The time has finally come, the days are long, hot and humid, and suddenly everyone in the South turns their attention to Hoover, Ala. SEC Media days are here and the start to the 2011 college football season is officially underway.
In Gator Nation, the hype is relatively conservative. There is a guarded optimism that exists in Titletown, an excitement without expression, and until certain questions are answered the confidence will be cautious.
Below are the five burning questions that surround the 2011 Florida Gators and how the answers play out will decide largely on what type of team the Gators have this season.
Is John Brantley a starting quarterback?
We know Brantley has all the skills, and we are told he is an excellent quarterback in practice. However, he has yet to prove his worth as a starting quarterback. His quiet demeanor and passive personality have not transitioned into a leader and if the redshirt senior does not come out in 2011 with guns blazing, the Gator season may be a long one.
Is Will Muschamp head coach material?
Muschamp has the resume to suggest he is completely prepared to be a successful head coach, but that is not always enough (see: Charlie Weis). The schedule does not work in Muschamp's favor in 2011, so his first year might be his toughest. If he can adapt quickly to being the No. 1 and keep Weis from taking over the spotlight, Muschamp has a chance to be very successful.
Can the Gators field a tailback for the entire season?
The pro-style offense depends heavily on running the football—play-action does not work otherwise. The Gators are loaded with talented, fast running backs, but are light on guys who can run off tackle. The future star at the position is likely Mack Brown, who provides a bigger frame than the other backs. However, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps provide speed at the position that demands playing time. Mike Gillislee also provides a tough punch and good speed to the rotation.
The health of the position will be a major concern for the Gators. By the time the Gators get off the bus in Baton Rouge in Week 6, the number of running backs contributing will suggest a lot about the rest of the season. If the rotation is still strong with a heavy dose of contributors, the Gator backfield has a chance to be very good.
Will the lack of depth on defense eventually catch up to the Gators?
A lot was made of the 2010 recruiting class—which was heavy on defense—and suggested by some as one of the best classes ever. However, what a difference a year makes, since little has been mention about the talent that currently exist on the roster.
The biggest issue on defense comes from the depth standpoint. The depth in the defensive backfield provides a lot of athleticism, but is very young. The linebackers have no depth outside of the starters and defensive line has a list of underachievers to complete their rotation.
Injuries are key here. If the Gators can build depth through the course of the season and have some guys step up, the defense will win a lot of games for the Gators in 2011.
Can the coaching staff gel to be successful in the SEC?
There is no question there are some very proven and sharp minds on this coaching staff; however, few of them have a lot of SEC experience. The upside, many of them have a lot of NFL experience.
The coaching staff's biggest issue will be coming together. Weis brought in Frank Verducci to coach the offensive line, which will be a huge asset for the Gators. Also, the carryover of Brian White, D.J. Durkin and strength coach Mickey Marotti will supply continuity to the staff.
A new staff always has some issues adapting early, but typically find its way. As long as there are not any hiccups, the staff Muschamp has put together should provide the Gators with an excellent advantage.
So there you have it: five questions to start the season with many more certain to follow.