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January 9, 2007

Future looks plenty bright for Meyer, Gators

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP

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No. 2 Florida

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GLENDALE, Ariz. An hour after capturing the second football national championship in school history, Florida coach Urban Meyer acknowledged that he would always share a special bond with quarterback Chris Leak.

Kind of like conjoined twins.

"What does it mean to me? I don't know," Meyer said when asked what the 41-14 victory over Ohio State meant to him. "I haven't thought about that. Chris Leak, Urban Meyer, attached at the hip for the next 30 years, right? We have no choice."

In Florida football lore, Meyer and Leak may indeed always be attached. But they will be detached when the Gators open defense of their national championship next Sept. 1 against Western Kentucky. Meyer wasn't worried about that Monday night.

He probably won't be worried about that next September, either.

It's hard to resist the urge to speculate on what the future may hold for the Gators.

No team has ever won back-to-back BCS national championships, and the Gators aren't likely to, either. Leak, the most productive passer in school history, was one of four seniors starting on the Gators offense Monday night.

"He is officially one of the top two quarterbacks to play at the University of Florida," Meyer said of Leak. "We made this comment two years ago that it is the way you are judged at Florida. There have only been two in 100 years of (Florida) football to win a national championship and Chris Leak is one of them."

Meyer will also have to replace five senior starters on defense, and could also lose receiver Andre Caldwell, defensive end Jarvis Moss, linebacker Brandon Siler and free safety Reggie Nelson, who are juniors and may be enticed by lucrative NFL contracts.

Moss, who twice sacked Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith and forced a fumble, said after the game that he'll consider foregoing his senior season and entering the NFL Draft.

"That's a tough decision," Moss said. "The NFL is attractive for young players like me. I would want to break the news to my coaches before I said anything."

But even without this year's seniors and a few juniors who may opt to turn pro, the Gators figure to be powerful again next season.

Versatile Tim Tebow, who might be an even a better fit in Meyer's spread offense than Leak was, will likely step in at quarterback. If he passes as well as he runs he could have an All-American future.

So could do-it-all freshman Percy Harvin, who is equally dangerous at receiver or running back, living up to his billing as Rivals.com's top prospect from the Class of 2006.

The Gators will also return four starters in the offensive line and both tight ends, Tate Casey and Cornelius Ingram.

Sophomore end Derrick Harvey is a dominant pass rusher who was named defensive player of the game against Ohio State. He will be a key figure in rebuilding the defense. If most - or even some - of the juniors opt to return, the Gators could be exceptional on defense again. However, they will be hard-pressed to match this year's unit which ranked fifth in the nation against the run and held Ohio State to 82 total yards.

Of course, the Gators could restock quickly. Florida's 2006 recruiting class was ranked second in the nation by Rivals.com and its 2007 class headed by five-star defensive tackle Torrey Davis and five-star quarterback John Brantley is ranked No. 3 right now. Winning the national championship and the attention that draws could ultimately boost the Gators' class even higher.

But the greatest advantage Florida has is Meyer, who has clearly established himself as the premier coach in college football today. He's shown a knack for developing quarterbacks, drawing the very best from his players and getting players in position to be most effective.

In two of the last three years he has led Utah to an undefeated season and now Florida to a national championship, and he did both in his second year.

Imagine what he can do in three seasons.

For more coverage of the BCS Championship Game, check out GatorBait.net and BuckeyeGrove.com.



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