Alex Brown understands the question and concedes that it's fair: How could Brown, the junior defensive end, dominate in two games last season and disappear in several others? Against SEC powers Tennessee and Georgia, Brown was a monster, getting a total of seven sacks, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a pair of passes. Brown showed flashes of brilliance in a few other games, too, but as coach Steve Spurrier says, "For the most part he looked like a pretty ordinary player."
Still, the 6'4", 265-pound Brown set a school record with 13 sacks and became only the third sophomore in Gators history to be named a first-team All-America. But Brown was often chided by coaches and fans for his inconsistent play and questionable conditioning. "A lot of people said I should have had more sacks," says Brown. "Looking back, I should have gotten at least 18 or 19. I'm ready to have a better season."
So are the Gators. In 1999 they started 9-1 but lost their final three games. "We understand that last year was unacceptable," says senior quarterback Jesse Palmer.
Spurrier has named Palmer his starter, but Palmer knows he's getting only a mild vote of confidence. ("Jesse realizes that he has to play better than he's ever played here if he wants to continue to be the guy," says Spurrier.) If Palmer sputters, the Gators have two high school All-Americas waiting to step in: redshirt freshman Rex Grossman and true freshman Brock Berlin, the 1999 USA Today offensive player of the year.
Whoever is at quarterback will benefit from an experienced running game anchored by tailback Earnest Graham, a bullish 5'9", 214-pound sophomore who last year led the team with 654 yards rushing despite missing nearly four full games with a thigh injury. The Gators, though, don't have a proven receiver after losing Travis Taylor and Darrell Jackson to the NFL, and Spurrier hopes to find a go-to guy among the six freshman wideouts he signed from a recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 by several recruiting publications.
The Sept. 16 game at Tennessee will make or break the Gators' season, and Brown insists Florida will be ready. "There's been a dark cloud hanging over Gainesville since the end of last season," he says. "It's time to let the sun shine."