The Florida Gators finished the 2011 campaign 7-6 and won their fourth consecutive bowl game.
Although this is not how many Gator fans thought the season would go, beating Ohio State in the Gator Bowl offered a nice consolation prize for a disappointing season.
This Gator team was young and inexperienced and will take the bumps from this season and be better for having gone through such a trying year. 2012 will be an exciting year for the Gators as they will return 10 of 11 starters on defense and look to get back to Atlanta for another run at an SEC championship.
Let's take a look five reasons to be excited about this Gator team in 2012.
The Gators defense finished the season with the ninth ranked defense in the country and will likely return 10 of 11 starters. Jaye Howard was the only senior starter on defense and while Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic will both be draft eligible it would be a shock if either of them did not return next season.
The young unit has gained an invaluable amount of experience this season and will look to become an elite, game changing defense in 2012.
With redshirt senior John Brantley pegged as the starter, neither Jeff Driskel nor Jacoby Brissett was expected to see much playing time. When Brantley went down against Alabama the freshmen quarterbacks were thrown into a gauntlet of Alabama, LSU and Auburn.
While Driskel was also hampered with an injury, Brissett was a serviceable backup and was able to get his feet wet while playing against the best defenses in the nation.
With no front-runner for the starting job, a quarterback competition is bound to ensue and will likely last all the way until fall practice. If practices remained closed to the media and public this may be difficult to follow, but the competition should bring an extra sense of urgency to practice.
The Gators currently have the fourth ranked recruiting class according to Rivals. More importantly Will Muschamp has had an entire year to recruit the type of players needed to run the offensive and defensive schemes the Gators want to run. With an entire year this recruiting class will begin to shed light as to what direction the program will go under Muschamp.
With plenty of highly rated prospects still undeclared, the Gators could wind up even higher than their current ranking. Expect the Gators to finish strong in recruiting and reload for 2012.
Florida’s offensive line was riddled with injuries and as porous as a sponge this season allowing 23 sacks. Currently the Gators have signed 5-star OT D.J Humphries and OG Jessamen Dunker. Humphries is the top rated tackle in the class and will compete with Xavier Nixon at LT or play RT. While Dunker played tackle in high school he has said that he will play guard at Florida and could also compete for a starting job right away. Even if the two freshmen don’t start immediately they will give depth to a depleted unit.
After finishing the regular season, Gator fans were questioning whether Will Muschamp would be up to the task of bringing the Gators back into the national spotlight. After a win in the Gator bowl and avoiding Florida’s first losing season since 1979, Muschamp will have the emotional lift he needs to carry the team into 2012.
It has become very clear that the players that transferred were not the right fit for Muschamp or his schemes, and the remaining players have bought into what Muschamp is selling. With the players backing and believing in him, along with his dedication to the program, 2012 will be a much better year for Florida football.