Big Ten: Florida Gators

Position U: Defensive back

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Defensive Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (238 points)
It didn’t hammer the field in the secondary like it did at linebacker, but more than a decade of consistency helped Ohio State claim the “Defensive Back U” title, too. When your school seems to always be in the thick of the championship chase, there’s a good chance that it will rank highly on these positional lists. Think Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, USC, Texas. We keep seeing their names, which makes perfect sense if you think of how many wins they accumulated in the 2000s -- and in the case of Ohio State at defensive back, a lengthy tradition from Mike Doss, Will Allen and Chris Gamble to Malcolm Jenkins to Bradley Roby helped the Buckeyes outpace contenders like LSU, Oklahoma and Miami to proclaim itself “DBU.”

Award winners: Jenkins, Thorpe (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Doss (2002), Allen (2003), Jenkins (2008).
First-team all-conference: Nate Clements (2000), Doss (2000, 2001, 2002), Gamble (2002, 2003), Allen (2003), Nate Salley (2005), Donte Whitner (2005), Ashton Youboty (2005), Jenkins (2006, 2007, 2008), Antonio Smith (2006), Kurt Coleman (2009), Chimdi Chekwa (2010), Jermale Hines (2010), Travis Howard (2012), Roby (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Clements (2001), Gamble (2004), Whitner (2006), Jenkins (2009), Roby (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derek Ross (Round 3, 2002), Doss (Round 2, 2003), Allen (Round 4, 2004), Dustin Fox (Round 3, 2005), Salley (Round 4, 2006), Youboty (Round 3, 2006), Donald Washington (Round 4, 2009), Chekwa (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Combs (Round 7, 2001), Donnie Nickey (Round 5, 2003), Coleman (Round 7, 2010), Jermale Hines (Round 5, 2011), Nate Ebner (Round 6, 2012), Christian Bryant (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (220)
With four national awards and consensus All-Americans, Oklahoma was certainly going to be near the top of the board in the defensive back rankings. Its 16 first-team all-conference selections helped the Sooners edge LSU for the second-place spot even when Oklahoma only had two first-round selections in Roy Williams and Andre Woolfolk.

Award winners: Williams, Nagurski (2001), Thorpe (2001); Derrick Strait, Nagurski (2003), Thorpe (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: J.T. Thatcher (2000), Williams (2001), Strait (2003), Quinton Carter (2010).
First-team all-conference: Williams (2000, 2001), Thatcher (2000), Brandon Everage (2002), Strait (2002, 2003), Donte Nicholson (2004), Nic Harris (2007, 2008), Reggie Smith (2007), Dominique Franks (2009), Quinton Carter (2010), Jamell Fleming (2011), Aaron Colvin (2012, 2013), Tony Jefferson (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Williams (2002), Woolfolk (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Strait (Round 3, 2004), Antonio Perkins (Round 4, 2005), Brodney Pool (Round 2, 2005), Smith (Round 3, 2008), Carter (Round 4, 2011), Jamell Fleming (Round 3, 2012), Colvin (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mike Hawkins (Round 5, 2005), Nicholson (Round 5, 2005), Franks (Round 5, 2010), Jonathan Nelson (Round 7, 2011).

3. LSU (218)
With six consensus All-Americans and four award winners on its resume, it is no surprise that LSU threatened to claim the top spot at defensive back. LSU has churned out some incredible talent in the secondary in the 2000s, including players like Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne and Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu.

Award winners: Peterson, Bednarik (2010), Thorpe (2010); Claiborne, Thorpe (2011); Mathieu, Bednarik (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: LaRon Landry (2006), Craig Steltz (2007), Peterson (2010), Claiborne (2011), Mathieu (2011), Eric Reid (2012).
First-team all-conference: Corey Webster (2002, 2003), Landry (2005, 2006), Steltz (2007), Chevis Jackson (2007), Peterson (2010), Mathieu (2011), Claiborne (2011), Reid (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Landry (2007), Peterson (2011), Claiborne (2012), Reid (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Webster (Round 2, 2005), Travis Daniels (Round 4, 2005), Steltz (Round 4, 2008), Jackson (Round 3, 2008), Chad Jones (Round 3, 2010), Brandon Taylor (Round 3, 2012), Ron Brooks (Round 4, 2012), Mathieu (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tharold Simon (Round 5, 2013), Norman LeJeune (Round 7, 2003), Curtis Taylor (Round 7, 2009).

