For long-time Florida fans, last season was trip down memory lane. In this case it was more like a nightmare, when the Gators were irrelevant in the late 1970’s with losing teams. If the Florida faithful were distraught over the Ron Zook years; last season’s 4-8 record shook Gators fans to the core. What are the chances of a quick turnaround in Gainesville for the Florida to beat the betting odds, let’s take a gander.
Florida Better Win Quickly and Impressively Early
Head coach Will Muschamp has not been sitting much since November, because if he does, the “hot seat” is scalding. Muschamp escaped being fired but had to make wholesale changes in his offensive coaching staff to stay employed in north Florida.
Muschamp’s squad was devastated by injuries, particularly on offense, thus many returning faces will get a fresh start with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who is coming over from Duke (this was where Steve Spurrier was before coming to Florida), and new offensive line coach Tim Davis.
Besides the obvious pressure on Muschamp, there is a great deal of pressure on Roper, because if Florida were to be say be a .500 team this season, chances are Muschamp is gone and so would be Roper, thus he has to find quick answers.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel will be back from injury after playing in just three games a year ago. Now a senior, Driskel was the No. 1 drop-back quarterback coming out of high school, but has never truly impressed.
College football handicappers and those making sports picks have noted Driskel has performed his best when his team ran the ball effectively to keep the offense balanced. When Florida lost their starting quarterback, opposing teams did not fear the Gators to throw the ball because nobody could do so consistently and the receivers shockingly could not create separation, which spoke volumes about Muschamp’s recruiting efforts. The Gators ended up next to last in the SEC in rushing.
Watch reports of spring practice closely, since my hunch is Roper will set up a two-quarterback system similar to what he had at Duke. Driskell will be the starter in the traditional offense and incoming freshman Will Grier could earn the backup role and be prepared like the Duke quarterback’s were as a passer and a runner, not just for special packages.
In any case, Florida will have to start fast and if that means running up the score to look more impressive, so be for Muschamp.
O-Line and Pass Catchers Need Major Improvement
Coach Davis has to alter the mind-set of the offensive line and have his guys up front think road-graters. Muschamp likes physical football and needs a running game that is Top 20 nationally for a swift about face in 2014. Florida can beat the college football odds if this group comes together and few talented freshmen should add depth if not earn starts this upcoming year.
If you can point to Muschamp’s greatest failure as a head coach, it has been recruiting on offense, with the lack of speedy wide receivers last season, in a state overflowing with this kind of talent. Maybe it was his running style that kept these types of players away, thus you can be certain there will be more down the field passing, especially with all the empty seats last year at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The recruits while not dynamic have speed and a larger upside with hard work.
The Defense Will Be Improved
The Gators defense was placed in an impossible situation last season with no offense and surrendered 29.1 points a game in Florida’s last six contests all losses.
What Muschamp and his defensive coaches will harp on is late in those losses; was the defenders on the field did not play hard in the fourth quarter of games when victory seemed out of reach.
The competition will be much fiercer this spring and for fall practice and the coaches will demand 60 minutes of effort, no matter the score and playing time will be handed out accordingly.
Florida might have finished second in total defense in the SEC, expect this group to be mentally and physically tougher this season.
The Gators need to chomp through Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky decisively before heading to Alabama on Sep. 20, where a loss is expected.
The key to an eight or nine win campaign for Florida is taking care of business at home in the SEC. That means wins over LSU, Missouri and South Carolina.
Nobody making college football picks, at least at this time, will be thinking the Gators are a play at Florida State in the season finale. However, winning the conference home encounters and possibly splitting at Tennessee and the annual confrontation with Georgia sets up a possible 9-3 season and quells all the unrest.
According to Rivals.com, Florida brought in the No. 8 recruiting class, with a total of 13 five or four star recruits among the 24 that are coming in.
Way Too Early Conclusion
My best guess is sportsbooks will post an 8-win season on Florida and if they perform to talent on hand, they should reach that level, with nine wins a possibility.
With the coaching changes and what happened last year, I believe an 8-4 season is accurate, finishing third in the SEC East.