Dorm Report: Meyer claims '08 Gators best team ever

By The Sports Network June 18, 2014 at 9:21 AM
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Urban Meyer currently guides one of the top college football programs in the country, serving as the head coach at Ohio State University. But it seems the former Florida Gators coach doesn't want to cast aside memories of his old program just yet.

A few days ago, while coaching at a youth football camp, Meyer said to a group of young athletes that his 2008 Florida Gators squad was the greatest college football team he has ever seen.

"I've been a part of a couple great teams, I think the best team to ever play the game in '08 (at Florida). And that was (because) animal instincts took over on the field. They protected each other," he said during a lecture to the campers.

That's quite the claim considering college football has such a rich history with some of the greatest coaches in sports history - an exclusive list that includes Tom Osborne, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Eddie Robinson and Knute Rockne. How can Meyer's statement stack up to what those revered head coaches could put together?

Teams like Nebraska's 1971 squad, which finished 13-0 behind Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, or its 1995 squad, which scored 53.2 points per game and gave up just 14.5 per outing, are on the short list for consideration for the greatest of all time. Same with Miami's 2001 roster, which was loaded with NFL-ready talent. Even USC's 1972 12-0 squad is up there in the discussion, and possibly recent Alabama teams.

Take a step back, though, and all of a sudden Meyer's assertion doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Meyer is a very gifted head coach and has always had a knack for recruiting top players. That's where it all starts. And his Florida roster from the 2008 season reflects that.

The Gators' success was largely attributed to starting quarterback Tim Tebow, who went on to be one of the most polarizing players at the NFL level. But don't forget he was arguably one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all- time.

Tebow, the 2007 Heisman winner, took over as the full-time starter under center after Chris Leak graduated. His first full season as the first-stringer culminated with his receiving college football's top award and enough votes to label him as a consensus first-team All-American.

In 2008, it was Tebow once again under center leading the charge. But his supporting cast was, by all accounts, like an all-star squad, with a healthy number of the players in the starting lineup now familiar names at the NFL level.

Weapons for Tebow included receivers Riley Cooper and Louis Murphy on the outside, Percy Harvin as the slot receiver/halfback combo, and Aaron Hernandez at the tight end position. Throw in David Nelson as a third receiving option and toss in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in the backfield and the skills positions on offense were set.

Of course, Tebow's greatest weapon in college was the use of his legs. In a time when the quarterback position is being revolutionized by "dual-threat" playmakers, Tebow was at the beginning of the trend.

The 2008 season was actually Tebow's worst statistically out of the three years he reigned as the starting quarterback. He passed for 2,747 yards (although he did connect for 30 touchdown passes) and rushed for 673 yards with 12 scores. He was aided by an offensive line that included both Maurkice and Mike Pouncey as well as Phil Trautwein at the left tackle position.

The Gators sported some strong talent in the defensive backfield in 2008, with starting cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins manning up against the outside receivers. Ahmad Black and Major Wright held down the safety positions.

On the defensive line, Cincinnati Bengals star Carlos Dunlap and former New England Patriots end Jermaine Cunningham held down the outside. Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes anchored the defense from the middle linebacker position.

To round out the notable names on the roster, current Miami Dolphins place- kicker Caleb Sturgis handled kickoff duties for Florida that season.

Florida went 12-1 and had a shocking loss to Ole Miss, 31-30 in Gainesville, that disrupted its perfect season and potentially stymied any chance that Meyer's claim of the "best team ever" is accurate.

The Gators did go on to win the national championship, 24-14, against Sam Bradford and Oklahoma. So there's a bit of a redemption factor for such a crushing loss earlier that season.

Meyer's claim that Florida's '08 team was the best ever seems to generally be shot down or easily dismissed, but why? Is it because, with such a large pool of teams in over 100-plus years of college football history, something so recent couldn't possibly be the answer?

It's something to consider anyway. Sure, plenty of other teams throughout history have gone on undefeated runs, which, superficially, would give that team a leg up over Florida's 12-1 campaign.

But one thing to remember is that Florida had so much success in the "Tebow years" while playing in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC has sent nine teams to the national championship game in the past eight years, and is considered the best conference in all of college football.

It's entirely a matter of opinion when discussing the greatest college football team in history. So for Urban Meyer, who likely still has some residual feelings for his once-great Florida program, the nomination was his to throw into the mix.


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