Florida Gators doing best to ignore BCS hype

Gator Nation was energized on Sunday night when it was officially announced on ESPN that the Florida Gators, one year removed from a 6-6 regular season that appeared to leave little hope for the program in the near future, were ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings released for the 2012 season.

Florida, which was ranked No. 1 by the computers and edged Oregon for the No. 2 overall spot, was immediately the hot topic of conversation by broadcasters.

Did the Gators deserve to be the No. 2-ranked team?

Most believe the answer to that question is yes considering Florida has racked up a 5-0 record in the Southeastern Confernece with three come-from-behind second-half victories (two on the road), two wins over ranked opponents (one that was a top-five team) and another over a team that is currently ranked in the top 25.

Can Florida maintain its high ranking?

That is where the debate raged and will continue until the end of the regular season.

If you ask the Gators about being just one spot behind defending national champion Alabama in the latest BCS, you will not hear much debate or celebration for that matter.

“I guess it’s something that came out [Sunday],” senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic said dismissively on Monday. “It’s only halfway through the season. We still got a long way to go. We still have some more SEC opponents on our schedule ahead of us. Everything is not said and done yet.”

“It’s whatever,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Omar Hunter added. “That’s not going to get you to Atlanta or to the national championship. [We] still got a lot more games to play and it’s whatever right now.”

In fact, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was the only player who even mentioned Florida being deserving of some praise even if it is an empty honor at this point.

“We don’t get too caught up in the rankings, but we’re undefeated and we had a tough schedule,” he said. “The rankings don’t matter until the end of the season, but we’re 6-0 and that’s what we look at. We can’t be any better than we are now.”

Read the rest of this story…after the break!
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Florida QB Chris Leak: “I loved being a Gator.”

One of the most accomplished signal callers in Florida Gators history, quarterback Chris Leak led the charge in Gainesville, FL from 2003-06, a career that spanned two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and plenty of ups and downs for the team.

A four-year student-athlete, Leak started nine games as a true freshman in 2003 (racking up a 6-3 record) and made 47-straight starts to end his career with a 35-12 record as a starter, playing in all 51 games in which he was eligible. He compiled 11,213 yards, 88 touchdowns (adding 13 additional scores on the ground) and 42 interceptions while completing 61.4 percent of his passes,

With the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championship and 2007 BCS National Championship titles under his belt, Leak was also named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2003, SEC Player of the Week (four times), National Quarterback of the Year in 2006, and Most Valuable Player of the 2007 BCS Championship, all while being a four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

He bested Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman to own school records for career pass attempts (1,458), completions (895) and yardage (11,213); boasts the third-best career completion percentage in school history (behind Tim Tebow and Wayne Peace); has the second-most passing touchdowns at Florida (88, tied with Tebow); and holds the Gators’ record for consecutive completions (17 vs. Wyoming in 2005).

Leak has also seen the field for the second-most plays at UF (1,636) and totaled the second-most combined yardage (11,350), falling only behind Tebow in both categories.

After bouncing around the NFL and spending most of four seasons playing in the CFL, where Leak won a pair of Grey Cups with Montreal, he spent last season playing mostly for Orlando of the AFL and expects to return to the team next year. He is also currently working as a broadcaster with SiriusXM College Sports Nation and CBS Sports Network.

Leak sat down with OGGOA for 45 minutes last month for a wide-ranging two-part interview that encompasses his recruitment, career with the Gators, thoughts on his coaches, professional career and aspirations for Florida going forward.

Part One: Gators QB Chris Leak: “I went out to be myself.”

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Speaking of Urban Meyer, I know you had a great relationship with him. It’s kind of rare for a player to have that close of a bond with two different college coaches. Usually they’re loyal to the one that recruits them or they end up not liking that guy and instead gravitating towards the one who takes over or they have more success with in the long run. What is your opinion of how things transpired with Meyer leaving Florida, going to ESPN and then jumping to Ohio State less than a year later?
CHRIS LEAK: “After you see a coach winning a national title – and obviously Meyer won two during his time at Florida – you would think that [he would stay at that school until he retires]. You have to realize also that this is a business and things happen for a reason. I know the way that Urban Meyer loves to coach and that’s with high energy and a lot of times that can definitely… Obviously in the stories that I’ve read that came out that during his time, the balance that has made him successful with his family and football obviously got off track. And when you add in the health issues…that’s another dimension that makes it even tougher to deal with the balance in life. You know what? I’m happy to see him back in coaching. College football needs Urban Meyer. It’s great to see him back coaching and doing what he loves to do. He’s in his element at Ohio State because that’s where he had his first job. The thing is, just like it was a transition year for him in the SEC, I really don’t believe it will be a transition for him there. He knows how to coach in the Big 10. He knows the teams. He knows the players. He knows how to recruit in the Big 10. I really feel like he’s going to be able to turn things around there a lot sooner than people think.”

Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Chris Leak…after the break!
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Gators QB Chris Leak: “I went out to be myself.”

One of the most accomplished signal callers in Florida Gators history, quarterback Chris Leak led the charge in Gainesville, FL from 2003-06, a career that spanned two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and plenty of ups and downs for the team.

A four-year student-athlete, Leak started nine games as a true freshman in 2003 (racking up a 6-3 record) and made 47-straight starts to end his career with a 35-12 record as a starter, playing in all 51 games in which he was eligible. He compiled 11,213 yards, 88 touchdowns (adding 13 additional scores on the ground) and 42 interceptions while completing 61.4 percent of his passes,

With the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championship and 2007 BCS National Championship titles under his belt, Leak was also named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2003, SEC Player of the Week (four times), National Quarterback of the Year in 2006, and Most Valuable Player of the 2007 BCS Championship, all while being a four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

He bested Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman to own school records for career pass attempts (1,458), completions (895) and yardage (11,213); boasts the third-best career completion percentage in school history (behind Tim Tebow and Wayne Peace); has the second-most passing touchdowns at Florida (88, tied with Tebow); and holds the Gators’ record for consecutive completions (17 vs. Wyoming in 2005).

Leak has also seen the field for the second-most plays at UF (1,636) and totaled the second-most combined yardage (11,350), falling only behind Tebow in both categories.

After bouncing around the NFL and spending most of four seasons playing in the CFL, where Leak won a pair of Grey Cups with Montreal, he spent last season playing mostly for Orlando of the AFL and expects to return to the team next year. He is also currently working as a broadcaster with SiriusXM College Sports Nation and CBS Sports Network.

Leak sat down with OGGOA for 45 minutes last month for a wide-ranging two-part interview that encompasses his recruitment, career with the Gators, thoughts on his coaches, professional career and aspirations for Florida going forward.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: So let’s jump back to the beginning and start with your recruitment. I know a lot of people always assumed you would wind up at Tennessee because of your brother. Was that truly the case for a while? And as the process broke down, what made you wind up choosing Florida in the long run?
CHRIS LEAK: “I started off at an early age being offered in eighth grade by Jim Caldwell at Wake Forest; he was the head coach at the time. So I got started pretty early. I saw my brother, who back in 1998 was the No. 1 run-pass quarterback in the country…I got to see him go through the heavy recruiting process as well. Recruiting started off for me at a very early age. My parents did a great job of managing it for me, my meetings with coaches, school visits – unofficial and official visits. Tennessee was the leader because my brother was there after he transferred from Wake Forest. I wanted to have his mentorship during my time in school. That was kind of the plan.

“I felt like, with Tennessee, after what happened with my brother in the Georgia game, I just felt like my heart wasn’t in it. [His brother, C.J. Leak, was promised a chance to start when he transferred to UT. When Casey Clausen got injured in the game, he was given two series before being pulled.] It was a trust factor and I wanted to commit somewhere where I felt like I could trust the coaches to take care of my future, take care of me while I’m there as I’m away from home. It would have to help me obviously get a good education and do everything I want to accomplish at the collegiate level.

“I was going to go through the recruiting process anyway, the full recruiting process. Though Tennessee was the leader, Florida was always a close second. My parents told me they wanted me to go through the entire recruiting process to make sure that I am sure and that Tennessee was the right fit for me. Obviously as I went through the recruiting process and went on my official visits, I just felt like Florida felt more like a home away from home for me. I just felt like, when I visited the campus when Florida played Auburn back in 2002, a game which they won in overtime, it just kind of hit home. I really felt the love from the fans and the coaches. Ron Zook, I really felt like I could trust him with my future as well as the rest of the coaching staff moving forward.”

Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Chris Leak…after the break!
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Meyer’s motivation, priorities changed at Florida

In a feature written by Wright Thompson for ESPN The Magazine centered on new Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer’s ability to focus on his health and family while simultaneously trying to rebuild another top-tier college football program, a number of interesting notes about his time with the Florida Gators are revealed.

