<
>

Florida's program built to endure

The 2008 SEC championship game loss to Florida was what drove the Alabama players as much as anything last year.

It was motivation for the offseason program, for voluntary workouts, for the season.

The Crimson Tide’s reward was a perfect 14-0 season and a national championship.

A year later, the tables are turned.

The only game Florida has lost in its last 24 contests was to Alabama … in last season’s SEC championship game.

It’s all the motivation the Gators need, especially with Alabama almost certain to start the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the country.

Florida coach Urban Meyer has liked what he’s seen and heard from his players this offseason.

Granted, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey and those guys are all gone. But what that group of players helped establish at Florida remains.

“You don’t try to remove the past,” Meyer said. “We’ve had a couple of team meetings. I don’t know if chip on the shoulder is the right word, but we’ve kind of developed a program where they expect to go compete in Atlanta every year, and I hear them talking.

“I’m not the only one doing the talking. I’m listening to them and trying to evaluate what kind of team we’ve got.”

Meyer isn’t necessarily buying the comparisons to the 2006 national championship team and how the personnel losses from that squad impacted the 2007 team, which ended up losing four games.

“We have a bunch of good players still there, now,” Meyer said. “A little bit in (2006), when we lost that whole group, we knew we were getting ready for a tough go. We have some really, really good players. They may not be the marquee name guys right now, but hopefully they will become that.

“You turn the page and keep going. Everything is in decent shape. Some guys have to step up and play, because we did lose some good players. I made a comment back in (2006) that we were really a good team, but not a good program.”

It’s been a bizarre last five or six months to say the least in Gainesville.

But as a recharged Meyer gets set for his sixth season at Florida, I don’t think anybody would argue that he’s built a program that has few peers right now in college football -- and a program built to endure.