The Gators are grateful to see the dawn of a new season.
They can finally wipe away the mess that was 2013. Florida heads into the season with some new coaches, new starters and a schedule that would be tough for any team in the country.
Let’s see how the team looks with the opener a week away.
|2014 Florida Gators Coaching Staff|
|Title||Name||Years On Team|
|Head Coach||Will Muschamp||4|
|Offensive Coordinator||Kurt Roper||1|
|Defensive Coordinator||D. J. Durkin||5|
|Special Teams Coach||Coleman Hutzler||1|
|Defensive Line Coach||Brad Lawing||2|
|Quarterbacks Coach||Kurt Roper||1|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Chris Leak||1|
|Offensive Line Coach||Mike Summers||1|
|Defensive Backs Coach||Travaris Robinson||4|
|Running Backs Coach||Brian White||6|
|Tight Ends Coach||Derek Lewis||4|
Florida has four new coaches on the staff and none is as important as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. After leading Duke to an average of 32.8 points per game last season, Florida is hoping he can improve an offense that ranked 114th in the country in points scored. Roper will speed things up, spread the field and preach getting the ball out quickly. How much Florida improves from last season will be determined on the success of Roper’s offense.
Chris Leak is the new wide receivers coach after Joker Phillips resigned. Leak threw for more than 11,000 yards and 88 touchdowns in four seasons as Florida’s quarterback. Although Leak has no prior coaching experience, he's young enough where he can relate to the players. He also has a feel for what wide receivers should be doing and understands the relationship they should have with their quarterback.
The other big coaching change was getting former USC offensive line coach Mike Summers. Summers has more than 30 years of experience and has had success at schools such as Kentucky and Louisville.
There’s a lot of pressure on this staff to succeed this season. Will Muschamp enters the year on the hot seat after a mediocre 22-16 record in his first three seasons. Florida has a veteran group of coaches and the new hires on offense have the potential to pay off in a big way.
What to Watch for on Offense
|Florida Gators 2014 Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Jeff Driskel||Treon Harris||Will Grier|
|RB||Kelvin Taylor||Mack Brown||Matt Jones|
|WR||Quinton Dunbar||Demarcus Robinson||Andre Debose|
|WR||Ahmad Fulwood||Raph Andrades||Ryan Sousa|
|WR||Latroy Pittman||Valdez Showers||Alvin Bailey|
|TE||Jake McGee||Clay Burton||Tevin Westbrook|
|OT||D.J. Humphries||Kavaris Harkless|
|OG||Tyler Moore||Roderick Johnson||Travaris Dorsey|
|C||Max Garcia||Trip Thurman||Cameron Dillard|
|OG||Trenton Brown||Drew Sarvary||Antonio Riles|
|OT||Chaz Green||David Sharpe||Andrew Mike|
|K||Austin Hardin||Frankie Velez|
|KR/PR||Andre Debose||Demarcus Robinson||Vernon Hargreaves III|
With Roper now calling the shots, Florida will be a faster offense and likely a lot more productive. It will no longer be a slow-paced and predictable offense. The Gators will run the no-huddle, take far less time between snaps and simply try to wear down their opponent. Roper wants quarterback Jeff Driskel to get the ball out of his hands quicker and use his athleticism more than he’s done in past seasons.
Florida will be a quick-tempo offense that spreads teams out and forces defenders to make tackles in space.
Jeff Driskel, QB—Driskel is the key to making this offense work. With 10 career interceptions, he’ll have to make better decisions and manage the game. This offense is perfect for somebody such as Driskel because it will allow him to make plays with his feet and take advantage of the short passes. If Driskel has a good grasp of this offense, Florida will be improved offensively.
Chaz Green, OL—Green is one of the better offensive linemen in the SEC when healthy. The problem is he missed all of last season with an injury. Green is great in pass protection, but he’s also athletic enough to be a key part in a successful rushing attack. With shaky quarterback play at times, Florida needs a reliable offensive line. Green provides stability on the right side.
What to Watch for on Defense
|Florida Gators 2014 Defensive Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|Buck||Dante Fowler||Alex McCalister||Neiron Ball|
|NT||Leon Orr||Jay-nard Bostwick||Khairi Clark|
|DT||Darious Cummings||Caleb Brantley||Joey Ivie|
|DE||Jonathan Bullard||Bryan Cox Jr.||Joey Ivie|
|WLB||Jarrad Davis||Daniel McMillian||Jeremi Powell|
|MLB||Michael Taylor||Antonio Morrison||Alex Anzalone|
|SLB||Neiron Ball||Matt Rolin||Alex McCalister|
|CB||Vernon Hargreaves III||J.C. Jackson||Quincy Wilson|
|FS||Jabari Gorman||Keanu Neal||Nick Washington|
|SS||Marcus Maye||Marcell Harris||Nick Washington|
|CB||Jalen Tabor||Duke Dawson||Quincy Wilson|
|P||Kyle Christy||Johnny Townsend|
Last season, Florida finished with the eighth-best defense in college football. With seven starters returning, another top-10 defense certainly isn’t out of the question. The Gators strength will be their defensive line and pass rush, as 19 sacks last season just scratched the surface of this team’s potential. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is sure to get more aggressive with his play-calling and take a few more risks.
