SEC Preseason Preview: Can Florida return to old glories?
The Florida Gators are a National Power. Sure, they may have sucked pre-Spurrier, but in the last three decades, they’ve been almost always extremely competitive (if you ignore the Ron Zook years). Since 1991, Florida has won eight SEC titles, and three National Titles. They also haven’t missed a bowl game since 1991, either. That’s a pretty great record.
But 2011, after Urban Meyer’s decision to leave the Florida family and go to ESPN (for the year, as it turned out, because he managed to recover sufficiently to take up a role at Ohio State), the Muschamp era started with a sputter. Sure, the Gators got into a bowl game, but they ended the season without a National Ranking….and losing to their hated cross-state rival, Florida State.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Florida Gators sputtered last year to a 6-6 regular season record. And their offense didn’t just sputter, they were goddawful. John Brantley missed almost all of Florida’s losses against Alabama, LSU and Auburn (which didn’t help matters), and Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel didn’t nothing to inspire confidence. On the ground, Chris Rainey & Co. couldn’t get anything done on the floor, and the Gators ended up ranked 71st in points scoring.
Results-wise, Florida ran to 4-0 to start the season, but then sputtered, losing four straight to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia before beating Vanderbilt and losing 17-12 to South Carolina in a game that we can only say wasn’t one for the purists. The season ended with Florida State snapped jaws in The Swamp 21-7 in another drab game. Oh, and somewhere in there, Florida also beat Furman.
NFL-wise, Jaye Howard and Chris Rainey were the only two Gators picked in the 2012 Draft, and Jeff Demps ran for the US Olympic 4 x 100m relay team, where he received a medal after running a leg of the preliminary heats. Demps subsequently signed a contract with the New England Patriots.
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AT QUARTERBACK?
The Florida Gators quarterback scenario is one of the more entertaining of the season. Will Muschamp can’t seem make up his mind as to who will start for his team – both Brissett and Driskel are still duking it out for the starting spot. Both will play the opening game against Bowling Green. Both Brissett (206 yds, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) and Driskel (148 yards, 2 INTs) were uninspiring last year, and in the Spring Game equally so.
AND THE RUNNING AND RECEIVING GAME?
No doubt about it: Losing Rainey and Demps are going to be massive losses. Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton, Hunter Joyer will be required to pick up the pieces. One thing’s for certain: The unit certainly won’t be as quick!
On the receiving wise, Andre DuBose provided us with one of the highlights (and crowd noises) of the season when he caught the opening play of the Alabama contest and took it to the house, and he, Frankie Hammond and Quinton Dunbar will be relied on to provide big yards – although Jordan Reed’s an excellent tight end.
THE LINE, THE LINE, THE LINE
The Florida Gators have an excellent line, with their five projected starters owning nearly 70 starts between them – talk about experienced. Jon Halipo Jr and James Wilson Sr. are both giants at their respective guard positions. That (hopefully) should keep the QB game for getting any more injuries and befalling the same fate as it did in ’10!
AND HOW ABOUT THE ‘D’?
If there is one thing EVERYONE is raving about, it’s the Florida Gators defense, which could be one of the best not only in the SEC, but in all of college football. While LSU has lost its best defensive player through his own stupidity and Alabama has lost most of their best defense in years due to that nasty thing called the NFL Draft, the Gators bring back practically EVERYBODY. That automatically makes them a contender.
While Ronald Powell, who plays in Muschamp’s hybrid linebacker/ defensive end position is still recovering from his ACL injury, watch out for freshman Dante Fowler to turn some heads at that position – as he has been in training. And speaking of linebackers, the Gators are absolutely loaded at the actual position, which is going to be headed up by Jon Bostic (94 tackles ) and Jelani Jenkins (75 tackles) – both of whom have NFL talent. Shariff Floyd returns to defensive tackle alongside the excellent Dominique Easley.
In the secondary, strong safety Matt Elam, who was second on the team in tackles (and top in tackles for loss) will be someone to watch this year, although CB Jeremy Brown was injured yet again in August (though Muschamp is hoping for a return by opening day). The good things for Florida is that everyone coming back started is experienced – which will be needed in a conference that relies on that.
September 1 BOWLING GREEN
September 8 at Texas A&M
September 15 at Tennessee
September 22 KENTUCKY
October 6 LSU
October 13 at Vanderbilt
October 20 SOUTH CAROLINA
October 27 GEORGIA (Cocktail Party at Jacksonville)
November 3 MISSOURI
November 10 LOUISIANA
November 17 JACKSONVILLE STATE
November 24 at Florida State
The Gators are going to definitely benefit from the fact that two of their biggest games of the year – LSU and South Carolina are going to be played in the home comforts of The Swamp, while the Cocktail Party they are at ‘home’ too in Jacksonville. We expect the Gators to finish the year 10-3 with losses coming from Georgia, LSU and at Florida State.
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