The Florida Gators suffered through a miserable 4-8 season in 2013, the worst season for the school in more than 30 years. However, head coach Will Muschamp has made some changes this offseason, and he hopes that those will pay off in 2014.
Injuries played a key role in the Gators’ demise last year. Key players missed significant time, and things went downhill from there.
Muschamp is on the hot seat in Gainesville, and this season will be pivotal for him and the program. If Florida is to return to a championship level, many areas of the team must get better.
One of the most important injuries last season was to starting quarterback Jeff Driskel. The redshirt junior hopes to turn things around this season under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who has installed a more up-tempo style scheme. Driskel had a strong spring, and the Gators are hopeful that his play will carry over into the regular season. If Driskel goes down again, or does not get the job done, sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Will Grier might get a look.
The Gators have several strong options at running back. Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown and Matt Jones all return this season, and that trio could be formidable in the SEC. Taylor had 508 yards rushing last season, Brown led the team with 543 and Jones had 339. Freshman Adam Lane could also see action this season, especially after leading the team in rushing during the spring game.
The receivers will also see more action in Roper’s offense, so Florida is hoping a few players can step up to catch passes from Driskel. Quinton Dunbar returns this season, after catching 40 passes for 548 yards last year. The return of Andre Debose could also be big for Florida. The Gators would love to see better production from Latroy Pittman, who came in as a highly-rated recruit. Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood are also in the mix. Tight end Tevin Westbrook could also see his production improve.
Center Max Garcia will be a key member of the offensive line, as will Trenton Brown.
Muschamp was a defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach, and he has put his stamp on the Gators since his arrival in Gainesville. This season should be no different.
Defensive lineman/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. has added muscle in the offseason and should be more productive in 2014. Jon Bullard has moved from end to tackle in a move that Muschamp is counting on.
At linebacker, Michael Taylor returns after leading the team in tackles last season. Antonio Morrison was another of the players injured last season, but he was still second on the team in tackles. Florida hopes he returns to form this season. Jarrad Davis and Neiron Ball will also be key cogs at linebacker.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III may be the Gators’ best defensive player, and he will be key in pass defense. Jabari Gorman was solid last season and should be improved. Freshman Marcell Harris led the team with nine tackles in the spring game, and he will be in the mix at safety. Brian Poole will also be a key contributor.
The Gators open the season with three straight home games. Florida hosts Idaho in the opener, followed by a game against Eastern Michigan. The SEC opener against the Kentucky Wildcats comes in week three.
Things don’t get any easier for Florida the following week. Despite returning to the Swamp, Florida must host the LSU Tigers, followed by another home game, this one against the defending SEC East champions, the Missouri Tigers.
The schedule is really tough, especially for a coach hoping to keep his job. If Florida has not improved, this could be Muschamp’s last season at the helm of the program. But if the Gators can show significant progress, they might be able to save his job.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.