College Football Predictions 2011: 5 Bold Statements for the Florida Gators
The 2011 Florida Gator football team has a lot of unanswered questions heading into the upcoming season.
How are Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis going to do in their first year?
Will John Brantley bounce back from a shaky 2010?
Do the Gators have any true offensive playmakers?
With all these questions only one thing remains certain.
These Gators are young, unproven and searching for an identity.
A win here or a loss there could easily swing momentum in a good or bad way.
Until they can prove themselves during the games, journalists will keep asking questions to try and figure out the Gators.
In hopes of providing some clarity to the situation, here are my five bold statements for how I think the Gators season will unfold.
1. Chris Rainey Will Rush for More Than 1,000 Yards
Yeah, I said it.
Chris Rainey, who went through some well-documented off-the-field issues last season, will rush for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
The Gators have a deep backfield consisting of other running backs such as Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown.
Gillislee and Brown will take a back-up role to the two senior backs Rainey and Demps.
But Demps's status could be questionable throughout the season. He has struggled to stay on the field consistently due to nagging ankle or foot injuries that hinder his running ability. Demps must also consider his future in track and field if he does sustain another foot injury in 2011.
So there is an excellent chance Rainey will see the bulk of playing time in the backfield.
His career so far has been underwhelming, but Rainey is one of the senior leaders on this 2011 offense. Coach Will Muschamp has mentioned in interviews on several occasions that Rainey has been one of the top performers in the spring thus far.
If Rainey can stay away from trouble with the law and from the injury bug, he could establish himself as a playmaker on offense with his unique ability to juke past defenders and breakaway speed.
Look for Rainey to have a big senior year.
2. A.C. Leonard Will Be the Outstanding Freshman in 2011
The Gators finished up with a below average recruiting class compared to what Florida fans have become accustomed to recently.
They finished with the No. 12 ranked class according to ESPN.com.
Although the recruiting class consists of players like Jeff Driskel, Marcus Roberson and Ja'Juan Story, A.C. Leonard will be the impact freshman for the Gators in 2011.
One aspect playing in Leonard's favor is the fact that the Gators have no real established tight-end.
Many expect former quarterback Jordan Reed to get a lot of snaps due to his experience on the field last year.
Leonard was one of the best receiving tight-ends in high school last year which allows Weis to work with two receiving threats in both Reed and Leonard.
He runs a 4.9 40-yard dash and scouts have praised Leonard for his route-running ability, claiming that he reminds them of former Florida standout Aaron Hernandez.
Although Leonard might not start initially over Reed, he will not have to worry about playing time since Weis' formations often consist of two tight-end formations.
If Leonard can establish chemistry with Brantley early in the season, he could have a major impact in 2011.
3. The Gators Will Lead the SEC in Sacks
Pass rushing was not one of the Gators' strengths in 2010.
In all of 2010, the Gators only sacked the quarterback 21 times, with only 13 of those sacks coming from the Gator defensive line.
Their inability to get to the quarterback cost the Gators severely in the games against Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Florida State. All of which were losses for Florida.
But entering into 2011, the Gators defensive line has another year of experience under their belt as well as new defensive line coaching by former NFL star Bryant Young.
Muschamp also brings a 3-4 defense to Gainesville which will increase the blitzing opportunities for Florida with more linebackers on the field.
Sophomore Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley will be key for the Gator's pass rush. All three players were top-10 recruits in 2010 and have the ability to take over the game with their pass rush ability.
Cal-Berkley transfer Chris Martin will also have his first opportunity at playing after sitting out a year after transferring to Florida.
Martin was also a 5-star recruit in 2010 and could be a surprise player on defense.
The defensive line also consists of established leaders in Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard.
Consequently, the defensive line will be able to rotate often and keep a lot of players fresh, allowing more opportunities for sacks..
The Gators are going to have a lot of speed and tenacity on the defensive line this year and players like Powell and Floyd are due for huge breakout sophomore years.
4. The Gators Will Have the Top 2012 Recruiting Class in the SEC
Although Muschamp and the Gators dealt with an expected drop in recruiting due to a coaching change, they got off to a fast start in 2011.
The Gators already have ten verbal commitments including two dynamic running backs in Matt Jones and Mike Davis.
Seven of these ten commits are 4-star recruits. Muschamp has also made an impression in recruiting inside the state of Georgia with three commits hailing from the Peach State.
Florida is also high on the list for other top prospects such as defensive end Jonathan Bullard and offensive linemen John Theus and D.J. Humphries.
There is also speculation that 4-star linebacker Deaysean Rippy is close to committing to the Gators as well.
Look for Florida to push hard for other recruits like Avery Johnson, Tyriq McCord and top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham,
Muschamp has hit the recruiting trail hard and recruits are taking notice.
If the Gators can impress recruits during the season, many of them will take note that Florida is back to its championship form and will make Florida a popular destination for top recruits.
5. Florida Will Win the SEC Championship
This may be a little bit of optimism here, but I believe the Gators have the talent to win the SEC Championship this season.
Florida will have an excellent opportunity to get a berth in the championship game due to the overall weak talent level in the SEC East. Only South Carolina has arguably more talent than Florida.
The berth will most likely come down to the Florida-South Carolina game on Nov. 12 in Columbia, SC.
Both the Gamecocks will struggle against a tough SEC West, but Florida benefits from having Alabama coming to Gainesville.
Florida has to travel to LSU and Auburn, but Auburn will be a much weaker team this season and hopefully the senior leadership of John Brantley will overcome the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Gators have the talent to surprise a lot teams this season with a lot of it hinging on the success of John Brantley in the new pro-style system.
If they can win two of the three games out of the Alabama-LSU-Auburn set, the Gators will be in prime position to control their destiny in the SEC East.
Look for the Gators to upset the SEC West representative in Atlanta and make another BCS bowl appearance.