NCF Nation: Gators-Tigers 2009 coverage

Video: Tebow cleared to play

October, 10, 2009

Florida QB Tim Tebow is medically cleared to play in Saturday's game vs. LSU.

Posted by's Chris Low

Before Florida and LSU get it on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season, maybe they can sit down and compare whose crystal football that sits atop the last three BCS national championship trophies sparkles the brightest.

 Florida has won two of the last three BCS championship games. LSU won in 2007.
In the realm of college football, these two teams are as close to royalty as it gets.

They’ve carried the torch for the SEC nationally this decade and are a big reason this conference is recognized as the best conference in the land.

They’ve shared the last three BCS national championships, Florida in 2008 and 2006 and LSU in 2007.

The winner of this game the last three years has gone on to win the national championship, and these two teams are the only schools in the country with multiple BCS national titles. The Tigers also won in 2003 under Nick Saban.

Here’s another way to look at it: Four of the last six national championship celebrations have gone down in either Baton Rouge, La., or Gainesville, Fla.

“This is what you play for,” LSU running back Charles Scott said. “You have a little extra motivation for this game. It’s LSU and Florida, the top dogs in the SEC.

“There’s no hatred … just a lot of pride.”

About the only chink you can find in Florida’s armor since Urban Meyer arrived in 2005 is that the Gators have been ordinary against Western Division opponents in the regular season.

Florida is 6-6 against the West since 2005, losing both times at Tiger Stadium.

Keep in mind that Florida’s regular Western Division opponent just happens to be LSU.

“I’m not sure how the SEC figured out that we had to play LSU every year,” said Meyer, weighing in on the Gators’ struggles against the West. “We happen to get them when they’re loaded up real good with players. It’s a players’ game. Just watch what happens in the next five years, a bunch of those cats will be playing in the NFL and so will the Gators.

“This is two top-5 teams playing. I imagine we haven’t done really well against very talented teams.”

Meyer’s selling himself short there.

While this will be the Gators’ first game against a nationally ranked team this season (and only their second against a team with a winning record), Meyer is 17-5 against nationally ranked opponents at Florida, 10-2 against top-10 teams and 6-1 against top-5 teams.

And when he has more than a week to prepare for an opponent, he’s 28-3 during his career.

Of course, he’s done so this time not knowing if he’s going to have his record-setting quarterback, Tim Tebow.

As big as this game is, it’s not necessarily a death sentence for either team in terms of staying in the national championship race.

In fact, both teams would still control their own destiny in their divisional races even if they lose. Winning out would get them to Atlanta. And as both Florida and LSU have shown us in recent years, winning the SEC championship as a one-loss team (or even a two-loss team as LSU did in 2007) is still good enough to be right there in the mix when the final BCS standings are released in December.

Just don’t tell that to any of the participants in Saturday’s festivities.

“It’s going to be a nose-bleeding, smashmouth, backyard football game,” LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black said. “Everybody’s helmet is going to be scratched up. Everybody’s going to be sore. This is what we’ve all worked so hard for.

“If you can’t play for 60 minutes in a game like this, you shouldn’t be on the field.”

Still wait and see on Tebow

October, 9, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

You've sort of seen it pointing this way all week.

Nobody's going to know if Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will play Saturday night against LSU until right before game time.

Florida coach Urban Meyer said as much after watching Tebow go through his third straight practice Thursday. He's going to be tested after making the flight Friday, and he'll be tested again on Saturday.

If it's up to Meyer to make the call, then he has a decision to make. He's been trying to get two quarterbacks ready this week not knowing how it would all play out. The only thing he's been told about Tebow was that there was a chance he could play, so the Gators have put together a game plan with both Tebow and backup John Brantley in mind.

I still think there's the possibility that Meyer won't play Tebow even if he's cleared, or at the very least, start Brantley and play it by ear from there.

Could you imagine Tebow coming off the bench and leading the Gators to a win? His legend is only going to grow if he plays in this game and the Gators win.

And if he doesn't play, and the Gators beat LSU with Brantley going the whole way, what's that do for Meyer's already lofty status as a coach?

Regardless of how it all shakes out at quarterback, I think it gets back to Charlie Strong and his defense. I think we'll see the best performance of the season by the Gators on that side of the ball.

Posted by's Chris Low

After calling Tennessee home for more than 20 years, John Chavis has never felt more at home than he does right now.

 Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
 John Chavis believes the key to slowing down the Gators is stopping their running game.
“This whole deal has been a breath of fresh air. It really has,” said Chavis, who as LSU’s first-year defensive coordinator faces an old nemesis Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Frankly, it’s a nemesis –- in a roundabout way –- that played a part in uprooting Chavis from his alma mater and rerouting him to LSU.

His former boss at Tennessee, Phillip Fulmer, couldn’t beat Florida and Urban Meyer and got the boot. So did Chavis despite finishing in the top three in the SEC in total defense nine of his 14 seasons as the Vols’ defensive coordinator.

So when LSU coach Les Miles went looking for the right guy to resuscitate a defense that woefully underachieved a year ago, it didn’t take him long to pick up the phone and call Chavis.

“I never thought I’d say this, and I don’t regret a moment I spent there, but I stayed (at Tennessee) too long,” said Chavis, who turned down multiple opportunities, college and pro, because of his love for Tennessee and his loyalty to Fulmer.

“I believe this with all my heart, but God had his hands all over this. I knew the right doors would open. I’d always looked at this place from afar with envy and knew these folks had a passion for football. It’s important to these people, and it’s been what I thought it would be.

“It was hard to say goodbye to a lot of good friends in Tennessee. That was the tough part, but it’s been wonderful here.”

If Chavis can figure out a way to slow down the Gators, it will only get better.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Chris Low

This week is no different than any other week for Florida backup quarterback John Brantley.

