Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.
Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.
To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.
The ninth entry in the series is the Florida Gators.
Head coach: Urban Meyers (5th year)
2008 Record: 13-1 (7-1)
Total Offense: 445.07 ypg (1st SEC, 15th overall)
Total Defense: 285.29 ypg (3rd SEC, 9th overall)
On the docket: Florida opens its title defense Sept. 5 against Charleston Southern and takes to the field in Jacksonville to face off against Georgia on Oct. 31.
Florida's season in a nutshell: Tim Tebow travels the world, saving lives and circumcising babies, beat some bad teams, lost to Ole Miss, Tebow made a speech roughly equivalent to the Gettysburg Address, Florida dominates everyone else it plays, demolishes Georgia and calls two timeouts in the final minute to relish the win, won the East, came from behind to beat Alabama for the SEC championship, topped Oklahoma for its second national title in three years and earned gradulations for their hard work before meeting the president. This year, the Gators return almost everyone who had anything to do with last year's wild ride, so will they be able to repeat? To find out, I talked to Florida beat writer Jeremy Fowler of the Orlando Sentinel.
David Hale: Much was made -- and rightfully so -- of Tim Tebow's speech following the Ole Miss loss last year, and how it motivated Florida on to the national championship. This year, all eyes are on the Gators, and anything less than a repeat seems like it would be a disappointed. So how do the Gators stay motivated? Is that a concern this spring?
Jeremy Fowler: Gators players have talked a lot about complacency and how they didn't handle the aftermath of the 2006 title as well as they should have. A sense of entitlement coupled with the losses of several key players equaled a 9-4 year in 2007. This team returns so many players that it could probably roll out of bed and go 9-3 -- games against Georgia and LSU will basically determine their season. The leadership abilities of Tebow on offense and Brandon Spikes on defense will play a huge factor on complacency.
DH: Tim Tebow is obviously the engine behind Florida's offense, but having watched the national championship game, it was clear how much of an impact Percy Harvin had. From what you've seen this spring, who might step up and take over some of the key playmaking duties Harvin handled so well the past few years?
JF: That's probably a four-man race between running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey -- two world-class sprinters but both under 5-9 -- wide receiver Deonte Thompson and incoming freshman playmaker Andre Debose, who was recruited with Harvin in mind. He's a five-star talent, but he's still an enigma. Expect Demps to play the running back/receiver role of Harvin more after catching 14 passes to accompany 605 rushing yards in 2008.
DH: Florida's offense gets a lot of hype for good reason, but this year's defense has a chance to be very, very good. What's the mood among the Florida D this spring, and is there a sense that this unit is on the verge of becoming one of the elite units in the country?
JF: Anything less than a top-three national defense would be a colossal disappointment. When you hold Oklahoma to 14 points in the title game and return every starter and all but one backup (Torrey Davis quit the team), the expectations are through the roof. Last year's D didn't give up a lot of points but gave up a good amount of yards. The goal this fall will be to keep both numbers low.
DH: Last offseason, Florida's players used Georgia's end-zone celebration and subsequent win in Jacksonville as motivation. This year, some of Lane Kiffin's comments about Florida seem to have struck a chord with the Gators. How much do you think any of this stuff really plays into the team's offseason preparation?
JF: It's huge, at least from Florida's end. Georgia's end-zone celebration played in Florida's locker room all offseason. Now, Lane Kiffin's quotes are posted all over the Gators football complex. Strength coach Mickey Marotti knows how to push his guys' buttons. Make no mistake -- they want to beat Tennessee by 50. That's why the Georgia game will be tricky. They put so much effort into paying back Georgia for the end-zone stunt, and now that they've got their blowout, the Bulldogs could be hungrier.
DH: After seeing the team for the past few weeks, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Florida still needs to answer before the season begins? What could possibly prevent the Gators from playing for another SEC title?
JF: POSITIVES: Defense has been dominant, the safety and linebacker positions are as deep and competitive as they've ever been, lots of young receivers have gotten quality reps, tight end Aaron Hernandez shows every day why he's a freak, couple of lineman have emerged (Marcus Gilbert and Sam Robey), Tebow's new throwing motion (less sidearm) has looked promising
NEGATIVES: Injuries have hampered the training of numerous key players, including lineman Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, linebacker Brandon Hicks and defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, Justin Trattou and Terron Sanders. The offensive line as a whole has been sloppy and the reason for numerous fumbles. The running back play has been lackluster without Demps, who is running track, and Rainey still recovering from groin surgery. Tebow and backup John Brantley have thrown their share of interceptions.
* Jeremy Fowler is the Florida beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel. You can read his Gators coverage HERE or check out his excellent blog HERE. His wrap up of Florida's spring game is HERE. Jeremy also has an interesting post up in which Coach Meyers tells Gators fans they aren't allowed to criticize the team.
NEXT UP: The Tennessee Volunteers with Chattanooga Times Free Press beat writer Wesley Rucker.