The 2013 season didn't exactly go according to plan for Florida.
Coming off an 11-2 campaign and a berth in the Sugar Bowl, the Gators were expected to contend for the SEC East title and stay relevant on the national scene.
Things went south in a hurry.
A Week 2 loss to Miami followed by a season-ending leg injury to starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered in the third game of the season vs. Tennessee sent the Florida program sputtering to a 4-8 season, which included a home loss to then-FCS Georgia Southern.
The Gators are angry.
"I think the whole team has a chip on its shoulder," Driskel said. "Our record doesn't show the kind of talent we have on our team, and I think we came back and attacked spring with the mentality that 'this is it.' We don't have years to waste, and nobody's going to feel sorry for us."
Head coach Will Muschamp certainly won't.
Now entering his fourth year, Muschamp enters the 2014 season coaching for his job. He made a philosophical change by bringing in former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to run his hurry-up offense in place of former pro-style coordinator Brent Pease.
The change suits Florida athletes well, especially Driskel, a former 5-star prospect and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country in the class of 2011, according to 247Sports.com.
"When Driskel came out of high school, the only real concern that we had was that he wasn't terribly productive and his team didn't win very many games," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.com. "That's somewhat important for a quarterback, but the arm, arm strength, athleticism, size—all of that was still enough to make him the top quarterback prospect in the country."
Finally, he's in the perfect offense to fit his skills.
Roper's new scheme will put more emphasis on getting athletes out in space, which includes Driskel in the running game.
"In the new offense, we really want to create space and that's going to be the best thing for our guys," Driskel said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays in space, but when you don't have that space, it's kind of difficult. Spreading it out and getting more one-on-one matchups for our playmakers is going to be great for us."
As is the case around the country, tempo is a buzz word for the Gators this spring. They finished first in the SEC in time of possession in each of the past two seasons, but those offenses finished last and 12th in the SEC in 2013 and 2012, respectively.
If the 2014 Gators lead the conference in that statistic, something has gone terribly wrong. Pushing tempo is a big part of Roper's scheme, and Driskel is pumped.
"I really do like the tempo," Driskel said. "When you get in a tempo and don't huddle, you can really get into a groove as a quarterback. There were times in spring where I felt really comfortable and everything went smooth."
|Year||Comp./Att.||Pass Yds.||Pass TDs||INTs||Rush Yds.||Rush TDs|
He was more of a caretaker in his one and only full season as the starting quarterback, passing for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five picks in 2012, leading the Gators to the Sugar Bowl against Louisville. But that was more a product of the system than Driskel.
The 6'4", 237-pounder from Oviedo, Florida, is as much of a threat with his legs as he is with his arms, and he finally has the scheme that fits his skills.
"I remember a pass he threw in the Under Armour game where he rolled out and slung it," Shurburtt said. "It was dropped, but it looked like something Brett Favre would do. My former colleague Gerry Hamilton and I were extremely impressed. I still believe he's got the tools to be a first-round draft pick, physically."
The offense, which will primarily be run out of the shotgun, will allow Driskel to use his legs more than he has in the past. The zone read was a part of Pease's scheme but will be a focal point with Roper.
That's great news for Driskel, who not only has experience running it, but has speed to burn.
"I think teams know that I'm fast," Driskel said. "I've put on film that I can run by DBs, and that's talked about during the week when defenses are getting ready for us. It's just something else that the defense has to account for, and is kind of where the game is moving. That's not just us. That's everywhere."
Driskel has weapons around him.
Demarcus Robinson has the ability to become a deep threat, Quinton Dunbar is a veteran who is a reliable target and 6'0", 190-pound slot receiver Andre Debose should be back this summer after tearing his ACL last August.
Two of Roper's receivers who broke the 900-yard mark at Duke—Jamison Crowder and Donovan Varner—are similar to Debose. When he's 100 percent, Debose's versatility will be a tremendous asset for Driskel and the Gators.
Will Jeff Driskel throw for more than 2,500 yards in 2014?
"I don't think there's too many offenses that wouldn't want someone with his kind of speed," Driskel said. "Anytime you can get one-on-one matchups, it's tough to cover a guy like that throughout an entire game."
Muschamp's philosophical change, the tempo in the offense and the chip on Florida's shoulder has Driskel and this team motivated.
"Potential doesn't mean anything," Driskel said. "You have to show it on Saturdays, and we know that. There's a real sense of urgency on this team."
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.