College football countdown: No. 13 Florida

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Florida inspired by three-game skid

A tough loss to Florida State, followed by an embarrassing defeat to Alabama and a mind-boggling loss to Michigan State is the way Florida concluded its 1999 season.

Forget about throwing a visor. That's enough to make Steve Spurrier go batty. The Gators ended the year in disarray. Spurrier, inspired most by his own ego, even stepped back to apologize to his team for being too critical of them.

The Gators insist that all of that upheaval is behind them. Still a national power, Florida hasn't won a championship to speak of since 1996. After getting blown out by the Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship last year, Florida has a lot to play for this year. Pride, a popular cliché in athletics, is the bottom line for this team.

"I think all that we went through last year made us work harder," said linebacker Andra Davis, one of 10 defensive starters back. "We got real frustrated. We played some good teams in Florida State and Alabama, but I don't think Michigan State should've beat us.

"But we're putting that behind us. It's a new year. The intimidation left when we stopped winning championships, so we have to get that intimidation factor back."

Quarterback Jesse Palmer, the replacement for Doug Johnson, strikes little fear in the SEC. Palmer has been productive in his past outings but rarely outstanding. Wide receivers Darrell Jackson and Travis Taylor both left early for the NFL, leaving the catching duties up to an erratic but talented Reche Caldwell and the steady Alex Willis.

While there are questions on the offense, there appear to be no weaknesses on defense. Led by Alex Brown – an outside shot for the Heisman Trophy – Florida has arguably the No. 1 defense in the nation.

"We know what our offense is capable of doing," Davis said. "We don't feel like we have to step up for them. I'm not worried about them.''

They know Jon Hoke's system now, too. Hoke is known for his tendency to send blitzes from any direction at any time. It is a fast-paced style perfectly fitting for Brown, tackles Gerard Warren and Buck Gurley, end Tron LaFavor, and Davis, the heart of the linebacking corps.

Florida Schedule- Sept 2 Ball State; Sept 9 Middle Tenn. State; Sept 16 at Tennessee; Sept 23 Kentucky; Sept 30 at Mississippi State; Oct 7 Louisiana State; Oct 14 Auburn; Oct 28 Georgia (at Jacksonville); Nov 4 at Vanderbilt; Nov 11 South Carolina; Nov 18 at Florida State

Florida Gators Capsule

COACH: Steve Spurrier (102-22-1 in 10 years at Florida; 122-35-2 overall).

LAST YEAR: 9-4 (7-1 SEC).

OUT: Quarterback Doug Johnson's tenure is complete. With Johnson at the helm, Florida did not regain its SEC title. Also out are receivers Darrell Jackson and Travis Taylor, both of whom left early for the NFL.

IN: The recruiting class was outstanding and is highlighted by the addition of All-American quarterback Brock Berlin from Shreveport, La. Berlin finished high school a semester early and enrolled at Florida right away to get acclimated with the program.

BIG PLUS: The defense is solid from front to back. Tackle Gerard Warren, end Alex Brown, linebacker Andra Davis and cornerback Bennie Alexander answer all the questions. On offense, tackle Kenyatta Walker could be the best in the nation.

BIG MINUS: Quarterback Jesse Palmer is not yet a proven winner. The receivers are gifted, but none can boast of any stardom at this point.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Florida needs to fend off SEC foe Tennessee early on to even have a chance.

BOTTOM LINE: The offense, which lagged behind the defense last year, has to become a force.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida