Why The Swamp Will Be Rocking This Year
The Defense is a Year Older and a Year Better
You may not have realized it, but the 2011 defense was very good. In fact, Florida had the No. 8 ranked defense in the country last season. Unfortunately, the major failures on offense overshadowed stellar defensive play.
SEC teams better not sleep on Florida's defense this year, which could reach the top five in rankings when it’s all said and done.
The defense returns almost all of last year’s starters, including defensive studs Jon Bostic, Sharrif Floyd, Jelani Jenkins and Matt Elam. All of them will play major roles during the 2012-13 campaign.
New to the defense are top-ranked recruits Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr. Head coach Will Muschamp has said that they both have looked good in fall practice, and both will likely see some playing time once the season starts.
The one questionable part of the Florida defense is the secondary. Right now, the cornerback corps looks to be made up of Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins, Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy.
Riggs and Watkins are beginning their third season at Florida. Neither registered an interception in 13 games last year.
Roberson made an impression last season, starting ten games as a freshman and recording one interception before suffering a season-ending injury against South Carolina. He is still young, but he might be the most promising corner the Gators have on the roster (until Vernon Hargreaves III enrolls next year).
Purifoy played in every game last season, but you might not have noticed him because he spent most of his time on special teams. While on special teams, he recorded 22 tackles, and he forced a fumble in UF’s Gator Bowl win over Ohio State.
An Improved Offensive Line
The big guys up front are the root of success on offense. Last year, the Gators’ offensive line was not good, to say the least, which resulted in a subpar year from the offense as an entire unit.
The 2012 squad returns several big men from last year’s team, including Xavier Nixon, Jon Halapio, Jonothan Harrison, Matt Patchan and Chaz Green.
Harrison, who started all but one game under center last season, will likely be the starting center in 2012. While not quite Pouncey-esque, Harrison had some errant snaps last season, which he will need to work on if he wants to be a succeed at the position.
New to the O-Line are highly touted recruits Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries.
Dunker was a four-star recruit out of South Florida. Humphries was the gem of the 2012 class, a five-star prospect from North Carolina.
Humphries is currently out for two to three weeks with an MCL injury.
Mike Gillislee Can Run Inside and Out
It’s time to rejoice, Gators fans, because Gilly has finally been freed.
Gillislee was relegated to the No. 3 back last season, behind departed backs' Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.
The team of Demps and Rainey carried the ball 269 times for 1,430 yards. Gillislee will be expected to pick up most of that weight this season. He averaged 5.9 yards per rush on 56 carries last season. If scaled out to match the number of carries Demps and Rainey received last season, it equals nearly 1,600 yards.
Gillislee is a different type of runner than Demps and Rainey. Demps and Rainey were small and speedy, looking for open space where they could use their blazing speed. Gillislee can effectively run between the tackles, making his own space.
Unlike the two speedsters, Gillislee is able to hit defenders and also make them miss. While Gillislee isn’t Trent Richardson, who demonstrated a remarkable ability to drag defenders for yards at a time, he will be able to dish out some punishment of his own.
Gillislee said during the offseason that his goal was 1,500 yards. If he stays healthy, that goal shouldn’t be out of reach.
Brissett and Driskel Are Young and Improving
There are less than two weeks until Florida takes the field against Bowling Green, and the coaching staff still has not named a starting quarterback. Muschamp recently stated that the position battle is likely to come down to the wire, with a starter being announced the week of the opening game.
No matter who is named starting QB, the Gators will start someone who has a lot of potential.
Driskel and Brissett came to Florida as the No. 1 and No. 3 quarterbacks in their class, respectively.
Although neither was spectacular in limited time last season, they are a year older now and both of them know that one will be taking the majority of the snaps in 2012.
Driskel suffered a minor injury to his non-throwing shoulder in practice last week, but he quickly returned to practice, and the injury shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the quarterback battle.
Brissett saw more time than Driskel last season and started two games. That might have been enough to swing the battle in his favor, but Brissett wasn’t exactly eye opening in his time on the field. He completed just 18 of his 39 passing attempts last season, good for a completion percentage of 46.2 percent. He also threw four interceptions compared to 2 touchdowns.
Driskel wasn’t much better, completing 47.1 percent (16-of-34) of his passes. He tossed two picks, while failing to throw for any touchdowns.
Despite a subpar showing last year, both QB's were true freshman in 2011 and were thrown into very difficult situations.
Driskel’s first real playing time came after John Brantley was injured in the Alabama game. Alabama had the No. 1 defense in the country, which featured bruisers like Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Dont’a Hightower, enough to scare even the most experienced quarterbacks.
Brissett was then thrown into the starting lineup against LSU in Baton Rouge, against the No. 2 defense in the country. How about that for a first start?
In short, try not to hold 2011 against these young quarterbacks. They now have a year of SEC play under their belts, and should be ready come September 1.
No Alabama On The Schedule
Last year’s schedule was a lesson in humility.
The Gators began the season riding high, beating FAU, UAB, Tennessee and Kentucky in convincing fashion. They ended the first month of the season 4-0 and ranked No. 12.
Then came Alabama.
Alabama broke Florida. The Gators came in looking good and left battered and beaten. There was one joyous moment early in the game when it looked like Florida was up 14-3 on ‘Bama, but a referee’s decision called back the touchdown. The game and the season went downhill from there.
After Alabama, came a blowout loss to LSU. Then a low-scoring loss to Auburn. Then came a heartbreaking loss to Georgia, and all of a sudden, the Gators had lost four straight and were completely out of the SEC picture.
This year, the schedule is a little easier. The Gators have three games against Bowling Green, Louisiana and Jacksonville State, which should be easy victories (four if you count Kentucky, and let’s face it, Kentucky counts as an easy win every year).
Following the almost certain "W's" are the likes of Texas A&M, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Missouri. The Gators have the talent to win all four of these games, but for the sake of being realistic, we will shoot for three out of four.
If the Gators win seven of those eight, they will have equaled last season’s win total. If they win all eight, they’ve already improved.
Next come the tough games: LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State. All four are in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll. Despite these team's lofty preseason rankings, none of these four games are un-winnable.
LSU will be the toughest game of the four, but if Florida comes in with momentum, they might be able to squeeze out a victory. This year's game is in The Swamp, which will provide a boost to the team and a nice home field advantage.
The Gators only lost by a combined nine points to South Carolina and Georgia last season, so with an improved offense and a better defense, a win against either of them isn’t out of the question.
And finally comes Florida State, a win many Gators fans want more than any. Florida’s been outscored 52-7 by their in-state rivals the last two seasons. The Gator defense was able to hold FSU to under 100 yards last season, but even that wasn’t enough to pull out the "W."
With an all around improved team, a full year under Muschamp's direction, and an easier schedule than the one Florida faced in 2011, the Gators have the chance to turn some heads this upcoming college football season.