- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

NEW YORK | As Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators prepare to make a run at their third national title in the past four seasons, the defending champions have already made some history.

Florida is No. 1 in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 released Saturday, followed by Texas, Oklahoma, Southern Cal and Alabama. But the Gators are in a class by themselves, the most overwhelming preseason No. 1 in the history of the poll.

Florida received 58 of 60 first-place votes, or 96.7 percent. Texas got the other two votes.

The previous highest percentage of first-place votes for the AP preseason poll, which started in 1950, was 95.4 percent for USC in 2007. The Trojans got 62 of 65 first-place votes — but didn’t play for the national title.

Ten preseason No. 1s have won the national championship. If the Gators become the 11th, they will have put together one of the great runs in college football history. Only one program since 1950 can claim three national championships in four years; Nebraska won it all in 1994 and 1995, then earned a share of the title in 1997.

With expectations soaring, Florida coach Urban Meyer has been on a mission to keep his team focused — to heck with history.

“There’s a lot of guys getting patted on the back and being told how good they are,” Meyer said. “Their only focus is on survival to the next day and working hard in practice. I don’t want them to even think about that kind of stuff. Our goal is to get to Atlanta” for the SEC championship game.

The rest of the top 10 includes two Big Ten powerhouses (No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State) and the defending ACC champion (No. 7 Virginia Tech). No. 8 Mississippi is in the preseason top 10 for the first time since 1970, when the Rebels were fifth. Oklahoma State is tied with Penn State for No. 9, the Cowboys’ highest preseason ranking since No. 16 in 1985, when Thurman Thomas was in the backfield.

Notre Dame is back in the rankings for the first time since the final poll of the 2006 season. The Fighting Irish, coming off a 7-6 season, are No. 23.

Florida is preseason No. 1 for the third time (1994 and 2001), and the Gators are the 20th defending national champ to start the season on top. From the moment Florida wrapped up its 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS championship game in January, talk of a repeat started.

And when Tebow a few days later announced he would come back for his senior year, there was no doubt the Gators would be the runaway preseason No. 1. Florida’s rugged, multidimensional quarterback won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and finished third behind Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy last year.

As good as Tebow is — he has a chance to end his career as the most decorated player in college footbal history with three national title rings and two Heismans — Meyer sees room for improvement.

“I’d say in the passing game he can certainly improve some things,” Meyer said. “Leadership-wise he used to get angry when he felt other guys weren’t working as hard as he was. Now he gets those players to play at that level.”

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