4. Miami (202)
It’s apparently going to be difficult for Miami to maintain such a lofty position in the future. The Hurricanes have certainly experienced a drop-off since joining the ACC in 2004, as evidenced by a reduction in all-conference picks and All-Americans since then. But of the players on this list from The U’s pre-ACC days in the early portion of the 2000s, it’s safe to say that DBs like Ed Reed, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle would have dominated in any conference.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Reed (2000, 2001), Taylor (2003), Rolle (2004).
First-team all-conference: Mike Rumph (2000), Reed (2000, 2001), Al Blades (2000), Phillip Buchanon (2001), Rolle (2002, 2003, 2004), Maurice Sikes (2002), Taylor (2002, 2003), Kelly Jennings (2005), Kenny Phillips (2007), Brandon Harris (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Buchanon (2002), Reed (2002), Rumph (2002), Taylor (2004), Rolle (2005), Jennings (2006), Brandon Meriweather (2007), Phillips (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Devin Hester (Round 2, 2006), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Round 3, 2011), Harris (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Leonard Myers (Round 6, 2001), James Lewis (Round 6, 2002), Alfonso Marshall (Round 7, 2004), Marcus Maxey (Round 5, 2006), Brandon McGee (Round 5, 2013).

5. Texas (194)
It says a lot about the top-end talent that Texas has had in the secondary that nearly half of the Longhorns’ draft picks since 2001 (six of 13) were first-round selections. Two of them, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Others like Quentin Jammer and Earl Thomas were consensus All-Americans before becoming first-round picks.

Award winners: Huff, Thorpe (2005); Ross, Thorpe (2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammer (2001), Huff (2005), Thomas (2009).
First-team all-conference: Jammer (2000, 2001), Rod Babers (2002), Nathan Vasher (2003), Huff (2004, 2005), Cedric Griffin (2005), Michael Griffin (2006), Ross (2006), Marcus Griffin (2007), Thomas (2009), Kenny Vaccaro (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammer (2002), Huff (2006), Griffin (2007), Ross (2007), Thomas (2010), Vaccaro (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4:
Babers (Round 4, 2003), Vasher (Round 4, 2004), Griffin (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Williams (Round 2, 2011), Curtis Brown (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tarell Brown (Round 5, 2007), Chykie Brown (Round 5, 2011).

6. Alabama (166)
Alabama is sort of a Johnny Come Lately on this list, but with four consensus All-Americans and five first-round draft picks (Kareem Jackson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) in the last five seasons, the Crimson Tide is making its move. This is another example of the Saban Effect. Between 2000 and 2006, Alabama had two all-conference defensive backs and five draft picks. In the seven seasons since Saban’s arrival, Alabama has had nine all-conference DBs and nine draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Javier Arenas (2009), Barron (2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
First-team all-conference: Roman Harper (2005), Simeon Castille (2006, 2007), Rashad Johnson (2007, 2008), Arenas (2009), Barron (2009, 2010, 2011), Milliner (2012), Clinton-Dix (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jackson (2010), Barron (2012), Kirkpatrick (2012), Milliner (2013), Clinton-Dix (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Tony Dixon (Round 2, 2001), Harper (Round 2, 2006), Johnson (Round 3, 2009), Arenas (Round 2, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Waine Bacon (Round 6, 2003), Charlie Peprah (Round 5, 2006), Ramzee Robinson (Round 7, 2007), Marquis Johnson (Round 7, 2010), DeQuan Menzie (Round 5, 2012), Vinnie Sunseri (Round 5, 2014).

7. Florida (136)
Florida always seems to have at least one lockdown corner -- the Sunshine State is certainly loaded with athletes -- and good safeties. That’s reflected in its spot in the top 10 here. The Gators don’t have an award winner and have just three consensus All-Americans (Keiwan Ratliff, Reggie Nelson and Joe Haden), but there is an all-conference pick or draft pick from Florida in nearly every year we examined.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009).
First-team all-conference: Lito Sheppard (2000, 2001), Ratliff (2003), Nelson (2006), Haden (2009), Ahmad Black (2010), Matt Elam (2012), Vernon Hargreaves (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sheppard (2002), Nelson (2007), Haden (2010), Elam (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Todd Johnson (Round 4, 2003), Guss Scott (Round 3, 2004), Ratliff (Round 2, 2004), Major Wright (Round 3, 2010), Jaylen Watkins (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Marquand Manuel (Round 6, 2002), Reynaldo Hill (Round 7, 2005), Dee Webb (Round 7, 2006), Ryan Smith (Round 6, 2007), Black (Round 5, 2011), Josh Evans (Round 6, 2013).

8. Florida State (134)
There was a big gap between FSU’s consensus All-Americans at DB -- from Tay Cody in 2000 to Lamarcus Joyner last season -- but the Seminoles’ BCS crown certainly signifies that the program is back on the map. Jimbo Fisher’s club had a pair of all-conference picks and two players drafted from that secondary, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the program start moving up this list over the next couple of seasons.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Cody (2000), Joyner (2013).
First-team all-conference: Derrick Gibson (2000), Cody (2000), Chris Hope (2001), Stanford Samuels (2003), Antonio Cromartie (2004), Joyner (2012, 2013), Xavier Rhodes (2012), Terrence Brooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Gibson (2001), Cromartie (2006), Patrick Robinson (2010), Rhodes (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cody (Round 3, 2001), Hope (Round 3, 2002), Jerome Carter (Round 4, 2005), Bryant McFadden (Round 2, 2005), Brooks (Round 3, 2014), Joyner (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Pat Watkins (Round 5, 2006), Myron Rolle (Round 6, 2010), Mike Harris (Round 6, 2012).

