HOOVER, Ala. — Ahmad Black hears similar questions nearly every day on the University of Florida campus.
“Are we going to be any good this year?”
“We’re not going to be bad, are we?”
“Can we win without (Tim) Tebow?”
Black recalled those questions in between fits of laughter during Wednesday’s afternoon session at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
“They don’t want to come out and just say like, ‘I heard we’re going to be sorry,’” Black said. “They don’t want to come out and say that ... at least not to our faces.”
Black’s answer never changes. Nor do the Florida players’ expectations, apparently.
“I assure them that we’re going to be good,” said the 5-foot-9 senior cornerback with 136 tackles and eight interceptions in 35 career games. “At the end of the day, we’re still Florida.”
And Urban Meyer is still the head coach.
Florida safety Ahmad Black talks to the media during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)
Meyer announced before the Gators’ Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati that he would retire. Then he said he would merely take an indefinite leave of absence. Then he was back on the sideline for the start of spring practice.
The coach claimed “no regrets” for his complicated winter months, saying his opinion on his future genuinely changed once doctors found and started medicating the source of his health problems — esophageal spasms.
“The issue was not coaching at Florida,” Meyer said. “The issue was, ‘What’s going on? We’re not finding it.’ We found it in January, so ... the stress of knowing there’s a health issue has been relieved.
“It’s been solved.”
Different questions remain, though.
The Gators will probably be picked to win their fourth SEC Eastern Division title in five years despite losing 11 starters — nine of whom were selected in the NFL draft.
“There’s a little bit of newness and freshness in Gainesville now with the loss of great players, but I think we have some great players coming up through the ranks,” Meyer said. “There’s an air of excitement in Gainesville, and justifiably so.”
Black was one of 10 Gators placed on the preseason All-SEC team. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and offensive linemen Carl Johnson and Mike Pouncey received first-team honors.
Faces change, but Florida’s recruiting success hasn’t.
“We’re going out there with the mindset (to accomplish) the highest goals you can set,” senior defensive end Justin Trattou said. “We just have to go out there and prove it. I haven’t really seen who’s been favored or not, but I just know that we have to go out there and prove it on Saturdays.”
That won’t be a problem, according to Black.
“We’re one of the most prominent teams in the nation,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can continue our success. We have great talent. We just had the No. 1 recruiting class, and there’s no doubt in my minds that those guys can play.”
Many eyes will be fixated on a veteran, though. Junior quarterback John Brantley has been given the unenviable position of piloting the Gators through year one of the post-Tebow era. Teammates said the son of a Florida quarterback and nephew of an All-American Gators linebacker is ready to capitalize on his long-awaited chance.
“(Following Tebow) is definitely not a position I’d want to be in, but I think John is big enough and tough enough to take on that responsibility and that role,” Black said. “Everybody expects us to falter because Tebow’s not here, but John Brantley is a great leader, and he’s becoming more and more of a leader every day.”