Defense wasn’t an issue for Florida. With the players returning, the Gators' D could be one of the best in college football.
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB—Hargreaves is one of the more irreplaceable football players in the country, as he’s probably the best cornerback. Last season, Hargreaves had 11 pass deflections and intercepted three balls. Those numbers would have been even better if quarterbacks dared to throw his way more often. The second-year corner can go toe-to-toe with any receiver in the country.
Dante Fowler, DL—Fowler is another key player on Florida’s defense who will lead the charge in pressuring the quarterback. Fowler finished last season with 3.5 sacks and 50 tackles, but he’s capable of so much more. His athleticism and quickness off the ball is scary. Don’t be surprised if Fowler has the best season of any defender in the SEC.
|Florida Gators Injuries|
|Name||Injury||Expected Return Date|
|Marcus Maye||Hamstring||Questionable vs. Idaho|
|Thomas Holley||Hip||Out For Season|
|Matt Jones||Knee||Probable vs. Idaho|
|Vernon Hargreaves III||Leg||Questionable vs. Idaho|
There were points last season when the injury report was lengthier than a Stephen King novel. For the most part, Florida has shaken the injury bug and heads into the season opener as healthy as a team can hope.
The biggest injury comes to Thomas Holley, who needed hip surgery after suffering a torn labrum. While you never want to see anybody get hurt, Holley is a true freshman and he’s a defensive lineman, an area where the Gators are already loaded with depth. Florida will be fine.
Hargreaves should also be ready to go for the season opener considering he participated in practice despite suffering a bone bruise early in camp.
Florida’s X-factor will be wide receiver Andre Debose.
Debose has had a tough career at Florida, as he’s never fully fulfilled expectations as a top recruit, and he’s now coming off a torn ACL that kept him out last season. Entering his sixth year with the program, Debose has just 29 catches for 543 yards and four touchdowns.
Those numbers could change drastically in Roper’s offense. When healthy, Debose is one of the fastest players in the country and has that elite top-end speed that can stretch the field. Florida is desperate for playmakers at wide receiver and having a guy on the outside who can take the top off a defense would give the Gators a weapon they haven’t had in years.
Debose has the skill set to really thrive in this new offense. Unfortunately for Florida fans, they’ve been hearing that for over half a decade.
|Florida Gators 2014 Schedule|
|Aug. 30||Idaho||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Sept. 6||Eastern Michigan||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Sept. 13||Kentucky||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Sept. 20||Alabama||Bryant-Denny Stadium|
|Oct. 4||Tennessee||Neyland Stadium|
|Oct. 11||LSU||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Oct. 18||Missouri||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Nov. 1||Georgia||EverBank Field|
|Nov. 8||Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt Stadium|
|Nov. 15||South Carolina||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Nov. 22||Eastern Kentucky||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium|
|Nov. 29||Florida State||Doak Campbell Stadium|
At Alabama—With three cupcake games to begin the season, this will be Florida’s measuring stick. The Alabama Crimson Tide will continue to be what they’ve been under head coach Nick Saban. Playing in Tuscaloosa just makes things that much more difficult. If the Gators can pull off the upset, a run at an SEC title wouldn't seem that far-fetched.
Vs. Georgia—There’s a chance that the winner of this game makes it out of the SEC East. Florida has lost three straight meetings against the Bulldogs, and the last two were due to sloppy play at crucial points in the game. The Gators must regain control of this rivalry to make a strong statement to the rest of the teams in this conference. A victory over a talented Georgia team would get the job done.
At Florida State—The Seminoles have beaten the Gators in three of the last four meetings and have done so quite easily. If Florida is truly going to turn things around and make a run for the SEC title, this year’s rivalry could be the biggest it’s been in decades. Florida State is on a collision course for a playoff spot to defend its national championship. This may be the biggest make-or-break game for Florida this season if things go its way.
The Gators will finish the season with a 7-1 conference record and 10-2 record overall. Florida will have one of the top defenses in the country, which means the Gators just have to average anywhere from 21 to 24 points per game to really have a shot at pulling this off. Florida has a lot of favorable home games and seems to have adopted that Auburn-like mentality where it's the team against the world. That’s dangerous for its opponents.
If Florida can average three or more touchdowns per game, 10 wins won’t be a problem.
Fowler has a real shot to win the Chuck Bednarik Award. This is the season Fowler really takes his game to another level and sniffs double-digit sacks. Add those numbers to Florida’s surprising success and the award is his. Hargreaves may make a strong case for an award as well, but he's at a disadvantage with quarterbacks likely avoiding him at all costs.