ON A RECENT Thursday afternoon at Florida's Griffin Hill Stadium, the Pouncey twins kicked back in the offensive linemen's meeting room, whose walls are adorned with motivational catchphrases (FOUR TO SIX SECONDS OF RELENTLESS EFFORT! reads one) and glossy photos of past greats who manned the Gators' O-line ( Lomas Brown and Kenyatta Walker among them). When they aren't in uniform—Maurkice, the starting center, is number 56; Mike, the right guard, is number 55—the Pounceys are almost impossible to tell apart. They're the same height (6'5") and weight (312 pounds); their hair is the same length; their voices, low and easy, are indistinguishable; and they frequently wear matching outfits (on this occasion, oversized black T-shirts and knee-length basketball shorts). The identical sophomores also tend to finish each other's sentences, making things even more confusing. Consider this recollection of their first game as freshmen, which Maurkice started and Mike watched from the sideline.
Maurkice: "It didn't feel right, not having my bro beside me...."
Mike: "But I was his biggest fan. And when spring came around, he was the one who got in my face every day in practice."
Maurkice: "I'm going to criticize him more than anybody because...."
Mike: "He wants me to be the best, and I want him to be the best...."
Maurkice: "And everyone knew we should be on the line together."
This fall the Pounceys have been side by side all season, pillars of an offensive line that's one of the biggest reasons why Florida, six weeks after its shocking 31--30 home loss to Mississippi, has resurfaced as a national championship contender after sinking to No. 12 in the AP Top 25. Since that setback the Gators (8--1) have steamrollered SEC rivals Arkansas, LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt—a 42--14 victim last Saturday night in Nashville—while averaging 48.6 points a game. After the win over Kentucky, Mike told his mom to book hotel rooms in Atlanta for friends and family on Dec. 6, the date of the SEC championship game. "We'll be there," he vowed.
Indeed, with its win over Vandy, Florida clinched the SEC East and a conference-title-game showdown against No. 1 Alabama, the West division winner (box, page 44). And with Iowa's upset of No. 3 Penn State on Saturday, the Gators moved up a notch from No. 4. If Florida and Alabama win the rest of their regular-season games—the Gators face South Carolina and The Citadel at home before the finale at Florida State, and the Crimson Tide (10--0) has Mississippi State and Auburn at home—the winner is virtually assured a spot in the BCS title game.
"Everything starts with our offensive line," says coach Urban Meyer. "[The linemen] set the tone with their intensity and with their passion." Few Gators can match the intensity and the passion of the Pouncey twins, who are the youngest starters on the line but, as 2007 Heisman Trophy--winning quarterback Tim Tebow puts it, "play with a love for the game that rubs off on everyone. Off the field they're jokesters who light up every room. They're such dominant personalities because everything is times two. And they're always together."
When Maurkice took a weeklong trip to Houston this summer with his girlfriend, it was the longest the Pounceys had been apart. Says running back Chris Rainey, "I was with Mike when Maurkice was gone, and they were texting each other all day. 'What you doing, bro? Why haven't you hit me up [with a text], bro?' They just can't be without each other."