"No one knows anything." It's William Goldman's quote about Hollywood and the people who run it, but it might as well apply to the average, slapdick college fan versus "those-in-the-know" going into the college football season. Certain predictive shibboleths remain: USC's probably going to be really good, Texas will probably just barely miss another national title shot, and Bill Snyder will frown mightily and be in the film room 'til three. Those are pretty safe bets, especially since we're talking about teams, coaches, and the institutional changes that occur slowly over periods of many years.
This just in: Snyder to frown this season.
The real enigma comes in the form of players. Players are the weak link in any fan's tarot deck, since players are the least dependable variable in the equation: frustratingly unpredictable and human, they flake out, they get arrested, they get Lyme Disease or throw a beer keg at someone's head. Sometimes they just disappear for long stretches of the season. Sometimes they throw five picks versus Penn State and cause an old man to have a heart attack. Schemes and tendencies can be picked apart in the film room; players, and their very young, fragile psyches, often times escape analysis even on the plushest of psychologists' couches.
In Florida's case, the response of individual players to Urban Meyer's extreme makeover of the Gator program will dictate outcomes this year, and those individual outcomes will be maddeningly unpredictable from player to player.
A few of Florida's great mysteries this year:
1. DeShawn Wynn. We remember watching his scorching td run against Miami in 2002 and thinking that what a horrifying juggernaut of a runner he would be over the next four years. (Watching a running back that big pull away from 'Canes safeties made the hairs on the back of our hands stand up a little in the same, primeval way that hunting or almost getting into an accident does.) What followed was three years of inconsistency, slack work ethic, and injury as he watched Ran Carthon and Ciatrick Fason clamp down on the starters' slot. Wynn was one of Meyer's first targets for public needling, and responded well initially before flaking out and potentially getting himself suspended for the first game with an undisclosed rules violation. If Wynn stops the Janus act and stays in line for a whole season, he'll be on Cribs in two years showing off his hastily-decorated, flat-screen-bedecked InstaMansion. ("This is my Scarface room...") If not, he'll be practice-squadding it with Chris Doering. His choice.
DeShawn, this bland but expensive house could be yours with a consistent season.
2. Dallas Baker...
The King of Spring, as Baker is known, seems to be on track for a fall appearance in a less regal but vital role as the second or third receiver on the Florida depth chart. Baker is freaky long--heh, heh--and has hands that could catch greased watermelons thrown from three stories up. Toolwise he's a Home Depot; headwise he's Big Lots. Dallas Baker of the phenomenal Orange and Blue Game (6 rec, 134 yds and 3 tds) is also the head-slapping personal foul monster from the 2004 UT game who posted 410 yds and 5 tds all of last year. Chad Jackson is rock steady in the number one slot, but Baker and other talented but streaky receivers like Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell will have to seize the myriad opportunities of the Meyer offense before a rising youngster like Nyan Boateng beats them to it.
Dallas Baker: long.
3. Ray McDonald. Not since Gerard "Big Money" Warren has a Gator lineman shown such sheer promise mixed with total apathy. At tackle McDonald had the power and the speed to dominate, but wore down as opponents pounded the undersized middle of the Gator D and took McDonald out of the equation by the middle of the third quarter. Tactics may have hurt him, but so did McDonald's erratic effort-sounds like Warren now, right?-earned him public criticism from Meyer. In one of the surprise moves of the spring, coaches moved McDonald to end, giving the Gator D line it's most intimidating outside pass rusher since Alex Brown and giving McDonald a chance to become the ravaging monster coaches think he should be. Like Wynn, could be on Cribs in a nouveau La Quinta showing off his escalade. Could also be Arena League-bound if he doesn't stay awake for the whole game. He's been so strong in practice that Meyer gave him the day off the other day, a good sign for those praying for a return to the days when UF's line was a draft pick buffet.
4. (Insert name at strong linebacker.) A recruiting hole that still needs plugging, the Sam backer is the key to the middle of the Gator defense with bludgers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler firmly locked into the Will and Mike spots. Brian Crum, Todd McCullough, and converted fullback Latsko are all taking turns on the strong side, with McCullough getting an edge thanks to his experience. (Being a 6'5" linebacker in a league that's going to see a little more passing this year probably helps, too.) Brian Crum is fantastically athletic, though, as evidenced by his Greg Lloyd physique and speed, and Billy Latsko's fullback mentality will probably make him an automatic goal-line substitution. No matter how it happens, the Frankenbacker approach has to meld in order for the linebacking corps to gel and shore up a run D that was pitifully generous at critical times last year.
Boi, this one's for you: Brian Crum, 1/3 of the UF Frankenbacker, is rizz-ipped.