The Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Countdown enters the top ten with the consensus No. 10, the Florida Gators. Florida was also ranked tenth by The Associated Press and USA Today Coaches preseason polls, the team’s highest ranking since Will Muschamp became head coach.
Florida went 11-2 in 2012, with three wins over top 10 teams. The record looked good, but the on-field product usually wasn’t pretty. The defense was stellar, finishing fifth in the nation and leading the SEC with 20 interceptions, but the passing offense made Gator fans cringe.
The offense loses 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee, while the defense looks reloaded after losing seven starters. While Florida relied on the ground game and field goal unit often last season, the Gators will need more from the passing game to maintain a top ten ranking from wire to wire.
Key Player — Matt Jones, sophomore running back
Florida’s offense wouldn’t have gotten anywhere last season without a decent run game, but the Gators may enter the 2013 season without one. Jones was supposed to lead the rushing attack this season, but he is doubtful for the season opener after a bout with a serious viral infection.
The Gators can live without him early in the season, but they’ll need him to back and in midseason form to survive the tough back half of the schedule. How quickly Jones returns, and how conditioned he is when he makes it back on the field, will be key to the Florida offense this season.
Muschamp said Jones is progressing well, but without him, quarterback Jeff Driskel is the team’s top running threat. Jones reportedly lost ten pounds from the illness and will almost certainly lack some of the strength and speed he would have had if he’d fully participated in fall camp. The Gators need his power back in the offense sooner rather than later.
Florida had a surprisingly successful season in 2012 for a team that was 103rd in total offense. Quarterback Driskel gained 716 yards on 82 carries; if he improves as a passer, he could be a real dual threat. The junior needs to reset his internal clock and make better reads to cut down on sacks; he was dropped 36 times in 2012.
He could use some help from his receivers, too. Leading returner Quinton Dunbar had just 383 yards in 2012, and redshirt senior Andre Dubose is out for the year with a torn ACL. Freshman Demarcus Robinson has been impressive this fall and could become an early star.
Driskel can make plays on his own, but look for the other backs to handle more carries this season. None of the backup quarterbacks have any college experience, so the team will need to limit quarterback runs to keep Driskel healthy.
The offensive line also has a big role in keeping the QB on his feet. The line loses two starters but five experienced players return, while transfers Tyler Moore (Nebraska) and Max Garcia (Maryland) add quickness and athleticism to the unit.
If there was a weakness on last year’s defense, it was the pass rush. Linebacker/end Ronald Powell, who led the team in sacks in 2011, returns after missing last season with a knee injury and will be a welcome addition.
The line had just 30 sacks last year, led by tackle Dominique Easley (4). The line is stacked with talented returners but the bigger impact may come from new D-line coach Brad Lawing, who last coached Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina.
The Gators lose a slew of talented defensive backs and may need to rely on young players, but the star of the defensive backfield will be cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy. He’s a big, fast player who will also be a factor on special teams and could even moonlight on offense to help out the receivers.
Florida faces four teams that are ranked this preseason: No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 South Carolina, No. 11 Florida State and No. 12 LSU. The winner of the Nov. 2 Florida-Georgia game controls its way into the SEC title game, and on Nov. 16, South Carolina will play for revenge, and possibly the SEC East, after losing 44-11 in Gainesville last year.