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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Maybe you're already making travel plans to Pasadena, Calif., for next January. I don't blame you. All signs point to the Gators playing for their third national championship in four years - and probably winning it.

And while we can all pencil in 189 Tim Tebow runs up the middle and 57 Brandon Spikes crushing tackles, a lot of other players are going to make the difference in UF having another University Avenue celebration or a teary Tebow and Urban Meyer wondering what went wrong.

So here are some areas of concern this spring and the players who are going to be counted on to step up:

· Meyer hasn't given out the No. 1 jersey yet despite several players asking for it, and there's good reason for that. The argument could be made that several players will end up being the Gators' No. 1 receiver next year, and that person might get Harvin's No. 1 jersey. The logical guesses are either Deonte Thompson or Aaron Hernandez. They're the big names. If you want a sleeper to take the reigns of the receiving group, look out for Carl Moore. He had a frustrating first year, but he has as much talent as anybody. Also, don't forget about senior David Nelson and incoming freshman Andre Debose, who Meyer is expecting to be the next Percy Harvin.

· Should John Brantley really be the future at quarterback? The Gators don't have a difficult schedule this season, and that means there will be plenty of blowouts. So you know Brantley is going to get plenty of snaps, more than last season.

Following Tebow will be one of the most difficult jobs for anybody in sports in a long time. Will he show glimpses of being the type of signal-caller who can lead a team to championships? An injured Tebow is the only thing that could keep UF from Pasadena this year, and even a healthy Tebow will need breathers. Brantley needs to have an impact similar to what Tebow did his freshman year. This will be his third year on campus, and it's time for him to show why he was one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in his class.

· Without Debose, will any freshmen make a significant impact? Yes, the Gators have absurd talent coming in again, but it's talent at places that are loaded with depth. Does Meyer really want to waste a year on safety Dee Finley or linebacker Jelani Jenkins when the Gators have Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Will Hill and Dorian Munroe in front of Finley on the depth chart? How about a linebacker corps that already has Spikes, Dustin Doe, A.J. Jones, Ryan Stamper, Brandon Hicks, Brendan Beal and Lerentee McCray? When someone as good as Jenkins comes along, it's hard to waste a year of eligibility when he's almost destined to be a backup. Most teams would love two high-caliber starting safeties. The Gators have four. Finley will make an impact on special teams - at most.

The best bet of a freshman to make an impact may be backup tight end Desmond Parks because, well, the Gators don't have any tight ends besides Hernandez. The sleeper could be defensive tackle Gary Brown if he outplays Jaye Howard and Omar Hunter once he gets there. But good luck with that.

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