Positives to Take from 2012 Florida Gators Now That Sugar Bowl Sting Has Faded

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2013

Positives to Take from 2012 Florida Gators Now That Sugar Bowl Sting Has Faded

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    Florida's dream season ended on a bitter note in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but with the sting of that embarrassing loss fading, it's time to reflect on the many positives from the 2012 season. 

    Few expected the Gators to even put together a 10-win season, let alone be in contention for an SEC title. 

    However, Will Muschamp got his players on the same page with his coaching staff and turned UF from an underachieving squad into a national title contender. Although the Gators ultimately came up short in their quest of hoisting the Coaches' Trophy, 2012 was a terrific second season under Muschamp. 

    Let's take a look at five positives to take from the 2012 Florida Gators. 

5. Building Blocks in the Trenches

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    Winning in the trenches is priority No. 1 in the SEC, and it looks like the Gators managed to find some stud linemen in 2012. 

    Freshmen Dante Fowler Jr., Jonathan Bullard and D.J. Humphries carved out crucial roles this season and look like favorites to start at Buck linebacker, defensive end and left tackle, respectively. 

    Fowler displayed the most promise of the trio. The 6'3", 277-pounder made an instant impact as a pass-rusher, recording 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss in a backup role. His blend of speed and power make him a terrific edge defender in Florida's aggressive defense. 

    Bookending Fowler is fellow first-year defender Bullard. While not as polished a pass-rusher as Fowler, the 6'3", 271-pound Bullard excels at stopping the run. Seeing action in all 13 games, the former 5-star recruit racked up 27 tackles, including five for loss.

    He looks poised to take over the starting defensive end spot from Dominique Easley, who will likely shift to defensive tackle now that Sharrif Floyd is moving on to the NFL. 

    The final building block in the trenches is none other than top 2012 recruit D.J. Humphries

    Measuring in at 6'6", 275 pounds, the ultra-athletic left tackle showed tremendous promise as a late-season starter and blocking tight end. Humphries has all the physical tools necessary to be an All-American blindside protector, and with a year in the weight room, he'll quickly become one of the best offensive linemen in the country. 

4. Stellar Cornerback Play

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    No position group had a more consistent year than the Gators' cornerbacks. 

    The trio of Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and Loucheiz Purifoy routinely shut down opposing passing attacks and made it a nightmare to throw the ball deep. 

    Roberson was far and away the Gators' top cover corner in 2012. The sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. led the team with 12 pass breakups and snagged two interceptions in his second year as a starter. 

    After a solid, but unspectacular, 2011 campaign, Watkins emerged as a very solid No. 2 corner. Utilizing his length and speed, the older brother of Clemson star Sammy Watkins turned in a fine season for the Gators, finishing with three interceptions and eight pass breakups. 

    Rounding out the trio was the group's biggest talker and biggest playmaker: Loucheiz Purifoy. 

    The 6'1", 189-pounder made countless game-changing plays for the Gators, including this game-winning blocked punt against Louisiana-Lafayette. 

    Purifoy didn't make much of an impact as a freshman, but he quickly developed into a versatile asset in 2012. 

    His unique athleticism and high football IQ will also be maximized on offense in 2013, as the Gators try to get the ball to one of their most dangerous playmakers. 

3. The Gators Are No Longer Soft

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    Following a 21-7 loss to Florida State last year, Will Muschamp called his team the one thing no one likes to hear: soft.

    Well Will, the Gators are that no more. 

    Thanks to Jeff Dillman's intense strength and conditioning program and a hard-nosed group of senior leaders, Florida transformed from a team that got pushed around into a squad that got better as the game went along. 

    Florida's mental and physical evolution led to tremendous on-field success in 2012. 

    With a new attitude and new physiques, the Gators steamrolled SEC powerhouses like LSU and South Carolina and were on the brink of earning a spot in the SEC championship game. Seniors like Jon Bostic, Omar Hunter and Josh Evans turned in their best campaigns to date and boosted their draft stock.

    Loucheiz Purifoy and Matt Elam talked trash and backed it up. 

    Buying into Muschamp's system helped turn around a program that looked to be in shambles. 

    In 2012, the hunted became the hunters. 

2. Jeff Driskel's Development

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    Watching Teddy Bridgewater carve up Florida's defense reminded everyone that Jeff Driskel isn't quite there yet, but the sophomore signal-caller made significant strides in 2012. 

    After attempting just 34 passes as a freshman, the former top overall QB recruit emerged as a viable starter. While his 1,646 passing yards and 12:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio won't wow anyone, Driskel still completed nearly 64 percent of his passes and mostly avoided costly turnovers. 

    However, it was his running ability that really opened things up for the offense. 

    His raw rushing total of 716 yards is quite impressive for a quarterback who lacked any big-time receivers to throw to. 

    While Driskel still needs to make quicker decisions and become more accurate with the deep ball, there's plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2013. 

1. Top Recruiting Class for 2013

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    There's no easy way to replace the 2012 performances, or careers for that matter, of guys like Jon Bostic, Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd or Mike Gillislee. 

    However, the best way to prevent any drop-off is through recruiting. So far, the Gators have nailed it. 

    After reeling in prized linebacker Alex Anzalone (via tweet from Mike Farrell of Rivals.com) Thursday—who was previously committed to Notre Dame—the Gators claimed the top spot on ESPN's recruiting rankings

    The Gators are set to restock at many key positions, including safety, linebacker and defensive tackle. Addressing those positions, in addition to wide receiver, will be critical for a team trying to fill holes left behind by its stars. 

    It's great to reflect on how great 2012 was for the Gators, but with the sting of the Sugar Bowl loss subsiding, it's time to look both reminisce and plan ahead for the future.

    Despite the Sugar Bowl debacle, Florida is still killing it on the recruiting trail and setting itself up for another successful season in 2013.