If the Florida Gators want to have a season as successful as their 2012 campaign, they will have to improve in a variety of areas.
Jeff Driskel's performance at quarterback, a lack of depth at wide receiver, a brutal SEC schedule and key losses on defense are all being looked at as possible trouble spots. The Gators will have to overcome these obstacles in order to remain competitive.
However, there is another obvious problem that has been getting worse and needs to finally be addressed.
I am, of course, talking about Florida's tendency to be penalized. A lot.
You can certainly pin some of the blame on Will Muschamp and his staff for the Gators' offensive woes throughout the season and poor performance in the Sugar Bowl. However, they have repeatedly been forced to deal with an avalanche of costly penalties on both sides of the ball.
That needs to stop.
Since the 2009 season, the Gators' average of penalty yards per game has risen every calendar year. Last season's average of 68.8 yards marked a 9.3-yard jump from that of 2011.
Such behavior has turned Florida into the most penalized team in the SEC in recent years.
This makes their 2012 BCS run seem all the more remarkable. Their defensive unit had to repeatedly follow up stalled offensive drives with momentum-shifting series in order to turn tight games in their favor. Without this effectiveness, they could have easily lost three or more games during the regular season.
That brings us to this season. With so many departures from the defensive side of the ball, the Gators will have to score more points in 2013 to continually remain competitive. This cannot happen if holding violations and false starts repeatedly put Driskel and the offense in a bind.
Likewise, Florida cannot afford to give away extra points to opponents on the heels of silly personal fouls and other defensive violations.
Therefore, limiting the damage done through penalties will be crucial to the Gators' success.
Last year, we saw the Gators at their best when the flow of the game was relatively quick. They would get in a rhythm, and one big play would follow another.
This did not happen against Louisville and Georgia, and it proved costly on both occasions.
Driskel is certainly under enough pressure already. He doesn't need to deal with 3rd-and-longs that resulted from undisciplined penalties. Furthermore, his receivers should not have to feel like they need to make a huge downfield play just to move the chains.
Finally, Muschamp and Brent Pease need to believe that the entire playbook is always available for use. They cannot afford to protect Driskel with safe passes and hand-offs on third down.
The Gators simply will not win with that formula.
Yes, they need to play better football and make more plays. However, they also need to stop inflicting wounds upon themselves.
When they prove that they can do this, more and more people will begin to recognize them as a legitimate national contender.