OK, it’s dramatically different. But as a backup quarterback, you go into every week expecting and preparing to play.
 Mark Zerof/US Presswire
 If Tim Tebow doesn't play Saturday, John Brantley (12) will get the start under center for the Gators.

If not, there’s no way you’re ever going to be ready if they call your number.

Brantley is ready, at least as ready as he’ll ever be on such short notice, if Tim Tebow can’t play this Saturday against LSU.

“You never know when your opportunity is going to come, so you always have to be ready,” Brantley said. “I think about that every week. You’re always just one play away.”

Brantley, a 6-foot-3, 217-pound sophomore, finished the game at Kentucky after Tebow went down with a concussion. The Gators were already ahead 34-7 when he entered the game late in the third quarter, but he said it was still good to get some time on the road.

“I know it wasn’t anything like it will be at LSU, but to get some quality minutes on the road definitely benefited me,” said Brantley, who was 4-of-6 for 30 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. “Just to have played a whole quarter and to get the feel of the game can’t do anything but help.”

Even though he’s preparing to be the Gators’ starter this weekend, Brantley sure isn’t counting out Tebow, especially after seeing him practice Tuesday.

“None of us know what’s going to happen. Tim doesn’t even know,” Brantley said. “He came to practice yesterday all pumped up. I just know that he looked really good at practice. I haven’t heard any feedback of how he felt. But so far, so good.

“I know he’s treating it like he’s going to start, and I’m treating it like I’m going to start.”

Brantley’s forte is throwing the football. He threw 99 career touchdown passes at Trinity Catholic High in Ocala, Fla., breaking the Florida state record shared by Tebow and former Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee.

With Tebow limited because of offseason shoulder surgery, Brantley was one of the Gators’ stars this past spring with how he threw the football. He was impressive enough that Florida coach Urban Meyer said he deserved to play some in the first half of games this season.

But as much as anything, that experience in the spring where he took about half the snaps with the first-team offense was a chance for Brantley to win the trust of his teammates.

“They trust me, and I trust them,” Brantley said. “I think that’s very important going into such a hostile environment. They know I can step in and make this happen if they need me to.”

While not giving away too much, Brantley said it’s no secret that what he does best is throw the ball. He’s not going to bring to the running game what Tebow does. In four games, Tebow has already carried the ball 55 times for 271 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

So that part of the game would change if Brantley’s under center. He’s not going to be the go-to guy on third-and-short or down near the goal line, but he also doesn’t see the Gators overhauling what they do on offense, either.

“We really haven’t changed much that I’ve noticed, so I don’t think our plan will change a whole lot,” Brantley said. “They’ll definitely use my strengths. I’m not a runner. But I’ve been practicing very well [this week] and executing what we’re calling.”

The thing Meyer and Florida quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler have pounded into Brantley’s head this week is to be prepared for anything, and that starts with being mentally prepared.

“That’s what I really worked on this past spring and this camp, the mental aspect, going into an environment like this, and if something goes bad, how you forget about it and come back and keep playing,” Brantley said. “If you have a bad play, move on.

“I think I’m mentally ready. If I get the chance, I guess we’ll see.”

Posted by's Chris Low

Florida coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that it would probably go all the way up "until foot hits the ball" before any decision is made or announced on Tim Tebow's playing status against LSU.

Tebow underwent more testing Wednesday morning and is expected to practice for the second straight day later in the afternoon. But Meyer said Tebow still hasn't been medically cleared to play.

And if he is, who could blame Meyer for playing his cards close to his vest and forcing LSU to prepare for two different quarterbacks?

Posted by's Chris Low

Let me preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging that if Tim Tebow is cleared medically to play this Saturday against LSU, keeping him off the field is going to be next to impossible.
AP Photo/John Raoux
Florida backup quarterback John Brantley might be the best starter for the Gators this Saturday.

But if you’re Urban Meyer, do you sit Tebow regardless this week?

Unless something breaks later today or Wednesday, the Gators' star quarterback is going to go 10-plus days without any football-related activity. Even for Tebow, it’s tough to come back and play in a game of this magnitude and against a defense as talented as LSU’s when you haven’t done anything for almost two weeks.

But there’s also the bigger picture to think about.

I have no doubt that if Tebow is cleared, the medical staff at Florida is confident that he’s fit for contact again.

Concussions, though, are unbelievably tricky. Coming back too soon can lead to so many other problems down the road, which gets us back to Meyer and the decision he has to make if he gets the green light from the doctors.

Anybody who’s spent any time around Meyer knows he’s going to do whatever gives him the best chance to win this game. Is that with a rusty Tebow who’s coming off a concussion or with a healthy John Brantley who’s been practicing every day?

It's hard to imagine Meyer not going with Tebow if he gets the OK from doctors, but there's a relationship between those two that goes much deeper than a coach and a player. Meyer will have to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that putting Tebow back out there so soon after a concussion won't put him at further risk.

After all, as big as this game is, it’s not the end-all for the Gators, not in terms of the SEC championship and not even in terms of the BCS national championship.

Florida could lose this game and still get to the SEC Championship Game by winning the rest of its games. The Gators would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with all of their Eastern Division rivals by winning out.

And if the Gators were to get to Atlanta with one loss and win the SEC title, particularly if they beat a highly ranked Alabama or LSU team, recent history has shown that they would be one of the top two teams in the final BCS standings and get a chance to play for their second straight national title.

Imagine, too, the pop the Gators get by going to LSU and winning with their backup quarterback.

Like most coaches, Meyer can’t see past this weekend. That’s what makes him so good. He’s beyond meticulous, but he’s also smart.

If the decision gets to him, he’ll make the right one.

And here’s betting that nobody outside that locker room will know for sure until the Gators run out for pregame warm-ups on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.