GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Do you care?
Florida is chasing consecutive national championships and its third title in four years. Do you need some team, someone new? There already is evidence of Tim Tebow burnout. A national offseason conference call for possibly the greatest player in history drew two callers. (To be fair, there were also two other writers in person to interview Tebow that day.)
|The Florida fans thank the heavens for No. 15. (US Presswire)|
"Don't Brennaman me, loser."
Of course you care in a general sense. You're a fan. The season is 6½ weeks away. The media frenzy known as the SEC media days begins on Wednesday and runs through Friday. Florida will make its appearance at the Wynfrey Hotel on Thursday. Last year was Hollywood enough as the Gator entourage used needed security to safely dash through the lobby to make it to a waiting car.
But is it all getting too repetitive? It's pretty much down to USC and Florida, each with two titles, to become the No. 1 program of the decade. (Yes, even with LSU winning twice itself.) This season already has been boiled down by some to Florida and the Big 12 winner meeting for the national championship.
If you want something different or are aching for a repeat, damn right you care. That's the nature of the game. Half the passion involves rooting against someone. There have been only two other schools to win three national championships in four years. The last was 12 years ago.
"Nebraska?" Florida safety Major Wright said. "I didn't know that. That's a shock to me."
How soon they forget -- or never know. That kind of short-term memory might help the Gators this season. It sure as hell beats the offseason obsession with 24 arrests and Urban Meyer's "inevitable" departure for Notre Dame.
"Three in four years?" Meyer said. "Oh gosh. Honestly, I don't let myself think about it."
Yeah, right. They all have within the walls of Florida's multi-million dollar renovated football offices. So do you care that all the hype could be multiplied by a factor of (No.) 15 as Florida gets set to make what could be an epic run?
Of course you care and here's why ...
Tebow is one of the best ever
Go ahead, get it over with. Stick a finger down your throat and self induce if you must. Yeah, here we go again. We first got into this subject the day before the BCS title game eight months ago.
Nothing has happened to dispute that assertion. No scandal. No erosion of skills. Just come back with me to Atlantic City seven months ago when Tebow and his brothers were in town for the Maxwell Award ceremonies. With a night to kill and nothing to do, Team Tebow did what any red-blooded set of brothers would do.
|Meeting the president: Just another day at the office for Tebow. (Getty Images)|
Before it was over, the Tebows had a Catch Phrase entourage that included their body guard. Drink of choice: Bottled water.
"Everybody else was going to gamble downstairs," Tebow said. "We had like 10 people up there playing for like four hours. Most people are like, 'What are you doing? You have a casino there. You're up there playing 'Catch Phrase.'"
Let the kid have his fun. They have co-opted his name to sell product. "TeeBows" are women's panties being sold online. To quote the website, they are "the perfect complement to your Gator Game Day Outerwear."
They have carved a wooden statue of him clutching the Heisman outside popular Gainesville fish joint Ballyhoo Grill.
"I can't go up and look at it," the carvee said. "People would say, 'There's Tebow staring at his statue.' How weird would that be?"
They have run him ragged for autographs and interviews until he stepped back recently and realized he had no right to feel tired. It was a recent Saturday night. The Tebow family voted for Outback Steakhouse carryout. Tim thought he could zip in and zip out without being recognized.
A fawning father asked Tim to meet his son.
"I was thinking it was going to be a little boy," Tebow said. "He grabs this boy and brings him out in a wheelchair. He's here from Indiana and they're doing research on his spine. Who knows how long he is going to live? I realized, what's wrong with me. Why am I doing this? The kid was so excited he started to cry."
Tebow is most proud of his ministry work in prisons.
"That's my favorite thing to do in the world," he said.
If you think it takes a man to play football, try wading into a bunch of killers, rapists and criminals when the prison guards advise against it.
"My dad could go in there or a chaplain could go in there or a pastor could go in there and a few prisoners might be bored," Tebow said. "But because they see me on TV or see me play, they've got respect for me. They want to shake my hand. These are guys all the way from death row to [having] two years left."
There's this DVD, produced in-house by Florida that you'll never see. It's a leadership video. There's a scene at halftime of the Oklahoma game where all the Gators are talking randomly in the locker room.
No. 15 gets up and commands the attention of his teammates.
"Everybody just stopped," Wright said.
With the entire team gathered around him, Tebow laid out how and why the Gators would win. Then went out and made it happen.
"This is one of the best quarterbacks that ever played, in college history," Wright said. "I can say that. I played with him."
The best ever will play in the NFL
|We've all heard the speech many times. Now, it's immortalized at Florida. (Getty Images)|
Yes, the coaches are prejudiced but they talk to more people that matter than you or me. To pass the time in the offseason, Tebow's prospects at the next level have become a topic.
"He can run it, he can throw it, he can lead people," said offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who coached Donovan McNabb at Syracuse. "He's got a great work ethic. There is no question in my mind ... I've got a lot of friends in the NFL who tell me he's going to be in the league."
Perhaps the best source is the new guy. Scot Loeffler was hired as the new quarterbacks coach. Being a newbie, the assumption is he hasn't drunk all the Kool-Aid yet. Loeffler is only considered one of the best quarterback tutors in the business. Despite the loss of popular Dan Mullen to Mississippi State, it's possible that the quarterback-position coach relationship could get better. Loeffler was a graduate assistant at Michigan when Tom Brady was coming up. He has NFL experience. He comes to Florida with the tacit approval of Tebow.
"He will play in the NFL," Loeffler said of his new student. "In the short time I've been around him, his learning curve [has been great]. He has the ability to take something that normally takes three months to learn and learn it in the month."
Won't be a drop-back passer to showcase his talents for the NFL
While the debate rages -- at least outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- about Tebow's ability to play in the league, nothing much will change. Yes, he has been taking snaps under center. Yes, Florida has been running some I-formation.
But the Gators are best when Tebow becomes a spinner back. For those who know the old single wing, it is the offense that Florida's most resembles. Here's an example: Look familiar?
"I know what it is," Tebow said. "I study football. It's part of what we do."
The point is, don't expect to see Tebow become Dan Marino. He'll still throw the jump passes. He'll still lower his shoulder. He'll still pitch on the option.
"He was very uncomfortable under center," Meyer said. "He didn't do much of it in high school. He's much more comfortable now. Does that mean we're going to do more of it now? If it helps us win a game we'll do it."
Translation: If it's fourth-and-3 at the LSU 5 with 13 seconds left, don't look for Tebow to take a seven-step drop.
Let's not forget the basics
Even Super Bowl champions don't have this kind of retention.
Florida will return 19 starters, with all 11 starters returning on defense plus 10 returning defensive backups. One of them is All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes. When Spikes' name isn't in the first sentence in the preseason prospectus, you're doing pretty good.
If that wasn't enough, there's the schedule: It opens with home games against Charleston Southern, Troy and Tennessee. It ends with home games against Florida International and Florida State.
The only "tough" game is the Oct. 10 trip to LSU. Given history and karma, Florida could lose that game and still to get to the championship game at 12-1. The only thing that keeps folks from using ink to write in the Gators is this: Since 2006, the winner of the Florida-LSU game has won the national championship.
If Florida needs further motivation, there's this: In the more than century old history of the program, the Gators have never finished undefeated.
"I know that very well," Tebow said.
What better place to make history than the Rose Bowl?
The 12th BCS title game will be Jan. 8 in Pasadena. In the previous two championship games in the Rose Bowl, Miami stomped Nebraska and Texas beat USC in that 2006 epic.
No Gators have played in the Rose Bowl but Tebow has been close. Four years ago, he and his dad stood in the middle of USC's locker room after a 66-19 victory over UCLA. It was his official USC visit. It was before anyone knew Tebow was Tebow especially in star-strewn L.A.
"Is the Rose Bowl where the jerseys are and everything?," Tebow asked this summer.
Well, no. That would be the Coliseum where you were that day, Tim. Giant replicas of USC greats lay across one end of the stadium. So, yeah, it would be kind of a big deal for Florida and its iconic quarterback to play in Pasadena. We've got directions if you need them.
The David Nelson story
Not since George Gipp has a player's words been so immortalized. Tebow's now famous postgame remarks following the Ole Miss loss are now etched into a plaque that hangs outside the stadium.
You've seen the talk. You watched the Gators walk the walk.
But there is some significant fallout from that moment.
David Nelson is a 6-5, 215-pound receiver who has been non-descript for most of his career. That was part of the problem when Nelson came to Meyer's office shortly after that Ole Miss loss.
"I will do anything I can to help this team," Meyer quoted Nelson as saying. "I saw Tebow's speech last night. Put me on special teams, anything."
Nelson got his wish and made a couple of big plays on kickoff teams. The coaching staff's confidence in him grew to the point that Nelson caught a key touchdown pass against Alabama in the SEC title game.
Flash forward to the game-planning for the BCS title game. Meyer was going to use the jump pass. It had become Tebow's signature play. The question in January was what receiver would get the pass. Percy Harvin was too obvious and was hampered by an injury. Louis Murphy was Florida's most reliable pass catcher but moving him to the left slot was a dead giveaway.
The debate raged for 2½ hours during on meeting. Receivers coach Billy Gonzalez finally said, "What about David Nelson?"
"If you said 'David Nelson' a year ago ...," Meyer said. "First of all, no one would have said 'David Nelson.'
Fueled by Tebow's speech and season full of big plays, Nelson lined up in the left slot, got a shoulder inside the defensive back and easily caught Tebow's jump pass that was the insurance on a national title.
"If people think that the talent level at Florida is that much better, I'm telling you it's not," Meyer said. "It's not how high you jump, it's what kind of chemistry you have. I've never bought into this as much as I do now."
Replacing Percy Harvin
|The Gators have several hybrids looking to fill Percy Harvin's shoes. (Getty Images)|
Ninety percent of Harvin still averaged 12.2 yards a touch and scored a touchdown. Poll Gator Nation. After Tebow, there is/was no one like him. Could have won the Heisman himself. How will Florida cope without him?
The logical thing to do is to spread out Harvin's 1,304 all-purpose yards out among the returners. Nope. Meyer wants to develop another Harvin because at Florida, he can.
The Nation is drooling over recruit Andre Debose. Speedy running back Jeff Demps is a candidate, as is Chris Rainey. All-American returner Brandon James is elusive. That's three hybrid running back/receivers.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez will get a look as will receiver Deonte Thompson.
"Talking to the coaches we played against, it drove them crazy," Meyer said. "It's not about this trick offense, it's about matchups."
Put a corner on the new Harvin and he will run you over. Assign a linebacker, and the new Harvin will split out into the slow and run past you. It's your choice, SEC. Only the names have changed.
A jeweler's dream
They are numerous and they are shiny. The rings. Every Gator has three of them from last season -- SEC title, BCS bowl and national championship.
Lil' Wayne is jealous. That's some serious bling which could get blingier if Florida repeats. Wright had so many rings that he gave one to his mom, Andrea Eluett, for Mother's Day. Call it championship surplus.
Wright actually wears his SEC ring. Mom got the BCS ring and wears it on her index finger. Do you care? That's a great place to start if you believe Florida is, was and will once again be No. 1.
All mom has to do to remind you is point that be-jeweled finger to the heavens.