9. Georgia (126)
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have just one first-round pick (Thomas Davis, who shifted to linebacker in the NFL) and two All-Americans, but a whopping 17 draft picks -- including guys like Brandon Boykin and Reshad Jones who are making an impression in the NFL today -- helped Georgia crack the top 10 at defensive back.

Award winners: Boykin, Hornung (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Davis (2004), Greg Blue (2005).
First-team all-conference: Tim Wansley (2000, 2001), Sean Jones (2003), Davis (2004), Blue (2005), Tra Battle (2006), Bacarri Rambo (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Davis (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jamie Henderson (Round 4, 2001), Terreal Bierria (Round 4, 2002), Bruce Thornton (Round 4, 2004), Jones (Round 2, 2004), Tim Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Paul Oliver (Round 4, 2007), Asher Allen (Round 3, 2009), Boykin (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wansley (Round 7, 2002), Jermaine Phillips (Round 5, 2002), Blue (Round 5, 2006), DeMario Minter (Round 5, 2006), Reshad Jones (Round 5, 2010), Shawn Williams (Round 3, 2013), Sanders Commings (Round 5, 2013), Rambo (Round 6, 2013).

10. Virginia Tech (124)
There isn’t much flashiness here -- no award winners and just Jimmy Williams among consensus All-Americans – but 17 draft picks helped the Hokies break into the top 10. Frank Beamer’s program has produced some incredible DBs including Williams, DeAngelo Hall and Victor “Macho” Harris, as well as one of the best late-round picks in recent NFL drafts, Kam Chancellor.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Williams (2005).
First-team all-conference: Ronyell Whitaker (2001), Hall (2003), Williams (2004, 2005), Brandon Flowers (2006), Harris (2007, 2008), Jayron Hosley (2010), Kyle Fuller (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Hall (2004), Fuller (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cory Bird (Round 3, 2001), Eric Green (Round 3, 2005), Vincent Fuller (Round 4, 2005), Williams (Round 2, 2006), Aaron Rouse (Round 3, 2007), Flowers (Round 2, 2008), Rashad Carmichael (Round 4, 2011), Hosley (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kevin McCadam (Round 5, 2002), Willie Pile (Round 7, 2003), Justin Hamilton (Round 7, 2006), Harris (Round 5, 2009), Cody Grimm (Round 7, 2010), Chancellor (Round 5, 2010), Antone Exum (Round 6, 2014).

240 -- Ohio State; 220 -- Oklahoma; 218 -- LSU; 202 -- Miami; 194 -- Texas; 166 -- Alabama; 136 -- Florida; 134 -- Florida State; 126 -- Georgia; 124 -- Virginia Tech; 122 -- USC; 118 -- Wisconsin; 112 -- Nebraska; 104 -- TCU; 98 -- Tennessee; 94 -- West Virginia; 92 -- California, Michigan State; 90 -- Iowa, Louisville; 88 -- Utah; 84 -- Oregon, South Carolina; 82 -- Clemson, Michigan; 74 -- UCLA; 72 -- Penn State; 70 -- Kansas State, Washington State; 68 -- Pittsburgh; 66 -- Auburn, Oregon State; 62 -- NC State; 60 -- Oklahoma State; 56 -- Wake Forest; 54 -- Rutgers; 52 -- Arizona, Notre Dame; 48 -- Colorado, Maryland, Stanford; 46 -- Arizona State; 44 -- Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Syracuse; 40 -- Minnesota; 36 -- Arkansas, Ole Miss, Washington; 34 -- Georgia Tech; 32 -- Baylor; 30 -- Texas A&M; 28 -- Duke, Virginia; 24 – BYU, Purdue; 22 -- Northwestern, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt; 20 -- Boston College; 18 -- Kentucky, Missouri; 16 -- Iowa State; 12 -- Indiana
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Michael O'Connor will never forget New Year’s Eve 2013. It was the day his life was turned upside down.

Kickoff Live

November, 27, 2013
To watch on your smart phone click here

SEC reporter Edward Aschoff, Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the biggest and most storied rivalries taking place this weekend.

Some losses on the recruiting trail sting just as badly as a gut-wrenching defeat on the field.

Just ask the Michigan coaching staff after five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) selected Alabama over Michigan and Florida on Thursday.