While most of Meyer’s story at Florida has been divulged over the past year through stories and a video series produced by Sports Illustrated, the notes below provide greater detail into some of the issues he faced while with the Gators.

» Following the 2007 season, which was marked by four losses (including in bowl game) and quarterback Tim Tebow winning the Heisman Trophy, Meyer “confided to a friend that anxiety was taking over his life and he wanted to walk away.”

» After winning the 2009 BCS National Championship, Meyer ran off the field with the trophy “and locked himself in the coaches’ locker room. He began calling recruits as his assistants pounded on the door, asking if everything was okay.”

» Meyer became a maniacal perfectionist: “He lost even when they won, raging at his coaches and players for mistakes, demanding emergency staff meetings in the middle of the night. He stopped smiling. Days ended later and later. He texted recruits in church. He ignored his children, his fears realized: He’d become That Guy.”

» The DUI arrest of defensive end Carlos Dunlap four days before the 2009 SEC Championship started a “downward spiral” for Meyer. “After the campus police officer delivered the news about Dunlap, Meyer went to the office, overcome, driving in the dark. That week, everything came apart.”

» Meyer was consumed with going undefeated with the Gators. “All of a sudden, every step, every time I had a cup of coffee, every time I woke up in the morning and shaved, it was all about shomehow getting a team to go undefeated at Florida,” he said.

» Meyer admits that his priorities changed in his final years with the Gators. While on the phone with a coach who was asking his advice about what to do in regards to a troubled player, Meyer says he would have expelled the player when he was at Bowling Green but at the end of his tenure at Florida probably would have kept him in the fold.

Thompson goes into greater detail on Meyer’s life, transition out of and back into the coaching profession and how he is balancing his life these days, so be sure to check out the entire feature if you wish to read more.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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Sunday a dream come true for Spikes and his mom

For a young kid growing up in certain areas of Shelby, NC, dreams of playing college football – let alone someday in the NFL – can seem entirely impossible.

Throw in the fact that his brother was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole on first-degree murder charges stemming from a drug deal gone wrong in 2001 and many expected Brandon Spikes to go down with the ship.

“There was a lot of negative people who said, you won’t do this, you won’t do that because he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that,” Spikes told USA Today in 2008 about his neighborhood growing up. “You won’t ever get a scholarship, you won’t go to Florida and play as well as you did. My whole career has been about proving people wrong.”

He started on that path during his time in Gainesville, FL with the Florida Gators. Spikes went from five-star recruit and the No. 13 prospect in the nation to a player who looked like he might be underwhelming after the Gators’ defense struggled mightily in 2007.

Months after the season ended, Spikes sat down with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer, shed some tears, and told him he had no choice but to succeed going forward.

“I let him know this is my life. Without this, I don’t know where I would be. Football has been everything. It was my way out; it was my way here,” he said. “I just told him this is what I do. I wake up in the morning and I breathe, and this is the first thing on my mind.”

Spikes became the defense’s leader that season, the parallel to quarterback Tim Tebow and what he did for the Gators’ offense.

His hit on running back Knowshaun Moreno at the start the 2008 Florida-Georgia game is one of the most famous tackles in school history, and it fueled a 49-10 victory that helped propel the Gators to another win in the 2008 SEC Championship over Alabama and eventually to the 2009 BCS Championship.

Spikes promised when leaving for college that he would make his mother proud. His second national title in three years undoubtedly put a smile on her face, but his decision to stay a fourth year and graduate rather than leave early for the NFL likely made that smile grow exponentially wider.

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Florida accepts invitation to 2012 Gator Bowl

After completing their worst regular season performance since 1979, the Florida Gators (6-6) have accepted an invitation to play the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-6) in the 2012 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.

The game will air live at 1 p.m. on ESPN2 with Mike Patrick, Craig James and Jeannine Edwards assigned to the contest by the network.

Held continuously since 1946, the Gator Bowl is the sixth oldest college bowl game and the first one televised nationally.

It is one of three Southeastern Conference-Big Ten games set to be played on Jan. 2, getting the fifth selection from the SEC and fourth from the Big Ten.

Florida has participated in the event eight times in its history, posting a 6-2 record including a 27-10 win over North Carolina State in their last appearance in 1992. Ohio State has not played in the game since 1978, when they lost 17-15 to Clemson.

(That OSU appearance, the team’s only time playing in the bowl, led to the firing of head coach Woody Hayes, who struck a Clemson player that ran onto his sideline after catching a pass with the game winding down.)

