One Great Season
This week's Q&A is with Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples. Staples actually played at Florida in the 1990s, even winning a national championship ring in 1996 under coach Steve Spurrier. In his latest column this week, Staples says all the ranked-on-ranked action this weekend will have a significant impact on the national landscape. You can follow him on Twitter at @Andy_Staples.
One Great Season: Thoughts on the first month of the season? Surprises? Disappointments?
Andy Staples: I don't know if Oregon has been that much of a surprise. I had them at No. 7 or 8 to start, but how good they've been on offense has been a little bit shocking. They've really been flying out of the gate. And I'm very surprised that Texas is as inept as it is on offense. And more surprising was how bad its defense was against UCLA. Even if its offense was going to be down, I thought its defense was going to be a lot better than it was Saturday. Maybe that was just an anomaly and they'll get it back this weekend.
OGS: Which would be a good time considering Texas has Red River Rival Oklahoma up next.
AS: Yeah, they better because Oklahoma can run and throw. If Texas stops Oklahoma's running game, then Landry Jones will just start throwing the ball around.
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OGS: Florida at Alabama is obviously huge in SEC territory and on the national landscape this weekend, but many think the PAC 10 showdown between Stanford and Oregon is actually bigger. What do you think?
AS: I think they're probably about equal. If Florida's offense is coming around, they can compete for the SEC title, and by proxy the national title since the SEC champion usually gets to the national championship game. But Oregon and Stanford, the way they played the first month, you can see both of them being in the hunt for the national title, too. So that's really the first elimination game of the season. This could be Jim Harbaugh's first signature win. He's done a great ob recruiting, when you take into consideration the academic requirements there. Notre Dame and some other schools complain about that, but Harbaugh doesn't seem to be having any problems.
OGS: Back to Florida, is Trey Burton the next Gator savior? Can he and John Brantley guide the Gators to a championship the way Tim Tebow and Chris Leak did in 2006?
AS: I think that's an awful lot to put on the guy after one game, but he definitely is an interesting cat. The Tebow comparison is a little unfair. While Burton is ostensibly a quarterback, he's more of a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He meets with three position coaches every day. That's how versatile he is. But more than anything, he just really wanted to go to Florida. The day Urban Meyer resigned, Trey Burton was the one who got on the phone to make sure the recruiting class stayed together. This is a kid who was dying to play there. He really wanted to be a Gator, and he's definitely making the most of it now.
And as far as the comparison to the 2006 team, this defense is young but it's going to be very good. Just maybe not this year. It's a lot better than the 2007 defense that grew into that 2008 defense that was so great.
OGS: To what did you attribute Florida's rough start the first couple of games this year?
AS: That defense was fine, but the offense was what needed to figure out what the heck was going on. They ran certain types of plays for three years with Tebow, but Brantley isn't that type of quarterback. They're adusting.
OGS: And on coach Urban Meyer, with arrests piling up there, do you think he needs to re-visit either the types of kids he's recruiting or consider some drastic disciplinary measures so they stop getting in trouble?
AS: I think it's a little of both. He has been pretty lenient in how he's handled kids who've gotten arrested. But if they know they're gone as soon as they do something stupid, it will affect how they make their life choices off the field.
OGS: Back to football, what can Florida do to beat Alabama Saturday?
AS: They need to force Greg McElroy to make mistakes like Arkansas did last week. They need to stop Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, but I don't know if there's a team in America that can do that. They break teackles, they're fast and their offensive line is really good. If you can run between the tackles the way they do, you're going to dominate teams. On Saturday, once they started handing off and putting Ingram in the Wildcat, you knew they were going to win. Before that, they were trying to get cute. I'm an ex-offensive lineman and it drives me insane when offensive coordinators try to get cute when you can dominate someone at the line of scrimmage the way Alabama can. I'd rather break somebody's will.
OGS: Will Alabama or anyone from the SEC get to December undefeated?
AS: I don't think so. I think it's too hard. That Alabama-South Carolina game is a huge trap. Alabama will be coming off two emotional games against Arkansas and Florida, and South Carolina will be coming off a bye week. The circumstances may just converge and Alabama may drop one.
OGS: When will the SEC lose its stranglehold on the national championship trophy?
AS: This year. Ohio State looks different. Doc Holliday, the coach at Marshall, was an assistant at Florida on that 2006 team that beat Ohio State for the national championship. After Ohio State beat Marshall pretty badly in the season opener, Doc said it's not the same kind of team, that it's more like an SEC team. If you look at (Ohio State), they really have some athletes. I wouldn't want to block Cam Heyward. He's a beast. And Jim Tressel seems to trust Terrelle Pryor a lot now. And Oregon isn't just a finesse team. Everybody thinks they spread you out and beat you with their speed, which they do. But they can also run it right down your throat. They have a very good offensive line.
OGS: Where do you stand on Boise State? The winning percentage against BCS teams certainly is impressive, but 7-1 over three or four years when other teams play that type of schedule every year?
AS: I don't care about the hypothetical stuff. Boise State is good. They can beat anyondy in the country. They're the third-best team in the country. They are fantastic. I don't see any reason why they can't win the national title unless the system keeps them out.
OGS: What makes SEC football so much different than football anywhere else in the country?
AS: It's not that different. Everybody thinks there's this huge difference. The biggest difference is the speed of the linemen. If you put the fastest defensive backs and receivers and running backs from all the conferences together, they'll be all about the same. But you put all the defensive tackles together, and the SEC guys are always faster.
OGS: When you're on the road during the season, what college town has the best food?
AS: That's tough. Tuscaloosa has the best ribs. There's a place called Archibald's. It's essentially some guy's house. They give you a big slab of ribs and a bunch of white bread. There's also some good eating in Baton Rouge. Mike Anderson's is great. Anything they can stuff with crab, they do.
OGS: Lastly, you wrote a great column about your late mother last year. How long had you been wanting to write something like that and would you have still found a way to do it if Alabama wouldn't have gotten to the championship game?
AS: No, I was waiting for that sort of opportunity. She died in December 2006 and I'd been writing it in my head ever since. It was pretty easy to write. It took 35-40 mintues to write. I think I sent it when Garrett Gilbert fumbled near the goal line. It was going to get published one way or another, but Alabama got to that championship game a little ahead of schedule. And it was as simple as if they'd win I'd send it and if they lost I wouldn't.