Hand’s decision to head to the SEC won’t cause the Wolverines’ class to be labeled a failure; it is ranked as the nation’s seventh best. But with Michigan projected to be in the driver’s seat for almost all of Hand’s recruitment and with a significant need at the strongside defensive end spot, his decision to commit to the Tide is a crushing blow.

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Cameron RobinsonGreg Ostendorf/ESPNFriday's decision by offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the No. 3 prospect in the ESPN 300, between LSU and Alabama could foreshadow the last five months of the 2014 cycle.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Cameron Robinson announces on Friday and his pick could go a long way toward determining who has the No. 1 class, TE DeAndre Goolsby is quickly climbing the charts of many recruiters, and Elijah Hood’s decision could help UNC lure one of nation’s top surprise classes.

Decision day set for Robinson
One of the most significant recruiting battles of the 2014 class will come to close Friday when the nation’s No. 3 overall player Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) announces his decision. Robinson, a five-star prospect, is a franchise offensive tackle that only comes around once every few classes, and the battle between LSU and Alabama is one that could set the tone for the rest of the recruiting season. If LSU lands him, then it could help the Tigers run the table with other high profile in-state recruits like No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette. That type of run could help the Tigers unseat the Tide from the top spot in the class rankings that it’s held for the last two years. If Alabama lands him, then the Tide basically locks up another No. 1 class with more than five months left in the recruiting calendar. Most projections, including RecruitingNation’s Hot Board, have Robinson leaning towards Alabama.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The Michigan Wolverines continued their hot streak on the recruiting trail by landing four-star defensive tackle Henry Poggi (Baltimore/Gilman) on Monday. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound lineman is commitment No. 20 for Michigan and the 16th commitment ranked as a four-star.

"I am grateful to say that I am choosing Michigan. I feel comfortable there and I hope I will fit in," Poggi said. "I know that they have great players at my position on their roster and in the incoming recruiting classes. I will do my best to compete and hopefully I will make the team and be additive in helping the team reach their goals. I know that I start at the bottom of the depth chart."

Henry Poggi
Courtesy of Maggie ThomasHenry Poggi could play inside or outside on the defensive line.
This is another big win for Michigan as Poggi chose the Wolverines over Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Florida and Stanford, among others. He's ranked as the No. 23 defensive tackle in the country, but he could be used in various ways.

Poggi's versatility along the line will give the Michigan coaching staff plenty of options as he could line up at the three-technique defensive tackle spot or move outside to the five-technique defensive end position.

Michigan seemed to move into the driver's seat after Poggi and his parents took a visit to Ann Arbor in March. After that trip, his father said that the visit was over the top and showed Henry that he fit in socially with the rest of the team. What might have been more important on that trip, though, was that Poggi's mom came away impressed and comfortable with what Michigan would offer her son.

"(Henry's mother) sat with Brady [Hoke], she spent about 40 minutes with him, and he explained to her why he coaches," said Biff Poggi, Henry's father. "He's passionate about impacting the lives of kids, and she believed him and felt like that was deep in his heart. The academic piece, she also thought in her mind is every bit as impressive and maybe more than Stanford."

This commitment now gives Michigan three very good prospects on the defensive line as Poggi joins defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. (Westwood, Mass./Xaverian Brothers) and defensive end Taco Charlton (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central).

Poggi is also the fifth commitment for Michigan along the defensive line ranked as a four-star between the 2012 and 2013 classes. Depth and competition are being built in the trenches, something Hoke said would be a priority going forward.

Urban Meyer's old team beat his new team in the Gator Bowl, as Florida used huge special-teams play, stout defense and just enough offense to beat Ohio State. The Gators end Will Muschamp's first season on a good note, while the Buckeyes can't wait to start the Meyer era.

How the game was won: For the second consecutive year, Florida used superior special teams and opportunistic play to beat a Big Ten opponent in a bowl. Two of the Gators' three touchdowns came in the kicking game, as Andre Debose had a 99-yard kickoff return and Graham Stewart scored following Chris Rainey's blocked punt. Neither offense was overly impressive, but the Gators limited Ohio State's rushing attack and forced a pair of turnovers, including a DeVier Posey fumble in Florida territory. The Gators responded to every Buckeyes surge and nearly kept Ohio State off of the scoreboard in the second half.

Player of the game: Florida running back Chris Rainey. He has made a habit out of blocking punts and got another one, smothering Ben Buchanan early in the third quarter. The Gators recovered and scored to extend their lead to 21-10. Rainey also had 71 rush yards, 31 receiving yards and 31 return yards in the game.

Stat of the game: The Gators came in ranked 112th nationally in third-down conversions at only 30.6 percent. But they converted 6 of 13 attempts against the Buckeyes to keep drives alive.

