July 28, 2006

Ready for an encore

Experience pays in the SEC.

When Urban Meyer arrived in Gainesville, he assembled a veteran staff of defensive assistants including co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong, two coaches, like their boss, who had Notre Dame lines on their résumés. That big-game experience paid dividends as the defense was asked to hold its ground while the Gators offensive staff learned about college football's toughest conference on the fly.

The results weren't always pretty, including a loss to ex-Gators coach Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and a 31-3 thrashing at Alabama, but Florida should be better for the time served. Meyer's offensive staff, much of which followed him to Gainesville from Utah, now has its own experience coaching at the highest level, something they'll need this season with Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, South Carolina and Florida State all on the schedule.

"Urban and the guys on his offensive staff now have a learning stick about what the SEC is all about," said Marty Cohen, who covers Florida for Gatorbait.net. "Urban has coached in some big places like Notre Dame and Ohio State, but he'd never been a head man walking into Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge."

Meyer's spread offense, which confounded teams in the Mid-American and Mountain West conferences, floundered much of last season before showing signs of promise in a 34-7 thrashing of Florida State and a 31-24 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Yet ask Florida fans what's required for the Gators' offense to advance, and they'll point to a quarterback that's started more than 30 games in his career and threw 20 touchdown passes last season.

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