The Gators are 1-0 all-time against the Buckeyes, defeating them 41-14 for the 2007 BCS National Championship in Glendale, AZ.

In addition to the game being a rematch of the 2006 national championship, it features a further level of intrigue seeing as head coach Urban Meyer recently agreed to take over the Ohio State program in 2012. However, current head coach Luke Fickell will lead the Buckeyes in the bowl game as Meyer does not take over until next year.

Each school will earn nearly $3 million for participating in the bowl.

Florida will be appearing in its 21st consecutive bowl game, a mark that ranks first in the SEC and second nationally.

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Tim Tebow named Denver Broncos starting QB

The Denver Broncos confirmed Tuesday that Tim Tebow will take over as starting quarterback on Oct. 23 against the Miami Dolphins following the team’s bye week.

At 1-4 on the season and with Tebow nearly leading a comeback after entering the game as a reserve last Sunday, Denver had little choice in the matter.

Though head coach John Fox believed Kyle Orton – not Tebow – gave the Broncos the best chance to win at the beginning of the season, he decided to turn to his backup at this time because Denver will have two practices during the bye in which to install new plays before preparing for their game at Miami next week.

Tebow started the final three games of the 2010 season, leading the Broncos to a 1-2 record that included a come-from-behind victory against Houston and a near duplication of that performance vs. San Diego. He completed 49.3 percent of his passes for 217 yards passing in those games and rushed for 66.3 yards per contest.

Accounting for seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his 2010 starts, Tebow had four more in a reserve role. He has scored at least one rushing and passing touchdown in all five NFL games in which he has touched the ball at least three times.

With Denver down 13 points to San Diego at the half on Sunday, Tebow took over in the third quarter and attempted to rally his team from behind. He scored two touchdowns (one rushing) in three minutes, brought the Broncos within two points (a conversion attempt to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was dropped) and drove the ball 51 yards down the field with 24 seconds remaining before a hail mary attempt fell incomplete.

The fact that Tebow will start his first game of the 2011 season against the Dolphins is an interesting one. Miami attempted to trade for Orton in the offseason but was unsuccessful, a move that likely would have led to Tebow starting from week one.

The Dolphins will also be hosting a celebration for the Florida Gators 2009 BCS National Championship team on Oct. 23 as a promotion to reach out to the largest alumni base of South Florida. There will be a special on-field ceremony at halftime with former head coach Urban Meyer and past Gators players in attendance.

Broncos fans can now set their clocks because it’s Tebow time in Denver.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger

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Florida Gators grab No. 1 spot on Rivals’ Top 10 recruiting classes since 2002

Celebrating a decade of presenting high school recruiting rankings, Rivals.com released a special feature on Tuesday detailing the 10 best recruiting classes since 2002. The Florida Gators, under former head coach Urban Meyer, earned two spots on the list including the No. 1 overall ranking.

Florida’s 2006 recruiting class, which featured five-stars quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, came away as the clear leader even after being ranked as the second-best class that year.

“What makes this group stand out above the rest was the number of prospects who panned out: 16 members of the class were starters at one time,” writes Rivals. “Beyond Tebow and Harvin, there were guys such as LBs Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones, DE Jermaine Cunningham, T/G Marcus Gilbert, DTs Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders and WR Riley Cooper. The group helped Florida win two national championships, and Tebow won the 2007 Heisman as a sophomore and was a finalist as a junior and senior.”

Two of those players (Tebow and Harvin) wound up being first-round picks in the NFL Draft; three more (Spikes, Cunningham and Gilbert) were selected in the second-round and one other (Cooper) was a fifth-round pick. Other prominent names in the 2006 class include kick returner Brandon James and offensive lineman Carl Johnson.

The Gators’ 2007 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 the year it was signed, closes out the list at No. 10. One of the reasons it is lower on the list is the fact that three of its most prominent members – five-stars quarterback Cameron Newton and defensive tackle Torrey Davis as well as four-star DT John Brown – had off-the-field issues that did not allow them to conclude their careers in Gainesville, FL.

However, Florida’s 2007 signings also included a trio of first-round picks (cornerback Joe Haden and centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey), safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright, DE Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez and punter Chas Henry. Players remaining on the Gators include redshirt seniors QB John Brantley, DT Jaye Howard, running back Chris Rainey and WR Deonte Thompson.

Check out Rivals at 10: Ten best recruiting classes for the rest of the rankings.

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