Thursday, September 03, 2009

09/03 Quickie: Florida's "Win-or-Fail" Expectations, Schilling, Kazmir, Vick

Today is more college football lead-up, and you'll have to indulge me for today's SN column lead, tied into SN naming Florida its No. 1 team in the country (kudos to the NYT's Paul Myerberg at the Quad for going against the grain and naming Texas No. 1 ahead of Florida).

My point is this: It's "BCS title or bust" for Florida. Win it all or fail. Those are crushing expectations -- equal to the "all-time" stakes on the line for this team.

We have seen this come up twice in the last half-decade.

(1) USC in 2005. If you think I'm jocking Florida -- and, yes, I obviously am -- I also was ready to give USC 2005 that "greatest team ever" status... that is: IF they won the title.

Most folks remember the absurd "Are they they best ever?" stuff that was being discussed... in October, November and December. We don't even talk about the hysteria in August, like Florida is experiencing now.

The whole thing felt...premature, especially as Texas kept pace. Then, post-Rose Bowl, it simply was ridiculous, after USC was exposed as a pretender -- supremely good offense, mediocre (for a national-title contender) defense.

Best team of all time? They weren't even the best team that year -- in fact, by vanquishing USC, Texas '05 joined a very short list of "GOAT" contenders. Matt Leinart went from "Greatest College Player of All Time?" to helping to promote the very viable argument: "Vince Young Is the Greatest College Player of All Time."

The parallels with Florida '09 are interesting -- ultimately, they fall short. Again, USC's defense was merely OK, for a team with national-title aspirations. Compare: Florida's defense not only shut down one of the Top 3 most prolific offenses in college football history a year ago, but the entire two-deep comes back this year, plus last year's redshirts (Beal, etc.) and some awesome true freshmen (Bostin, Jenkins, Finley). This defense could end up one of the best in college football history. Huge difference with USC '05. THE difference.

(2) Florida basketball in 2007. They won the title in 2006, then returned virtually everyone -- the top 6 players, at least. The expectation was simple: Win a back-to-back NCAA championship or the season is a complete bust. Battle-hardened by '06 and laser-focused on '07, they did it.

(Actually, I found that '07 tournament excruciating to watch, because winning was expected and losing was intolerable. When they won it was: "Yes, but they were SUPPOSED to win." That kind of harsh judgment has an upside: Partly because they played under those conditions, I would argue they were the best starting 5 in modern college hoops history.)

Florida players have slipped this offseason and talked a little bit about the history -- about repeating, about being the first Florida team to go unbeaten, about being the best defense ever. Urban snapped them back to the "We just want to win the SEC East" talking point.

But you get the sense that Urban Meyer relishes the "national title or fail" stakes. That was why Tim Tebow came back; that was why Brandon Spikes came back. There is no greater highwire than to say that anything less than a national championship is a massive disappointment.

Just ask Pete Caroll.

To be fair, if "Team X" had come back under the same conditions as Florida this year, I would be making the same argument. I said the same thing about Tyler Hansbrough and UNC hoops last season -- anything less than a national title would have been a failure for him and the Heels.

But I think it is important to understand the stakes for the nation's No. 1 college football team this fall:

They are battling their own potential as much as they are battling the rest of the country.

More you'll find in today's SN column:
*Senator Curt Schilling? Oh for cripes' sake.
*Vick back for Week 1? I just drafted him, so let's hope so.
*Kazmir: THE X-factor of the AL playoffs.
*Oregon at Boise State: What a terrific season-opener.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

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