Insert generic line about the post-Urban Meyer era here.
It's time to move on, folks. Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow are long gone, and a new era has started at the University of Florida.
Following the most painful football season in years, the Florida Gators will begin the 2011 season ranked barely inside the Top 25. The USA Coaches poll has them ranked 23rd. The Associated Press ranks them 22nd.
There are far more questions going into this season than there were last year. Will Charlie Weis' offense revitalize the Gators? What will happen with an inexperienced offensive line? Who's going to step up and become a leader on defense?
When the football season kicks off on Saturday night against Florida Atlantic (7 P.M., ESPNU), those questions will start to be answered.
But for now, I'll provide my insight into what to expect from the 2011 Florida Gators.
The biggest thing missing from Florida's offense last year was the big play. Florida hit the proverbial home run much less than usual in 2010.
Jeff Demps (pictured), Chris Rainey, and Andre Debose are going to be the three biggest home run threats on Florida's offense this year, and all three of them were underutilized last year.
In 2010, that trio of playmakers got a combined 197 touches. For comparison, Alabama's Big Three of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Julio Jones got 400.
Put bluntly, the Gators need to get the ball in the hands of their best best players more often.
There will be the supporting cast, guys such as tight end Jordan Reed and receivers Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond, and Quinton Dunbar, but for Florida's offense to succeed, Demps, Rainey, and Debose need the ball more.
Charlie Weis knows how to do this. His offense last year with the Kansas City Chiefs saw Jamal Charles, Thomas Jones, and Dwayne Bowe get tons of touches. His Notre Dame offense worked the same way, as did it in New England.
So what can you expect from the Gators' trio of playmakers? Lots of touches, lots of space to run, and, barring injuries, lots of fireworks.
On Monday, the Gators released their first fall depth chart. The most interesting thing about the depth chart was the arrangement of the offensive line.
It has stalwart Xavier Nixon at left tackle, Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger at left guard, Jonotthan Harrison at center, Jon Halapio at right guard, and Matt Patchan at right tackle.
This is a vastly different line than last year, with lots of new faces and plenty of uncertainty. The only returners are Nixon, who has been an excellent tackle, and Halapio, who has been inconsistent at times but has shown great improvements.
That leaves Wenger, Harrison, and Patchan as the newbies.
Wenger is hardly new to Charlie Weis' offense. The former Notre Dame center transferred to Florida over the offseason. The switch to guard comes as a surprise, but he should bring a great amount of familiarity and, in turn, leadership to the offensive line.
Patchan was a highly-touted recruit who has dealt with recurring injuries all throughout college. The redshirt junior has great bloodlines (his father Matt played offensive line for Jimmie Johnson at the University of Miami) and a great skill set.
Harrison is the biggest question mark. He saw some time last year at left guard, and didn't start at the position until the Outback Bowl, UF's final game. He was a four-star recruit out of high school, but the redshirt sophomore needs to prove himself.
In all, this is going to be a very interesting unit to watch. Offensive line coach Frank Verducci has a tremendous reputation, and the unit seems to be coming along nicely.
All that will be put to a test starting on Saturday. If they can't stop a relatively easy pass rush from FAU, trouble could be brewing.
Perhaps the most underrated returning player to the Gators is kicker Caleb Sturgis. The redshirt junior is coming back from a back injury, but his presence will be felt almost immediately. He is a weapon that Florida sorely missed last year.
Last year, punter Chas Henry filled in as kicker fairly admirably. He converted 7-of-11 field goals, but only one from more than 40 yards. Sturgis hit 22-of-30 field goals in 2009, but six of those were from 40 or more yards.
That adds another scoring threat to the Florida offense. If the Gators stall at the opponent's 30 yard line, the three points they may gain with Sturgis healthy could be the difference between mediocrity and greatness.
You cannot possibly understate the value of having an effective kicker. If Sturgis returns and kicks at a high level, he could make an enormous difference for this team.
Every defense needs its leader. Where Auburn had Nick Fairley and LSU had Patrick Peterson, Florida had Ahmad Black.
He was a ballhawking safety who seemed to gravitate towards the ball on every play. Now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Black leaves behind a huge hole as defensive leader.
