The case for
The Gators have nine starters back from a team that put together the strongest regular-season résumé in the nation in 2012. Coach Will Muschamp and his staff have enough talent to fill the holes in the defense left by the early departures of tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam. Floyd, for example, will be replaced by senior Dominique Easley, who moves inside from defensive end. That will allow 6'2", 263-pound sophomore Dante Fowler Jr.—who could be the Gators' best player by season's end—to assume a bigger role on the outside. Florida's offensive line will be bolstered by the availability of transfers Tyler Moore (Nebraska) at right tackle and Max Garcia (Maryland) at left guard. The run-first attack will rely on a stable of young backs led by sophomore Matt Jones, who gained 5.3 yards a carry in limited action last season.
The case against
For all the Gators' accomplishments in 2012, they got clobbered by Louisville 33--23 in the Sugar Bowl and almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette at home. Their passing game was at times nonexistent, and unless some of the freshman wideouts distinguish themselves quickly, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel won't have many downfield targets.
How did you jump from seven wins in 2011 to 11 wins in 2012?
Two of the major things we emphasized going into last season were turnovers and the fourth quarter. We were minus-12 [on turnovers] in 2011. We ended up being plus-15 in 2012. That's a huge difference. We were outscored in 2011 by 50 points in the fourth quarter, 72--22 [in SEC play]. In 2012 we outscored our opponents by 41 points, 61--20. So you're talking about a 91-point difference. I see you adding it up there. So those two critical factors put you in a BCS game.
How much can the offense improve in coordinator Brent Pease's second season at Florida?
It's the first time since 2010 that we've had the same offensive coordinator, so we expect to make tremendous strides. As a defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas and in my second year at Florida, we made huge strides our second year on defense. I expect that this year offensively. We have quarterback Jeff Driskel back. We're better up-front. And I feel very comfortable with where we are at running back.
Player to Watch
While 6'1" junior Loucheiz Purifoy is a potential first-round pick at cornerback, he spent much of the spring working on offense. If Florida's young receivers don't develop quickly, Purifoy will be increasingly pressed into double duty, Champ Bailey--style.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Jeff Driskel
Pass: 2,131 yards, 18 TDs
Run: 565 yards, 7 TDs
RB Matt Jones
Run: 1,020 yards, 11 TDs
Rec.: 110 yards, 0 TDs
RB Trey Burton
Run: 190 yards, 4 TDs
Rec.: 222 yards, 2 TDs
As the SEC continues to adjust to realignment, a second consecutive bridge schedule spares the Gators from a date with Texas A&M. Florida does go to Baton Rouge on Oct. 12, but LSU has to replace 11 early departures to the NFL. The SEC East title could be decided as early as Nov. 16, when Florida travels to face Steve Spurrier's best South Carolina team.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
DOUG FINGER/GAINESVILLE SUN/LANDOV (EASLEY)
BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MUSCHAMP)