Pressure on Florida to prove hype true
Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009 4:11 pm
By: By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Florida is an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Southeastern Conference and national champions with quarterback Tim Tebow back under center.
Alabama has Julio Jones, Rolando McClain and no chance to sneak up on anybody again. Ditto for Jevan Snead and Mississippi.
Georgia coach Mark Richt knows firsthand the challenges the Gators face living up to all the summertime hype. His Bulldogs were the preseason No. 1 pick last year.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Richt said. “You’ve just got to stay focused on the things that will help you win and try to avoid all the other stuff, which is very difficult to do because there’s a constant barrage of people wanting to talk about it.”
But the distractions that Georgia faced hardly rival the kind of hoopla surrounding Florida. Judging by the preseason football magazines and the national buzz, everyone else is just playing out the season for the right to face Florida for the BCS national championship.
Coach Urban Meyer, however, isn’t waiting for the fall to take the one-week-at-a-time approach.
“I want to get through these next two weeks,” Meyer said Thursday at the SEC’s media days. “We go real hard for a week, then they have a week off and we start (preseason) camp. I don’t look much past that.”
But, he added, the primary ambition is to make it to the SEC championship game. It has been a launching pad for two national titles in the past three seasons.
“We wake up every morning to achieve that goal,” Meyer said.
The Bulldogs couldn’t live up to their preseason billing, having to “settle” for a 10-3 season while getting physically bullied by Alabama, routed 49-10 by Florida and losing to in-state rival Georgia Tech.
There is one potential benefit to losing quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno, the No. 1 and No. 12 NFL draft picks, respectively.
“Everybody expected us to win ’em all because we had two guys that everybody considered stars and maybe subconsciously our guys thought, ’We can count on these guys,”’ Richt said. “Now that they’re gone, I think our team understands the only chance they have is to play together, work together, earn it as a team.”
The Crimson Tide is also drawing attention thanks to last year’s 12-0 regular season. Having stars like receiver Jones, linebackers McClain and Dont’a Hightower and noseguard Terrence Cody certainly helps.
McClain figures Alabama’s season-ending losses to Florida in the SEC championship game and Utah in the Sugar Bowl help keep the team grounded as much as anything the coaches could say.
“I don’t think we need a coaching staff to tell us anything,” he said. “Last year we won 12 games but we lost the last two games, so that’s not a lot of success. For us as a team, we’re just hungry and we want to work to get better.”
Coach Nick Saban, meanwhile, said he thinks the league’s competition will be as tough as ever.
“If you’re gonna win it all, you really have to have great competitive character and do it on a consistent basis, because … you cannot be up and down or you’re not gonna sustain it in our league,” Saban said.
Just ask Ole Miss. The Rebels lost to Wake Forest last season but beat Florida and LSU on the road.
With Snead returning at quarterback and pass rushing threat Greg Hardy leading the defense, they have generated far more buzz than they’re used to.
Nutt was even asked if Ole Miss had an “Atlanta or bust” mentality. This for a team that went winless in the SEC two years ago and had won just six league games the previous three seasons combined before going 9-4 and winning the Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech.
“Our antennas were up as coaches (about) how they would approach this offseason with all the pats on the back,” Nutt said. “They’re in uncharted waters. The way they’re handling things, I love what they’re doing right now.”