Record-setting: Ohio State finishes 6-7 to suffer its first seven-loss season since 1897, when it went 1-7-1. The Buckeyes had the longest stretch without a seven-loss season in the FBS by 78 years. The next-longest stretch had been Florida State (1975). Ohio State also has its first four-game losing streak since 1943.

What it means for Florida: The Gators ended a mediocre year on a positive note and claimed their fourth consecutive postseason victory and second straight against the Big Ten. Quarterback John Brantley made some mistakes but still completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards. The Gators are strong enough on defense and special teams to make noise in the SEC East next season, but the offense will be the top priority for Muschamp and his staff during the offseason.

What it means for Ohio State: The Buckeyes struggled in their final bowl appearance until the 2013 season, and some of the problems that surfaced all season showed up in the bowl. A mostly conservative offensive game plan produced only 17 points and 299 yards, although Ohio State held edges on Florida in both yards and first downs (20-14). Buckeyes fans won't be sorry to see offensive coordinator Jim Bollman go. Strong special teams had been a staple of the Jim Tressel era, and Ohio State had been better this year than it was in 2010 -- until the bowl breakdowns. It's all about Meyer now and moving things forward. Meyer inherits a mostly young and talented roster, but he and his staff have a lot to do in the offseason.
Let's take a look at three keys for Ohio State as it takes on Florida in the Gator Bowl.

1. Free Braxton: Ohio State saw what Braxton Miller could be in the Michigan game, as the freshman quarterback accounted for 335 yards (225 pass, 100 rush) and three touchdowns against one of the Big Ten's best defenses. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman must continue to take the reins off of Miller against the Gators. What does Bollman have to lose? He's not coming back next season, and the offense showed a lot of life against Michigan with a more relevant passing game. Ohio State will attack a stout Florida defense on the ground, but Miller should take some shots downfield against the Gators, particularly with top wide receiver DeVier Posey on the field.

2. Turn the defensive line loose: Florida struggled to protect quarterback John Brantley at times this season, surrendering 23 sacks. It's important for Buckeyes star John Simon to get in the backfield along with fellow linemen like Johnathan Hankins and Michael Bennett. Simon, who leads Ohio State with 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks, goes against Florida tackle Matt Patchan, who colleague Michael DiRocco reports has had some difficulties with speed rushers this season (Simon is more of a power guy, but he can scoot). Ohio State's pass rush disappeared down the stretch as the team recorded only two sacks in the final three games. The Buckeyes need a stronger effort to prevent the Gators offense from gaining confidence.

3. Make Florida pay for mistakes: Florida's defense doesn't generate many takeaways (12 all season, tied for 115th nationally) and has committed 23 turnovers, putting the team 113th nationally in turnover margin. Ohio State has been more disciplined with the football, and the Buckeyes need to capitalize on any Gator giveaways. They failed to do so in losses to Michigan State and Miami but were more opportunistic in a win against Illinois. Florida also is one of the nation's most penalized teams, ranking 113th in penalties per game (7.75). Translation: the Gators will hurt themselves, but the Buckeyes must cash in.
Publicly, the Gators aren’t sweating the Urban Meyer drama surrounding the Gator Bowl.

Sure, the man who led Florida to two national championships and three SEC title games in six years will soon be manning the Ohio State team the Gators are pitted against at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., but Florida players aren’t concerning themselves with the iconic figure that left the program a year ago.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Terry GilliamFlorida Gator players aren't saying much about Urban Meyer.
“We talk about it a little bit, but it’s just the same old game,” Florida safety Josh Evans said. “We’re just getting ready for them, nothing’s changed. I’m pretty sure there are some people that probably feel some type of way about it, but we don’t really discuss it as much.”

It probably helps that Meyer won’t be in town for the game.

There’s no doubt some Florida players are steaming over Meyer’s decision to head back into coaching a year after leaving Florida. When Meyer said he was stepping down to be closer with his family and tend to his health, players surely supported him.

A year later, you’d have to be na´ve to think that some of those same players don’t have some ill will toward Meyer.

And that’s natural. It’s a part of a sport where coaches create very close bonds with young athletes. Some players, like wide receiver Andre Debose, head to a university just because of the head coach.

“Coach Meyer was the reason I came to Florida,” Debose said. “Point blank. He was the reason.”

Debose said he wasn’t upset with Meyer’s decision and could understand reasons why he would take a job so soon after stepping down.

“I’ve learned over the years since I’ve been in college that it’s a business, and it’s all about money,” he said. “So I mean, I wouldn’t turn down whatever he was offered. So I’m happy for him. He went to the money. It’s a business. I’m happy for him.”

There were a handful of “no comments” spouted by Gator players when they were first asked about Meyer taking the Ohio State job, and sophomore safety Matt Elam, whose relationship with Meyer stems back to when his older brother was recruited by Meyer to Notre Dame, tweeted about how he couldn’t wait to play Ohio State shortly after the Meyer news broke.