There are many candidates to take over this role, but a young man who plays Black's position of safety seems destined. Matt Elam, a sophomore, looks to be every bit the leader and playmaker on defense that Black was.
He is a hard-hitting, contact-seeking ballistic missile of a football player. He is seemingly built to be a safety.
Under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Elam should flourish. Quinn's scheme employs multiple defensive formations and a constantly changing strategy. If Elam can grasp the defense mentally, he has the physical tools to succeed.
And if Matt Elam succeeds, it will be as if Ahmad Black never left.
During a press conference on Monday, Florida linebacker Jon Bostic was asked about John Brantley. Bostic responded,
“A lot of stuff went wrong on the offensive side of the ball [last year], but he kept his head high. A lot of people are saying his confidence may be down this year, but I didn’t see that at all this offseason. I saw one of those guys who walked around with his head high, anxious to get back on the field.”
The operative phrase? Confidence. There should be little doubt in anyone's mind that John Brantley has the tools to be a successful quarterback for the Florida Gators. But what remains a question is whether Brantley has the intangibles to continue to lead this offense.
As late as the spring game, Brantley appeared tentative and unsure of himself when throwing the football.
Whether that stemmed from a lack of familiarity with the offense or some form of post-traumatic stress from last year, he did not look like the "heir to the throne" everyone expected him to be.
This season, he is in an extremely quarterback-friendly offense.
The wonders Charlie Weis has worked with Tom Brady, Brady Quinn, and Matt Cassel should absolutely transfer to Brantley. He is surrounded by four- and five-star athletes who are lethal with the ball in their hands.
No more will Brantley be asked to run the football or read the defense on an option pitch. He will be doing what he knows how to do best—throw the football.
And if his confidence returns, watch out. John Brantley might just surprise you.
Last year, the Gators boasted the 12th-best pass defense in college football, allowing just 175.9 yards per game. However, three-fourths of Florida's starting secondary is gone.
Ahmad Black and Will Hill declared for the NFL draft, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins was, well, weeded out.
That leaves a young, inexperienced group of players to lead the secondary in a conference boasting some of the best passing games in college football.
The young unit that includes Marcus Roberson, Moses Jenkins, Jeremy Brown, and De'Ante "Pop" Saunders is going to be put to the test this season.
All of the defensive backs on Florida's roster are excellent football players. They were recruited to play at Florida for a reason. But much like the offensive line, the defensive backfield needs a great amount of cohesiveness. As the season's start approaches, Will Muschamp has reiterated that no player has really stood out.
Aside from Matt Elam, there are no clear-cut studs in the secondary. If there are, they have not yet distinguished themselves. It's something that will become clear as the season progresses.
31st, 79th, and 36th.
Those rankings, for rush defense, sacks, and tackles for loss, respectively, are not indicative of a successful defensive line. Such was the case for the Gators in 2010.
An underperforming defensive line made it easy for teams to run the ball right down Florida's throat.
Teams like LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Florida State were able to do so consistently en route to beating the Gators.
Great defense starts up front, and Florida must improve drastically on the defensive line if a defensive resurgence is to occur.
Huge contributions are needed from a trio of youngsters, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, and Sharrif Floyd.
Aside from them, upperclassmen like William Green, Jaye Howard (pictured), and Omar Hunter need to provide leadership and consistency.
If the offense sputters again this year, a good defense will be vital to Florida staying afloat. Without a great defensive line, there will be no good defense.
A new era of Florida Gators football will begin on Saturday night. Much has changed in the eight months between Urban Meyer's final game as coach and Will Muschamp's debut.
For one, Florida will enter the year without the proverbial target on its back. In a sense, the Gators are no longer a feared team because of their dismal 2010 season.
Many experts are picking them to finish behind Georgia, South Carolina, and sometimes even Tennessee in the SEC East.
But it seems like the new sheriff in town, Will Muschamp, is up to the task of making the Gators a feared team once again. His no-nonsense, workmanlike culture where you must earn your spot on the football field is a great fit for a team that seemed to lack focus, commitment, and even desire to compete at times last season.
