After Florida coach Urban Meyer answered reporters’ questions and received four national championship trophies on Tuesday morning, a yellow-jacketed Fiesta Bowl official closed the proceedings.
“We will see everyone next year in New Orleans,” he said.
New Orleans is the site of the 2008 BCS national championship game, and the official’s next-year invitation could have been extended to the triumphant coach sitting nearby.
Meyer’s Gators, who blasted Ohio State in the BCS title game on Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium, have already started reloading. Nine incoming recruits have enrolled for the spring semester.
“I can’t think of anybody in the country that has nine,” Meyer said. “They all showed up for class on Monday. I’m sure they think they don’t have to go to class today because we won the national championship. I assure you that’s why I am going home (on Tuesday).”
Florida, which finished 13-1, has notable losses: quarterback Chris Leak, center Steve Rissler, receiver Dallas Baker, defensive linemen Ray McDonald and Joe Cohen and linebacker Earl Everett. Such juniors as defensive end Jarvis Moss, linebacker Brandon Siler and safety Reggie Nelson could head to the NFL.
However, many of the contributors from a 41-14 victory against the Buckeyes will be back, whetting the appetite of Gator Nation for another title run.
“To start talking about that kind of stuff, you won’t hear that from me,” Meyer said.
The Gators’ foundation for 2007 includes receivers Percy Harvin, Jerred Fayson and Riley Cooper and defensive end Derrick Harvey, who on Monday tied a BCS game record with three sacks. And then there’s that hotshot true freshman quarterback you may have heard of, the guy who ran and passed for touchdowns against OSU.
“It’s Tim Tebow’s team as of right now,” Meyer said, adding that the UF offense next year could more closely resemble the 2004 Utah unit under QB Alex Smith. “He brings tremendous leadership to the table, and he will have to help our other young players pick up the slack.”
However, Florida’s most important returnee is Meyer, who in six seasons as a Division I-A head coach has proven to be a deft organizer and master motivator. Whatever he sells, players buy.
“He says that his job is to make sure that the plans are sound, and that we are playing hard at all times,” offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. “When our team runs out of the tunnel on Saturday, you will see a team that plays hard every snap of the game, a team that is (prepared) and built up into a frenzy that there is an explosion when they get on the field.”
College football followers on Tuesday were still buzzing about how in the world the Gators could have bankrupted a vaunted Buckeyes offense, holding Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith and all of his weapons to only 82 yards of total offense.
Florida’s speed was punishing, especially from defensive end and in the secondary. Co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong switched up the stunt and blitz packages, creating confusion among the OSU offense.
“It seemed like they brought something new,” Buckeyes center Doug Datish said. “We had seen it a couple times, but it’s a credit to them and how good they were, that they did some different blitzes and things, and we weren’t able to get done what we wanted to.”
On Tuesday, Meyer reiterated the lack of respect the Gators felt, citing it as a major motivating factor.
As the game progressed and Florida continued to dominate, vindicated players chattered constantly.
“We were talking it up to them,” Moss said. “We kept telling them that they weren’t as good as us, and that (the OSU offense) wasn’t going anywhere.”
The Gators boarded a charter plane to return to Gainesville on Tuesday, secure in the belief that they will not be underestimated again soon. The four national championship trophies they carried in tow will make sure of that.
“What’s the future look like?” Meyer said. “I think it looks really good. That’s part of the reason our staff went to Florida, because we can recruit the best players in the country at that place.”