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd didn’t hesitate to say that he’s pretty motivated to play the Buckeyes -- but it has nothing to do with Meyer.

Floyd is pumped to play Ohio State because the Buckeyes were second to Florida on his recruiting list.

“I think that’s what I’m more excited about getting to play my second choice,” Floyd said. “I’m not really looking at it like playing coach Meyer’s school, I’m just looking at it as playing my second choice. I can’t wait.”

The pre-bowl drama everyone wanted from the Florida side of this thing just isn’t there. Maybe you’ll see a little more trash talk during the actual game. Maybe some hits will be delivered a little harder, and maybe some runs will administered a little tougher.

Whether the Gators are being sincere about Meyer is up for debate, but what is clear is that players are killing this distraction with kindness.

“He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family -- no hard feelings over here,” Floyd said. “If I seen the guy today, I would still shake his hand and talk to him with a normal conversation. That’s the name of the game, it can happen anywhere. So I say congrats and good luck to him.”

Video: Buckeyes' focus for bowl game

December, 28, 2011

Brian Bennett lists Ohio State's focus for its bowl prep against Florida: offensive creativity.
It took a little while, but I finally got in touch with the newest member of Jim Tressel's staff at Ohio State. Stan Drayton is back in familiar surroundings -- he grew up in Cleveland -- but is taking on an unfamiliar task of coaching wide receivers. Drayton played running back and has coached the position exclusively at the college level, most recently at Florida. He replaces Darrell Hazell, who left Ohio State to become head coach at Kent State.

Drayton will recruit locally in the Columbus area and also throughout Florida.

Check out Drayton's thoughts on several topics from our recent discussion.

How important was it for you to have a chance to be closer to home?

Stan Drayton: It played a big part in it. When you're at a place like Florida, you start looking for the intangibles. The final factor was the opportunity to coach another position. It's a huge move in the right direction for me to be able to get into something new, add a little versatility to my background. But my dad lives right here in Columbus. My sister, my kids' first cousins are here in Columbus. They're really, really close, so the opportunity to see their family members on a daily basis as opposed to one or two occasions throughout the year, it's awesome for them.

Were you looking to coach another position or even expand your role if you stayed at Florida?

SD: I wasn't looking for another situation by any stretch. [Will] Muschamp came in, I was really impressed with his approach and the kind of person he was and the staff he was putting together. I had a really good running back group coming back and I was really intrigued by Charlie Weis coming in there and the type of system that he runs, being able to learn from him. And then I get this call from coach Tressel throwing out this receiver deal and the more I thought about it, I just got so intrigued by it. He expressed how Earle Bruce gave him another position to coach, took him out of his comfort zone a little bit and how it's helped him as a ball coach. It really became very important for me to try to experience some of that. It became the deciding factor.

You've been around receivers and receivers coaches before. Have you reached out to any of them to get more insight on that position?

SD: I'm going to tap into somebody that I really know and trust, Ray Sherman, who's been coaching the receiver position for 36 years or something like that in the pros. I had the chance to be under his tutelage for three years when I was with the [Green Bay] Packers and learned a lot that way. I'm going to spend a lot of time with him, maybe go out and research other good receivers coaches around the country, both collegiate and NFL. And I'm really close to Donald Driver, so I'm going to sit down and try to get a player's perspective on receiver play, somebody who has had a tremendous amount of success at the position. A lot of times, what a coach will tell you and what a player will tell you about playing a position will really be two different things. I'm going to try and get as much information as I can from those people and move from there.

Personality wise, what's the biggest difference between running backs and wide receivers?

SD: If you would have asked me that as a running backs coach, I would have told you a totally different answer [laughs]. I need to be politically correct now. The game is physical for both positions, but there's a different type of physicality at running back. You've got blitz pickup, which is a very violent deal. You're dealing with a little bit closer parameters when you're running the football. You get yourself a lot of times in a little bit more space as a receiver. The skill set and the things you develop as an athlete are a little different, but once the ball is in your hands, you're a ball carrier, whether you're a running back or a receiver. You need to have a mentality of a ball carrier. But it's a little different mind-set.

Me transitioning from a running backs coach to a receivers coach, already my scope and the way I see the game has widened that much more to the perimeter. With the running backs, our focus was a little more on the box awareness and safety locations and not all the way out to the corners. There were times we had to pick up corner pressures and stuff like that, but on a play-by-play basis, my vision has to expand a little bit wider to the perimeter, which has been really, really fun.

(Read full post)

The first day of 2011 wasn't a fun one for the Big Ten Conference.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaSaturday was a tough day for Penn State coach Joe Paterno, right, and the rest of the Big Ten.
The league went winless in its record five New Year’s Day bowl appearances, dropping to 2-5 in this year's bowls. A 0-3 mark against the SEC and a Rose Bowl loss to non-AQ power TCU put a hurting on the Big Ten’s national reputation.

