Thursday, September 28, 2006

Are the Gators for real? The next four weeks will tell

Great article about the Gators... by Craig James.

Are the Gators for real? The next four weeks will tell
By Craig James
ESPN Insider

Sitting here scratchin' my head, reading notes and making calls in
my prep for the games this weekend. Sticking out like a sore thumb
is the wicked schedule the Florida Gators have to play. I know
it's been well documented and talked about, but their schedule and
challenge is perhaps the story line of college football we're not
giving enough publicity to.

Florida coach Urban Meyer is looking at an unbelievable four-week
schedule in the SEC.While loads of fans/experts are ranting and
raving about instant replay or West Virginia's chances or Charlie
Weis or this and that, why not jump on the wagon and follow the
Gators' run?

If they make it through the season unbeaten, there's no way they
can be denied a shot at the title.

A Gators run with that schedule is our Cinderella story. Can they
do it?

Of course, that's exactly where the proverbial stuff hits the fan.
Because, if Ohio State and USC win out, Florida will more than
likely be left holding the bag of stuff. Yeah, I remember it
happening before, too. Auburn was left out in 2004 after an
undefeated (13-0) SEC championship run.

So far, the Gators are ranked No. 5 in the country. The pollsters
respect Florida and what it's doing.

To date Florida's beaten some good teams. None of the Gators'
opponents are from Timbuktu University. I respected their wins
over Southern Miss, Tennessee, Central Florida and Kentucky. And
they're just getting started.

The Gators' next four games are ridiculous. The first four were
against respectable opponents (Tennessee more than respectable),
but now we're about to find out if this Urban Meyer led team is
capable of winning the national championship.

It all begins Saturday with Alabama. The Tide lost a heartbreaker
against Arkansas last Saturday. In my opinion the Tide won the
game but lost on the scoreboard. And Alabama QB John Parker Wilson
is a player. So, this Saturday's game with Alabama is against a
Tide team that has to win -- a wounded bunch that must win to stay
in the conference race.

Then comes No. 9 LSU, at No. 2 Auburn and, finally, a "breather"
with No. 10 Georgia.

See what I'm talking about? We're talking about the SEC. The
conference that's home to four of the top 10 teams in the
country.

The last four games have various degrees of challenge to them,
too. At Vandy, South Carolina (Steve Spurrier's team, nuff said),
Western Carolina and then at Florida State. And while the
Seminoles aren't what they used to be, it's still Florida versus
Florida State!

How will the Gators do? I don't think they'll win 'em all, but I
do believe they have the talent and coaching to win each game. And
maybe the most important thing that'll help them win is the
competition at QB between Chris Leak and freshman Tim Tebow.

No doubt this is Leak's team. But the Gators have used Tebow
sparingly and effectively. Leak's being pushed to maximize his
potential. And competition on a team is what helps motivate
players during long, boring practice sessions. I like to call it
focus -- it's easy to lose it when you've been grinding it for
several weeks in a row. But competitors don't lose focus when
they're afraid of losing their job.

So, while I'll still follow instant replay, the Irish and the
Trojans' march to another title game, I'll be glued to the tube
watching the Gators to see if they can endure this season's
toughest schedule and team challenge.

Good luck, Florida.

Craig James is a college football analyst for ABC Sports and
ESPN.

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