Following the program's worst season in years, the Florida Gators enter the 2011 season determined to return to their elite status. This program has been plagued by turmoil for the last several years, going back to Carlos Dunlap's pre-SEC Championship incident to Chris Rainey's "time to die" text last season to Urban Meyer's sudden resignation.
With a massive changing of the guard on the coaching staff, the Gators as a team will look completely different next season. Gone is the speed-oriented spread offense. Gone is the emphasis on pre-snap motions and quarterback options.
This year's brand of Florida football will be pro-style on both sides of the ball. With offensive coordinator Charlie Weis installing his offense and head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in charge of the defense, the team will be drastically different.
Here are eight Gators that are poised to have huge seasons in 2011.
Rainey had perhaps the toughest season of any Gator last year by his own doing. After being suspended for a domestic violence incident, Rainey came back and played inspired football. On 76 touches last year, Rainey gained 582 yards from scrimmage.
But in the pro-style offense, Rainey will be at his natural position of running back. This is the same Chris Rainey who, in his senior season at Lakeland High, ran for over 2,100 yards. He was recruited by Florida State and Georgia Tech.
When he plays running back, he can best make use of his excellent combination of speed, elusiveness, and physicality. This should bode very well for him in the 2011 season.
What to expect: 150 carries, 800 yards, and ten touchdowns.
He was the nation's top recruit last season, and Ronald Powell was able to show what he could do in limited playing time last season. His 25 tackled and one sack showcased an ability to be all over the field on defense.
This year, Powell will have a huge role as Florida's Buck linebacker. The Buck position is essentially a do-it-all fourth linebacker. His responsibilities will be rushing the passer, filling gaps on running plays, and pass coverage. At 6'4" and 250 pounds, Powell is going to be a very integral part of Florida's revamped defense. Expect to hear his name mentioned a lot.
What to expect: 75 tackles (15 for loss), 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
Of the stellar recruits from the class of 2010, Florida's biggest disappointment was defensive lineman Dominique Easley. He showed an inability to adjust to the college life—tough practices, tough coaches, and an elite level of football. But this is a player with a gift, and he is ready to put it to use.
In spring practice, other players raved about Easley's ability to get off the line of scrimmage incredibly quick (watch #47 in the video—that's him). He is a great disruptive presence on the defensive line and moves extremely well for being 280 pounds. He should see time at both end and tackle this season.
If his attitude is on par with his talent, he will be a great Gator.
What to expect: 40 tackles, 10 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
Perhaps the most explosive offensive player on the team, Andre Debose is a dynamic playmaker who, if healthy, could be Florida's version of Devin Hester.
A five-star recruit out of high school, Debose showcased his top-flight speed and vision last season. Despite a limited involvement in the passing game, Debose returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (against LSU in the video and another against South Carolina). If he is given space, there are few players in the nation who can run with Andre Debose.
Expect him to be more involved in the passing game this year and maintain his special teams excellence.
What to expect: 30 catches, 450 yards, 5 touchdowns; 25.0 yards per return, 3 touchdowns.
There is a great lineage of Florida safeties. Between Reggie Nelson, Major Wright, and more recently, Ahmad Black, great safeties are vital to the success of the Gators' defense. The heir apparent to his position is sophomore Matt Elam, another top recruit from 2010.
Elam is one of those players that lives for contact. He is a hard-hitting ballhawk, exactly what you would like to see from a safety. On the field, he is extremely vocal and emerging as a leader of the defense. With Black gone and question marks at the other safety spot, Elam will combine with Janoris Jenkins to anchor the Florida secondary.
He will be all over the field next year, and if he plays well, all over the highlights as well.
What to expect: 90 tackles (5 for loss), 2 sacks, 4 interceptions.
Quinton Dunbar is a player that really has gone under the radar in his time as a Florida Gator. A four-star recruit out of Miami's Booker T. Washington High, Dunbar is a speed demon that gives the Gators a vertical threat in the receiving game.
Coach Will Muschamp has raved about Dunbar during spring practice, saying, "He's really a guy that's a weapon outside." Considering Charlie Weis' penchant for going deep (remember Randy Moss in '07?), the fast Florida receivers should have plenty of opportunities to burn their cornerback matchups.
Dunbar may have only played in two games last year, but this year he should be a lethal receiving threat.
What to expect: 45 catches, 700 yards, 8 touchdowns.
There's a common saying among Gator fans since a certain defensive tackle put on the orange and blue. "There's a new Sharrif in town" is the mantra for Florida's best and most disruptive defensive lineman since Carlos Dunlap. He was a five-star recruit from Pennsylvania, and now he will anchor Florida's talented and athletic defensive line.
Floyd had only 23 tackles last season, but eight of them were for losses. He was very effective in the run game, using his strength and large from to clog any holes a running back could go through. He is very light on his feet and quite adept at getting in the backfield, where he will presumably be living in 2011.
What to expect: 55 tackles (15 for loss), 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
By the end of the 2010 football season, John Brantley was, in the mind of Florida fans, the reason for a dismal season. He was not confident throwing the football, not a good fit in the spread offense, and simply not prepared to succeed.
But this year, things will be different. He will be under the tutelage of Charlie Weis, an offensive mastermind who has turned Tom Brady from backup to superstar and Brady Quinn into one of college football's best quarterbacks.
Using the pro-style offense, Brantley will be much more comfortable. He is a pure drop-back passer, and will thrive in Weis' offense. With a multitude of weapons at his disposal, it would simply be inexcusable for Brantley to even come close to being as bad in 2011 as he was last year.
What to expect: 65 percent completion percentage, 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions