Coach:Urban Meyer (44-9 in four seasons; 83-17 overall in eight seasons). | Staff In 2008: 13-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC (first in SEC East). Beat Alabama in the SEC title game. Beat Oklahoma in the BCS national title game.
Returning starters: Offense: 6. Defense: 11. Special teams: 2. | Depth Chart Final 2008 Rivals.com ranking: 1st. | Complete Final 2008 Rankings Past four Rivals.com national recruiting rankings: 11th in 2009, 3rd in '08, 1st in '07, 2nd in '06.
THE SCHEME: The Gators run the spread-option offense. The new coordinator is Steve Addazio, who was line coach last season. Addazio was promoted when Dan Mullen took the Mississippi State coaching job. Addazio will continue in his role as line coach.
STAR POWER: Senior QB Tim Tebow has won a Heisman and has two national title rings. He is one of the leading Heisman contenders this season and also could get a third national championship ring. He has thrown 67 career touchdown passes - to just 11 interceptions - and has run for another 43 scores.
IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Coach Urban Meyer has waxed poetic about the skills of true freshman WR Andre Debose. Debose's high school team, Sanford Seminole, won the Florida Class 6A state title, and he was used in a variety of ways - much like Florida used Percy Harvin last season. Obviously, Debose's impact won't come close to Harvin's, but he has the skills to be a threat as a receiver and runner this season. Redshirt freshman C Sam Robey - the son of former NBA big man Rick Robey - had a great spring, and coaches are high on his ability. While returning C Maurkice Pouncey is an All-SEC candidate, he could move to guard and team with his twin brother, Mike Pouncey, at that position if Robey proves up to the task of starting. Regardless, Robey's emergence lets Addazio mix and match along the line and is a huge boost when it comes to depth.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Sophomore WR Deonte Thompson is coming off an 18-catch season, when he was the No. 4 or No. 5 receiving option. This season, he easily could be the go-to receiver. Thompson has good size (6 feet/201 pounds) and is a sprinter on UF's track team, which tied for second at the NCAA meet. Thompson's ability to stretch the field makes him an important facet of the offense, and he also is solid on short routes.
STRONGEST AREA: The backfield is one of the best in the nation, even if the Gators have no true feature back. Thing is, Florida hasn't had a true feature back under Meyer - and the Gators have won two national titles in the past three seasons. Tebow may be suffering from overexposure, but he is a big-timer. As a runner, he's a linebacker playing quarterback. But despite some flaws in his mechanics, he's a better passer than he is given credit for. He doesn't throw many bad passes - just 11 career picks in 681 attempts - and the arrival of quarterback coach Scot Loeffler from the NFL should smooth out some of his mechanics. Holdovers Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody and true freshman Mike Gillislee give the Gators a solid quartet at running back. Demps has Olympic-caliber speed and will be used in the slot some this season. Rainey has impressive speed, as well. Moody, who began his career at USC, has the best mix of size and speed but can't stay healthy. That trio combined for 1,674 yards and 12 TDs last season, and that was with Harvin getting 70 carries. A legit goal for the running backs this season is 1,900 yards and 18 TDs.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Florida lost its two leading receivers in Harvin and Louis Murphy, and there is no established go-to receiver. Six wide receivers caught passes last season; without Harvin and Murphy, that number should go up to eight or nine this season. But how productive are those guys going to be? There are three seniors - Riley Cooper, Carl Moore and David Nelson - but they all seem to be complementary pieces rather than go-to guys. Thompson's development is vital. In addition, look for Debose and one or two redshirt freshmen, likely including Frankie Hammond Jr., to become important parts of the rotation. Junior TE Aaron Hernandez is a great fit in the offense, and he could end up being the leading receiver.
THE SCHEME: The Gators play a 4-3 set, but they frequently use a nickel back. Coordinator Charlie Strong prefers an aggressive approach and has a lot of athletes at his disposal. Florida forced 35 turnovers last season and tied for the national lead with Boston College with 26 interceptions.