Florida fans will not settle for another mediocre season. 8-5 isn't good enough. Losing to FSU isn't good enough. There had to be changes, and the Gators underwent a huge, all-encompassing overhaul in the offseason.
When the new regime begins officially, the new culture of Will Muschamp and company will be put to the test.
September 3rd: Florida Atlantic at Florida
The new era of Florida football begins with a bang. In Howard Schnellenberger's final season as head coach of FAU, the Owls stand no chance against a Gators squad eager to flex their muscles. FLORIDA 48, FAU 13
September 10th: University of Alabama-Birmingham at Florida
Much like the FAU Owls the week before, the UAB Blazers can't compete with the Gators. Florida's offense demolishes UAB's 80th-ranked defense en route to an easy win. FLORIDA 52, UAB 10
September 17th: Tennessee at Florida
The SEC season begins with a showdown between bitter rivals Tennessee and Florida. The Vols, led by quarterback Tyler Bray, lead at halftime. But a strong second half from Florida's offense vaults the Gators to victory. FLORIDA 27, TENNESSEE 17
September 24th: Florida at Kentucky
For the first time in 2011, the Gators hit the road to the Bluegrass state, where perennial punching bag Kentucky awaits. However, the Wildcats put up a tremendous fight. Florida's offense starts slowly again, but it takes a fourth-quarter defensive stand to fend off Kentucky. FLORIDA 21, KENTUCKY 16
October 1st: Alabama at Florida
One of the most anticipated games on the schedule, the Crimson Tide visit the Swamp on a crisp October night. Florida's offense, still struggling to find its rhythm, cannot solve Alabama's defense. Meanwhile, the Tide offense rolls. ALABAMA 30, FLORIDA 14
October 8th: Florida at LSU
Always a fun game, the Gators take part in the classic Saturday night in Death Valley. Finally, the offense finds its stride and the Gators roll to a two-touchdown lead as the game draws to a close. But a furious comeback by LSU ties the game, and a quick turnover in overtime wins it for the Tigers. LSU 34, FLORIDA 31
October 15th: Florida at Auburn
The Gators head to Auburn to face the defending national champions, who start 2011 on a surprisingly good run. A team that many expect to be diminished plays the Gators very tough, but John Brantley engineers some second-half magic to secure a victory for Florida. FLORIDA 27, AUBURN 20
October 29th: Florida vs. Georgia
A pivotal SEC East matchup pits Florida (5-2) against Georgia in their yearly meeting in Jacksonville. Last year's game went to overtime, but Florida, looking to make a statement, blow the Bulldogs out of the water early. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray attempts to bring the 'Dogs back, but the Gators D closes the door on any comeback. FLORIDA 34, GEORGIA 20
November 5th: Vanderbilt at Florida
Homecoming has given Florida fits the past two years. In 2009, the Gators barely fended off Arkansas to preserve an undefeated regular season. In 2010, Florida lost a defensive struggle to Mississippi State. But Vanderbilt proves to be no challenge as the Gators run all over the Commodores. FLORIDA 41, VANDERBILT 14
November 12th: Florida at South Carolina
Looking to avenge last year's beatdown at the Swamp, the Gators head to Columbia to face the Gamecocks, who have only one loss and look all-but-certain to reach the SEC Championship. However, Florida has other plans. The Gators storm out to a 14-0 lead and carry a two-score advantage into halftime. The second half is all Gamecocks, as Marcus Lattimore carries South Carolina to a big comeback win. SOUTH CAROLINA 28, FLORIDA 24
November 19th: Furman at Florida
The Furman Palladins are no match for the Gators, as an angry Florida team lights up the FCS school for their highest point total of 2011. FLORIDA 59, FURMAN 3
November 26th: Florida State at Florida
Still fuming after last year's rout at the hand of the Seminoles, the Gators welcome FSU to the Swamp to exact revenge. After Florida State opens the game with a touchdown drive, the Gators rout their ACC foe, dropping them out of BCS contention and securing Florida a 9-3 record. FLORIDA 37, FLORIDA STATE 14.
FINAL RECORD: 9-3 (6-3 SEC)