By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 2:05 PM EDT
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SEC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Will Muschamp, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Pease | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dan Quinn
Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are expected to battle for the starting quarterback job right up until the opener — and even beyond. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the two sophomores. Both can move around in the pocket, and both have strong arms. Brissett is a little better at making adjustments when the first receiver isn’t open. Driskel, on the other hand, appears to be a better runner.
The two quarterbacks will try to master the offense brought from Boise State by new coordinator Brent Pease, who believes in multiple formations and motion to try to expose the weaknesses in opposing defenses.
But in the end, Florida’s success on offense will come down to the Gators’ ability to run the ball — something they failed to do with consistency last season. But with powerful tailback Mike Gillislee running behind an experienced offensive line, coach Will Muschamp is confident his team will show marked improvement in this area during his second season in the Swamp.
“We’re more physical, and Mike gives us a bigger back,” he says. “We’ll be a lot different from last year.”
Florida will have to get more production from its wide receivers as well. Maybe this is the year Andre Debose lives up to the hype that followed him to Gainesville. True freshman Latroy Pittman shined in the spring, but will it translate? There is a deep group of talented players, but none has shown the ability to be a go-to guy.
Losing Ronald Powell, who plays the Buck position, is a significant blow to the defense, but Florida’s defensive line should still be very strong. Powell suffered a torn ACL in the Spring Game in early April but could be back on the field by late October. The rest of the line is powerful, with Sharrif Floyd at one tackle, Omar Hunter at the nose and Dominique Easley at end.
Florida’s linebackers, led by Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, could be poised for a breakout season. Watch out for true freshman Antonio Morrison, who enrolled early and was the defensive star of the spring game.
If the pieces fall into place and everyone remains healthy, the Florida secondary could be one of the SEC’s best. Marcus Roberson was as good a freshman cornerback as there was in the country last year before going down with a season-ending neck injury against South Carolina. Loucheiz Purifoy, who saw action in all 13 games as a reserve corner and special teamer, has made the necessary strides to move into the starting lineup. Matt Elam has settled in as a reliable playmaker at strong safety, while Josh Evans and De’Ante Saunders both have experience at free safety.
Florida’s two best offensive plays last year were the kickoff return and the field goal. With Debose, an elite return man, and placekicker Caleb Sturgis back, they will likely be strengths again. Punter Kyle Christy needs to be more consistent.
At schools like Florida, baby steps draw winces. In the microwave world of college football, the slow cooker is unacceptable. But Muschamp knows that transforming the Florida football team from what it was to what it needs to be isn’t going to happen overnight. “It’s coming,” he says. “We’re getting there. I like the guys we have. I like the team we have a lot better than the one we had last year. We’re getting better.”
Just getting better, however, won’t be good enough to get these Gators to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game.