STAR POWER: Senior LB Brandon Spikes has made 224 tackles the past two seasons, along with 24 tackles for loss, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Spikes has great instincts and can really lay the lumber. He's the emotional leader of the defense, and while he talks a mile a minute on the field, he also backs it up. Junior E Carlos Dunlap appears ready to put all his potential together; he had 9.5 sacks last season despite starting just two games. He has become better against the run and has the physical ability to be a top-15 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Gators return their entire two-deep on defense, but true freshman LB Jon Bostic enrolled early and wowed coaches during spring practice. Bostic will see the field some, and coaches expect that he will be productive when he plays, especially on special teams.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Sophomore E William Green is a rare Alabama player who spurned the in-state powers and signed elsewhere. He played outside linebacker in high school but already has grown into an end. He still needs to add some weight - he's 6-3 and 235 pounds - and bulk to hold up better against the run. But he's quick off the edge and has great pass-rushing instincts. He won't start this season, but he will see some important minutes and can be expected to finish with four or five sacks in a reserve role.
STRONGEST AREA: The secondary is loaded. CBs Joe Haden, a junior, and Janoris Jenkins, a sophomore, have All-America talent. Both are physical, which makes them excellent in run support. Both also have great man-coverage skills and sticky hands. Junior SS Ahmad Black tied for the national lead with seven picks last season. Junior FS Major Wright is entering his third season as a starter, and though his ball skills are lacking, he might be the biggest hitter on defense. Sophomore FS Will Hill is a backup, but he might be the best athlete on the entire team. He has good size (6-1/202), can run and is another big hitter. Backup CBs Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson are seniors and both are former starters. Senior SS Dorian Munroe was set to start last season before suffering a major knee injury.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Man, we are picking nits here. The Gators were fourth in scoring defense and ninth in total defense last season, and the entire defensive two-deep returns. Still, if there is one area that bears watching, it's tackle. Unlike at other defensive positions, the Gators have no standouts there. But junior Lawrence Marsh has All-SEC potential, and fellow junior Terron Sanders is steady beside him. Redshirt freshman Omar Hunter came in highly hyped but battled a back injury last season and didn't make an impact. Meyer raved about his ability before fall practice last season, but the injury kept him from doing anything. He'll get an opportunity to make some noise as a backup this season. If Hunter, junior Brandon Antwine, senior Troy Epps and/or true freshman Gary Brown stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Gators could have a dynamic tackle rotation as well.
Senior return man Brandon James is one of the best in the nation. He is especially dangerous on punt returns; he has averaged 13.4 yards on 84 career punt returns and has returned four for touchdowns. He has a 23.6-yard average in his career on kickoff returns. Junior P Chas Henry has a big leg and averaged 43.4 yards per punt last season; he has the ability to average 45-plus this season. Senior K Jonathan Phillips was 12-of-13 on field-goal attempts last season, but he hasn't made a kick longer than 40 yards in his career. The punt-coverage unit has been one of the best in the nation for each of the past two seasons; the Gators have allowed 100 punt-return yards total the past two seasons. The kick-coverage unit was adequate last season. The Gators also blocked nine kicks last season, including five punts.
Meyer became the highest-paid coach in the SEC in the offseason after guiding Florida to its second national title in three seasons, and the Gators are primed to make it three in four seasons. There were some questions about how his version of the spread offense would work in the SEC; there aren't any questions now. Strong is one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation, and line coach Dan McCarney is a veteran who did a nice job with some untested tackles last season. Addazio's performance as offensive coordinator bears watching. Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has coordinator potential and is a great recruiter.
It's tailor-made for a national title run. All four non-conference games are at home, including the regular-season finale against Florida State; the Gators have won five in a row in the series. There is a tough road test against LSU, but the Gators are off the week before the game and don't play Western Division contenders Alabama or Ole Miss. The other road games are against Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina; the Gators beat the Wildcats by 58 last season, the Gamecocks by 50. There's also the annual showdown in Jacksonville, Fla., against Georgia; the Gators have won 16 of the past 19 in the series. Georgia has the week off before the game this season. A strange-but-true stat: Florida has lost to at least one SEC West foe every season this decade.
The Gators are in a great position to win it all again. The defense is loaded. The Gators allowed 12.9 points per game last season, and a legit goal this season is 10. The Gators held eight foes to 10 or fewer points last season, and this season's unit should be better. The offense, though, has some concerns at wide receiver and tackle. The starting tackles won't be decided until the final week of fall drills, if then, and depth there is iffy. But the offensive interior should be exceptionally strong, and the defense will give the offensive line time to jell. Florida didn't hit its stride until October last season; then, the Gators won eight in a row by at least four touchdowns. It should be more of the same this season. Much like the 2008-09 North Carolina basketball team, this season will be somewhat of a disappointment if the Gators don't win the national title. At the least, they should be in Pasadena, Calif., playing for it all on Jan. 7.