I caught up with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany earlier Sunday to discuss the conference carnage.

What was your reaction to what happened Saturday?

Jim Delany: It was a very long day for the first day of 2011. It felt longer than a normal 24-hour cycle. The first thing I would say, from Alabama to Mississippi State, Florida, Texas Tech and in particular, TCU, all really good football teams, teams that beat us on the field fair and square. So I tip my hat to them. In particular, I thought Alabama was fabulous. They are an elite team, certainly among the very best. TCU was great, mistake-free, certainly deserved and earned their way to the Rose Bowl and earned a Rose Bowl win. As disappointed as I was for our guys, I really respect what they’ve been able to accomplish there.

In the big picture, we were hopeful but not necessarily optimistic about a big day [Saturday]. We were underdogs in seven of the eight games, so I can read the paper as well as anybody else. Illinois and Iowa came away with good wins, hard fought. I think both Michigan and Michigan State were disappointed, the fact that they didn’t measure up or compete very well. And the other games, we were in them. They were winnable games and losable games and we lost five, and that’s a long day and disappointing. I was realistic enough to know it was possible, but hopeful that it wouldn’t happen that way, but it did. You accept it, congratulate the winner and try to get better.

What does it say about the league? This is the lasting impression.

JD: I’ve always said the season breaks down into three segments. We had a good September. We didn’t play enough elite teams, but we had some good wins, not a lot of wins. I don’t think it was the strongest nonconference schedule we’ve ever had, but it was representative, it was solid. I thought the league race was good. We really had three levels of teams. We had the three that were 11-1 and then we had a bunch of 7-5s and 6-6s. So it was a good league race, good attendance, good television, good competition, good conduct by everybody.

We got into the bowl season, we got two BCS opportunities, played one close, we’ve got another one in a couple nights. We got a couple wins that I wasn’t sure we would get in Illinois and Iowa, but they played hard. I wasn’t shocked that we struggled with Mississippi State and Alabama, they were really strong teams. Wished we had been more competitive, and then we had three other games shoulda, woulda, coulda.

We’ll take our fair share of criticism. When we win, we get our fair share of accolades, so if you’re not prepared to take your criticism with your accolades, then you shouldn’t be playing big games on big stages.

You’ve always been adamant about doing that. Do you still like this bowl lineup where you have no easy ones?

JD: From the time I was a young kid to now, I’ve always sought out – myself, my friends and the people I was working with – the best competition. Whether it was going to Philadelphia or New York to find the best playground game or go to North Carolina to find the best competitive opportunity, I never have been looking for anything other than playing up. That’s how you test yourself.

It’s not always the most fun. I was at North Carolina and we went to the Final Four three years in a row and three years in a row we did not win the championship. It’s always really disappointing. But I’d rather be there than playing in some other tournament. Likewise, I would love to be beating Alabama or Mississippi State or TCU, but our fans, our players, our coaches want to play against the best. And I think that the SEC has proved to not only me but everybody else that they have the strongest football-playing conference. But you know what? The ACC has proved that in basketball, and we’re not going to stop playing either of them.

How far does the Big Ten need to go to catch the SEC, the league to which you’re most often compared?

JD: They’ve won four national championships in a row. That says everything to me. We’ve had some competitive success, but they have the edge. Until we beat them, they deserve the edge. Whether it’s in an individual contest or a conference contest, you test yourself against the best and you get measured. If you want to be .500 or if you want to win 70 percent of your games, you can schedule that. A lot of people do in September. What it really comes down to is how you play big games against great opponents on big stages.

Some years we’re going to do better than other years, and right now, it’s a disappointing year because we couldn’t get it done. But let’s tip our hats to the people that beat us. I know our coaches and players played their hearts out, whether they win by a touchdown or a point or lose by two touchdowns. They’re our guys and I’m going to embrace them and support them.

Was Saturday the toughest day you can remember for the Big Ten?

JD: I think it was. That’s fair. It was a tough day. I’ve been disappointed before. We’ve never had five games on New Year’s Day, so you never could lose five. I still think it’s the right place to be and the right opponents. If we had won against Florida or if we had won a game in the Cotton Bowl or won the Rose Bowl, we’d feel a bit better. But you play the games because you don’t know the outcomes, you play big games because they’re more exciting than ones that are scripted, that you’re supposed to win. I don’t think any expert went into this thinking we were going to win seven of the eight. Most experts said we were going to lose seven of the eight.

How important is it for Ohio State to carry the banner for the Big Ten?

