 yards and two touchdowns. In both games, he threw up arching passes of beauty that weren’t just routine lobs, but at all times appeared to be going exactly where he wanted them.

Meanwhile, the Florida Gators have been playing what amounts to a pre-season schedule, putting in blowout wins over Charleston Southern and Troy.

Tebow gets his first serious test this weekend against the Tennessee Volunteers. Now I know that there are some Gators fans who are convinced they are going to smack the Vols around. But I wouldn’t go anywhere near that 28 1/2 point spread. That’s because it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Tebow struggles against a Monte Kiffin-designed defense. According to this little tidbit in USA Today, Kiffin has been “drawing on napkins” since the spring about ways to shut down the Gators.

And while Tebow may be the chosen one, he didn’t look great against Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game, which was really his last serious test.

Meanwhile, Harris is now 2-0 halfway through a brutal schedule that takes the Canes to Virginia Tech followed by a home game against Oklahoma.

Think about this: If Tebow struggles against Vols, or even worse yet, loses against LSU, that would open the door to Harris. If the young man knocks off four quality opponents in four straight games, then suddenly the Heisman contender from Florida will be wearing orange and green, and not orange and blue.

It may sound like some sort of travesty to Gator Nation but the best quarterback in the state of Florida may no longer live in Gainesville.