Florida Football: 6 Gators Who Need to Impress in the Outback Bowl
With New Year's Day quickly approaching, the official end of Urban Meyer's coaching tenure at the University of Florida has nearly arrived.
And with the departure of Meyer comes the beginning of the Will Muschamp Era in Gainesville.
In his introductory press conference, Muschamp said that the Gators had a chance to make a good first impression by working hard at practice and performing well in the Outback Bowl.
Some Florida players are looking to impress Muschamp while others are weighing NFL options, but either way, there's a lot more on the line for some players than for others.
Here are five Gators who will be looking to take a big step in the right direction.
To put it lightly, John Brantley has had a very forgettable 2010 season.
Throwing as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (nine), Brantley struggled with the pressures of replacing Tim Tebow and being forced to run an offense that conflicted with his skill set.
And to top it all off, rumors surfaced, and were later confirmed, in November that the much-maligned quarterback was considering transferring following the Outback Bowl..
With Brantley's future up in the air and both Urban Meyer and Steve Addazio leaving town after New Year's Day, the coaches may finally let Brantley let loose and throw the ball a little.
He needs to audition for his next job anyway, whether it be at another school or as Will Muschamp's starting quarterback.
Hailed as the "next Percy Harvin" when he signed with Florida, the Gator Nation couldn't wait to see Andre Debose get on the field.
However, a hamstring injury during spring practice forced Debose to have surgery and red shirt the 2009 season, leading many to forget about the talented play maker.
Determined to make an impact, the speedster from Sanford, Florida, quickly reminded Florida fans of his promise, returning 20 kicks for 564 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Debose would certainly like to get a lot more touches in 2011 and a big game in the Outback Bowl could go a long way in seeing him become one of Will Muschamp's favorite offensive weapons.
Leading up to this season, Will Hill admitted to "taking some plays off" during the 2009 campaign and vowed to take a different approach in 2010.
And take a different approach he did, pretty much taking the entire season off, his heroics in the 34-31 overtime win against the Georgia Bulldogs excluded.
Recently, Hill tweeted "farewell uf," indicating that his days as a Florida Gator are likely done.
And if that's case, Hill needs to play one of the best games of his life in the Outback Bowl in order to improve his draft stock.
When he's giving his full effort, Hill is one of the best defensive backs in the country and he's certainly talented enough to thrive in the NFL, but his work ethic and commitment are questionable.
Playing to his full potential on New Year's Day could work wonders for Hill's reputation, whether he's playing in the NFL or for Will Muschamp next season.
With Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens graduating and Jaye Howard weighing his NFL options, Omar Hunter could potentially be the only starting defensive lineman to return next season.
However, it looks like he's more than ready for that leadership role and has already been stepping up during Outback Bowl practice.
Hunter told Ed Aschoff of The Gainesville Sun that he's responsible for keeping up with talented freshman defensive linemen Dominique Easley and All-SEC Freshman Sharrif Floyd this week.
Defensive line was a weakness for Florida this season, but if Hunter (36 career tackles) can step up on the gridiron like he has in the locker room recently, then the D-Line could quickly become a strength for the Gators.
When starting left tackle Matt Patchan went down with a wrist injury, sophomore Xavier Nixon had to step up and fill the void this season.
A member of the 2009 All-SEC Freshman Team, Nixon is the only non-senior starting on the offensive line and he has held his own nicely despite his youth.
His extensive game experience playing alongside the likes of Maurkice and Mike Pouncey should not only give Nixon a competitive advantage, but some valuable leadership skills as well.
Nixon will be expected to anchor the offensive line next season and he can get a good head start on 2011 by going the extra mile and playing a great game in the Outback Bowl.
Nixon's performance Saturday will be key in setting the tone for Florida's first off season under the direction of Will Muschamp.
Deonte Thompson is one of those über-talented football players that is seemingly always on the cusp of breaking out as a major play maker.
With the departures of leading receivers Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez after the 2009 season, Thompson was expected to step up and finally deliver on his promise as a go-to wide out in 2010.
However, while it was obvious that Thompson improved (career-high 36 receptions, 536 yards), he was not the legitimate the deep threat that the Gators' offense desperately needed.
With just one season left at Florida, Thompson now stands at a crossroads.
Can he help the Gators rebound offensively in 2011 or will he just go down as a highly-touted recruit that never played up to his potential?
The Outback Bowl would be the perfect opportunity for Thompson to turn a over a new leaf and begin to prove his doubters wrong.
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