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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Florida Gators

2012 Record: 11-2 (7-1 in SEC)

Head Coach: Will Muschamp (18-8 at Florida, 10-6 in SEC)

Last Bowl Game: 2013 Sugar Bowl: lost to Louisville 33-23

Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL (capacity = 88,548)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 2nd out of 69 BCS teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Neutral Site Game: 11/2 vs Georgia 

Toughest Home Game: 11/30 vs FSU

Toughest Road Games: 9/7 at Miami (FL), 10/12 at LSU, 11/16 at South Carolina


Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stats to Fear: converted on 36.31% of third downs (10th in SEC), had 72 pass plays of 10 yards or more (last in SEC)

Stats to Cheer: lost on 15 turnovers in 2012 (1st in SEC), held opponents to 46.15% TD rate in red zone (3rd in SEC)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 5th out of 124 teams



Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Special Teams: 1

Key Defensive Returnees: DE/OLB Ronald Powell (6 sacks, 32 tackles in 2011), DT Dominique Easley (4 sacks), CB Loucheiz Purifoy (51 tackles), S Jaylen Watkins (39 tackles), LB Antonio Morrison (33 tackles), CB Marcus Roberson (23 tackles)

Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel (1646 yds pass, 63.7% completions, 12 TD, 5 INT, 408 yds rush), WR Quinton Dunbar (36 rec, 4 TD), ATH Trey Burton (18 rec, 190 yds rush), RB Matt Jones (275 yds rush, 5.29 ypc)

In his second season, Will Muschamp improved Florida from 7-6 to 11-2. That's impressive and the cupboard is definitely full at Florida as some say they are the most talented team in the SEC. Still, the Gators won four of their eleven games by single digits and left a bad taste in everyone's mouth with an under whelming performance against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Does Muschamp have the Gators ready to climb back on top of the SEC East?
As a sophomore, QB Jeff Driskel struggled with the offense as the Gators finished 12th in the conference in total offense. Florida finished dead last in 2012 in passing plays of over 10 yards or more and struggled to find play-makers. Driskel also took 36 sacks which is never good when the object is to advance the football down the field. Will this be the year that the light bulb goes off for Driskel? In 2012, the Gators did a good job running the football as they were second in the conference in rushing plays of 10 yards or more and averaged 4.53 ypc. The bad news is that leading rusher Mike Gillislee is gone. Florida has some talent in the backfield with Matt Jones and Mack Brown but the punch they need might come from true freshman Kelvin Taylor (Florida fans should remember that last name). Over the last three years, Florida has been void of play-makers at the WR position and they continue to wait for someone to step up and grab that role. The last Florida WR to catch more than 4 TDs in a season was Riley Cooper in 2009 when he had 9. Florida loses TE Jordan Reed but there is talent behind him with ATH Trey Burton and Kent Taylor. Florida has got to do a better job getting the ball down the field this year if they want to open up the field for their young runners. The OL loses two starters but still will be in the top half of OLs in the SEC. Expect Florida to continue to be able to run the football but if they want to get to the SEC Championship game they have to develop a competent downfield passing game.
While the offense struggled last year, the defense was excellent. Overall, the defense gave up just 14.5 ppg and 286.7 ypg. They led the league in third down conversions, were excellent in the red zone and did a good job of limiting big plays. The defense was the reason that Florida went 11-2 last year. Can they continue to carry Florida if the offense doesn't get better? The DL must replace Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter so there will be some hog mollies to replace up front. The Gators do have some talented rushers on the line in Dante Fowler Jr, Dominique Easley and Jonathan Bullard but will need someone to step up in the middle of the defense. The LB corps must replace their best player, Jon Bostic, and also Jelani Jenkins (who only played in 9 games). Antonio Morrison is the key to this unit. He's had an interesting off-season and as of now he's suspended for the first two games but he looks like the type of player who can be a difference maker. Ronald Powell is another player to keep an eye on as he attempts to comeback from missing 2012 with an injury. Florida loses their top two secondary players but return some top talent in Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson. Overall, Florida has some big losses on defense but has the talent to fill the gaps. The areas of concern are MLB, S and NT. 
Breaking Florida's schedule down into thirds, the Gators have one big game in each of the first three parts of the schedule and two in the final three games so the schedule is spaced out nicely. Sept 7th at Miami looms large as this rivalry hasn't been played much lately (last game was in 2008) and Miami looks to be on the rebound this season. The next big game is on the road against LSU on Oct 12th. Then it's a Nov 2nd date with Georgia in Jacksonville and that rivalry has turned on Florida during Muschamp's watch. The last third of the schedule has Florida traveling to South Carolina on Nov 16th and then facing FSU at home on Nov 30th. Overall, that's three tough road games for Florida, one neutral site rivalry game and one tough home game. Vegas has Florida's over/under set at 9.5 and that feels about right. The key for this Gators team is improvement on offense. Fix that side of the football and they will prove a lot of naysayers wrong this season.
Prediction: 9-3

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