2013 Record: 4-8 (3-5 in SEC)
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (22-16 in three years at Florida)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Sugar Bowl: lost to Louisville 33-23
Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fl (capacity = 88.548)
2013 Home Record: 3-3
Spring Football Highlights:
8/30 vs Idaho
9/6 vs Eastern Michigan
9/13 vs Kentucky (2013 result: won 24-7)
9/20 at Alabama
10/4 at Tennessee (2013 result: won 31-17)
10/11 vs LSU (2013 result: lost 17-6)
10/18 vs Missouri (2013 result: lost 36-17)
11/1 vs Georgia (2013 result: lost 23-20)
11/8 at Vanderbilt (2013 result: lost 34-17)
11/15 vs South Carolina (2013 result: lost 19-14)
11/22 vs Eastern Kentucky
11/29 at Florida State (2013 result: lost 37-7)
Stats to Fear: last in SEC in total offense (316 ypg), last in SEC in red zone trips converted to TD (44.19%), only SEC team to have less than ten plays of 40 or more yards on the season, tied for 12th in SEC with 19 sacks
Stats to Cheer: held opponents to 34% conversion rate on third down (2nd in SEC), finished 2nd in SEC in total defense (314 ypg)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 2
Key Losses: DE Dominique Easley, LB Ronald Powell, CB Marcus Roberson, S Cody Riggs, S Jaylen Watkins, WR Soloman Patton, WR/TE Trey Burton, C Jonotthan Harrison, C Jon Halapio,
Key Defensive Returnees: DE Jonathan Bullard (33 total tackles), LB Dante Fowler (50 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL), LB Antonio Morrison (56 total tackles), CB Vernon Hargreaves (38 total tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel (68.9% completions, 2 TD, 3 INT), RB Kelvin Taylor (508 yds rush, 4.58 ypc, 4 TD), RB Mack Brown (543 yds rush, 3.67 ypc, 4 TD), WR Quinton Dunbar (39 rec), OT DJ Humphries
Just about everything that could go wrong for the Gators in 2013 did go wrong. After starting 4-1, the Gators lost their last seven games and finished 4-8, which was their worst record since 1979. Will Muschamp is in his fourth season and I think the only thing we can expect from his Gators is that we don’t know what to expect.
On offense, the Gators will be led by Jeff Driskel. Driskel is a former five-star recruit who has battled injuries during his tenure and has been unable to find his footing. Driskel appears to be healthy heading into 2014 and he will be coached by his third offensive coordinator in four years. Kurt Roper has come over from Duke and the only direction this offense can go is up.
At RB, the Gators have a solid group with Mack Brown, Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. Now a sophomore, Taylor will be the player to watch in this group.
The offensive line returns 66 career starts but they will be a question-mark heading into the season with the loss of some key personnel.
Many point to Florida’s receiving corps as the missing link in the last few years as they just haven’t found that go-to guy. This year they lose two of their best receivers, Soloman Patton and Trey Burton as Quinton Dunbar is the only returning player who had more than 20 receptions last season.
The Florida offense is the wildcard with question-marks at quarterback, along the offensive line and at receiver. Can Roper turn this team around and get them playing good offensive football. With the defense Florida has, they don’t have to be great offensively.
The defense was decimated by injuries last season but still ranked among the best in the SEC. The Gators front seven will be among the best in the conference with Fowler, Bullard and Morrison anchoring that group.
The defensive backfield saw a lot of defections this off-season and some young players will need to step up as the Gators project three under-classmen among the starting four.
I think it’s fair to say that the Gators defense will keep them in football games this year. The big question is if Driskel and the offense can be good enough to win them.
Florida’s schedule will give them time to ease into the swing of things and could ultimately help them answer that question. Much like last season, expect the Gators to start off 4-1. They have Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky right out of the gate. Then they travel to Bama and Tennessee. After that is where it gets interesting. They have a five game swing that includes LSU, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina.
If I had to pick out a critical game of the season it would be the Mizzou game. Win that game and the Gators should be at least 5-2 heading into it’s rivalry game with Georgia. Lose that game and they are 4-3 heading into Georgia and the heat is on Muschamp as he looks for his first victory against the Bulldogs.
Florida will be a much improved team this season, but how improved? If Driskel prospers in the new system, Taylor emerges as a legitimate #1 running back and they find a go-to receiver then this is a double-digit win team. More than likely, we are looking at a team that will win from seven to nine regular season games and have a good season but will that be enough of an improvement from a Florida fanbase that has gotten used to contending for National Championships?
Note: final predictions for all SEC teams will be made in August in my conference preview.