2012 was an odd year for the Florida Gators. Despite having one of the worst offenses in the nation, the Gators were able to beat the Texas A&M Aggies, who would later beat the Alabama Crimson Tide, who won the national championship. 2012 was also the year when UF beat the South Carolina Gamecocks by 33 points, while only producing 183 total yards of offense. It was as though the Gators were destined to make a run at the BCS Championship.
After 11 wins and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, 2013 looked promising until quarterback Jeff Driskel was sidelined before camp even started with an appendectomy, while running back Matt Jones was held back with a nasty viral infection. At the end of the 2013 season, 23 players had missed games with injuries. While the Gators were in a constant battle against players missing time, there’s simply no excuse for losing to the Georgia Southern Eagles.
The SEC East is up in the air, and Florida is no different. What expectations should be set upon this team? For starters, losing eight games is unacceptable. Head coach Will Muschamp won’t even make it out of Doak Campbell Stadium with a job in the final game of 2014 if his squad only musters up four or five wins.
Is six wins acceptable? For fans reminiscing on the days of Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier the answer is an obvious no, but realistically, what is in store for this season?
Kurt Roper is now in charge of the offense, and seems to have had an immediate impact with the players. The offensive unit sounds very excited and very confident about his approach. Roper has proven to be a quarterback wiz in his career; he will work with the former No. 1 QB prospect in the nation, Jeff Driskel. Decision-making has been a big issue with Driskel, but the thought process in Gainesville is Roper will be the perfect man to improve that portion of Driskel’s game.
With a pool of healthy players including Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor, Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Demarcus Robinson, Roper certainly has enough athletes that will fit right into his uptempo spread system, and barring another ridiculous slew of injuries, the offense should be much better; at least good enough to be in the top half of the conference. Roper’s presence will immediately have an impact in Week 1.
There has been a completely different story told on defense during Muschamp’s tenure. While the offense has been one of the worst units in the nation the last three seasons, the Gators have ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, while ranking fifth among power conferences in yards per play allowed.
Opposing offenses had a hard time scoring on the Gators’ defense in 2103. Last season, the defense only gave up 21 points a game, but it wasn’t all roses. The Vanderbilt Commodores, Missouri Tigers and Florida State Seminoles all put up over 30 points in victories over Florida. No offensive firepower will make any defense’s job much harder, but that will change this season.
Road games against FSU and Alabama will be challenging, but the Gators do have a bye week following the game against Bama. In a perfect world they can leave everything on the field and maybe pull off an upset, then take a week to rest before a tough road game against the Tennessee Volunteers. They do draw the LSU Tigers, Missouri, and South Carolina at home, and while hopes are high for Georgia, the Roper-led offense can propel UF to a victory in Jacksonville, FL.
Muschamp proved he can turn a team with no offense into a national contender, so what can he do with a team that has an innovative offensive mind in Roper, healthy players, and a suffocating defense? 8-9 wins seems likely, but that would involve little room for error. They can’t finish near the bottom of the conference in turnover margin like last season.