JD: It’s more important than it was if we had been 7-0, that’s for sure. But it’s not going to change Jim Tressel or the Ohio State team. They’re going to get ready and do their best, and win, lose or draw, our coaches, I know how hard they work, I know how hard our players play, and at least there’s one commissioner who’s going to embrace them whether they win or whether they lose.”
Missed opportunities and major mistakes hurt Penn State in a winnable Outback Bowl matchup against Florida. The Big Ten went 0-for-4 in the early bowls as the Lions fell to the Gators.

Here's a look back at Penn State's 37-24 defeat to Florida.

How the game was won: Florida made enough plays on defense and special teams early and bought enough time for its offense to show some life in the second half. Penn State sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin had a very rough day, completing 16 of 38 passes with a touchdown and five interceptions, including a pick-six when Penn State was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown. The Lions controlled the clock and ran the ball decently, but they made too many major mistakes to beat a talented Florida team.

Player of the game: Florida's Ahmad Black recorded two interceptions against McGloin, returning the second pick 80 yards for a touchdown. The Gators also received a nice lift from reserve quarterback Jordan Reed, who completed 8 of 13 passes and added 68 yards on the ground.

Stat of the game: McGloin had four interceptions in the final six regular-season games, leading Penn State to wins in four of those contests. He had five picks against Florida on Saturday, several of which led to Gators scores.

Unsung hero of the game: Penn State running back Evan Royster turned in a nice performance in his final collegiate game, racking up 98 rushing yards on 20 carries and adding four catches for 51 yards. He was Penn State's top offensive weapon for most of the day.

Second-guessing: Penn State kept McGloin in the game despite his continued struggles and the availability of former starter Rob Bolden. Most quarterbacks can't survive three or four interceptions -- much less five -- but Penn State stuck with McGloin rather than using the true freshman Bolden.

What it means: The Lions showed their youth at times and couldn't overcome the inconsistent play that plagued them for most of the season. Although Penn State should be a much better team in 2011, it needs to figure out the quarterback situation and make upgrades in several areas. Special-teams gaffes simply can't happen for a Joe Paterno-coached team, and the blocked punt returned for a touchdown gave Florida a real boost. Paterno has given every indication he'll be back to help a young team improve in the 2011 season.

Outback Bowl keys for Penn State

December, 30, 2010
Three keys for Penn State in its Outback Bowl matchup against Florida.

1. Offensive line play: The line played better down the stretch in the regular season but faces a big test with the Gators' defense. If All-Big Ten guard Stefen Wisniewski and his line mates create lanes for Evan Royster and Silas Redd, Penn State will be able to control the clock and open up the passing game for Matt McGloin. The Lions' line is a group that can make strides during the pre-bowl layoff, and it needs to step up.

2. Harass John Brantley: Florida's starting quarterback hasn't had a great season and could be transferring after the bowl game. He doesn't seem like a confident player right now, and Penn State should do all it can to get in his face. Penn State ranked ninth in the Big Ten in sacks with 16, so it's critical for a line that hasn't met expectations this season to generate some pressure.

3. Red zone defense: The Gators ranked last in the SEC in red zone offense, scoring points on just 69.8 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. The problem? Penn State ranked last in the Big Ten in red zone defense, allowing scores on 30 of 32 opportunities. Something has to give, and Penn State's defensive front seven must buckle down and keep Florida out of the end zone.
After all the off-field buzz, Penn State and Florida will actually play a football game on Jan. 1 in Tampa.

Here's a quick look at the Outback Bowl.

WHO TO WATCH: Penn State sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin provided a spark for Penn State's offense midway through Big Ten play and brought a much needed swagger to the huddle. He threw 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in the final six regular-season games. Florida's speedy and talented defense provides a good test for McGloin, whose ability to attack downfield could open things up for running backs Evan Royster and Silas Redd.

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's defensive front seven. The line has underperformed given recent history and the linebackers have been up and down, but the layoff before the bowl has given players like linebacker Michael Mauti time to get healthy. Florida's offense has been shaky and quarterback John Brantley could be transferring after an inconsistent season. It's imperative for Penn State to put pressure on Brantley and force some mistakes.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need a reason? Urban Meyer is stepping down as Florida's coach after the game, and there's a ton of uncertainty on the Gators' sideline. How will Florida respond, especially without several key players out with injuries? Penn State coach Joe Paterno and others have squashed the retirement rumors, but the 84-year-old always provides a reason to tune in. Penn State is the type of team that can really use the bowl as a springboard for 2011, when it returns quite a bit on both sides of the ball.

PREDICTION: Penn State 20, Florida 17. The Gators' defense is the best unit on the field and could give McGloin and Penn State problems, but I wonder how Florida will approach this game mentally. Florida is used to BCS bowls, and there have been so many issues regarding coaches, injuries and players' future. Penn State is the type of team that can make strides in bowl prep, and Paterno's ability to win bowl games is second to none. JoePa and the Lions win this one behind a strong defensive effort.