Rambling Spring Thoughts: Gators Lurking?
When a team plays its football in a division where one can point to each program and say, “they have X, but they’re tragically flawed at Y…”, there is reason for optimism from its fanbase. This applies to Tennessee and their ‘sexy pick’ (I hate that term) status for 2015, to a lesser extent South Carolina if they can find a quarterback and a defense, and it applies to the Florida Gators. With offensive guru Jim McIlwain at the helm (or, better yet, Coach Boom and Jeff Driskel out), the Gators COULD surprise in year 1.
The D Will Still Be Really, Really Good
Losing Dante Fowler to the NFL hurts, but he was often injured and even more often disappeared in his three years in Gainesville. The Gators still return the best corner in college football (Vernon Hargreaves III), a sideline-to-sideline linebacker (Antonio Morrison), and more blue-chippers on the DL (in no order, senior Jonathan Bullard, junior Bryan Cox Jr., and #1 prospect Cece Jefferson).
With Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor manning the corners, and Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal at safety, Florida’s secondary should be top-notch in an SEC that has lacked good DB play in recent years.
Can McIlwain Find a Rashard Higgins?
Higgins is a Colorado State receiver who famously (if you follow this stuff as close as I do) was THE weapon in McIlwain’s last CSU offense, totaling 1750 yards and 17 TD’s on 96 receptions in 2014. In 2013, the focal point was RB Kapri Bibbs, who scored 31 (!!!!) rushing TD’s in 281 attempts.
Clearly, the M.O. of McIlwain’s offense is to find a workhorse and get him the ball. Question is: does Florida have that on its roster?
The name I’ve seen tossed around the most this spring is WR Demarcus Robinson, who led the Gators with 810 yards and 7 TD last year. Those are impressive numbers for a guy without a quarterback, but (spoiler alert) he is still a guy without a quarterback.
Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor return at RB, but I’m not going to talk about them as I’m still trying to suppress memories of Jacksonville.
QB: Still the Issue
Treon Harris acquitted himself to the SEC pretty well for a true freshman. Even if a completion percentage below 50 qualifies as pretty well. Say what you will about Muschamp and former OC Jeff Roper’s offense, but they put him in a position to succeed as evidenced by 6 pass attempts against Georgia, and a 9:4 TD:INT ratio.
Scuttlebutt from a quick perusal of Gator sites (Chad Floyd: masochist so you don’t have to be!) is that former mega-recruit and redshirt freshman Will Grier looked better in spring ball. I genuinely expect him to be a problem in coming years, so hopefully a
loaded early schedule like in 2014 will rattle the young gun’s confidence and ruin him as a player (crap, the schedule ain’t that bad).
Get ready to hear “Jim McIlwain: genius, national coach of the year” as summer turns to fall. The Gators open with New Mexico State and ECU at home, and open SEC play on the road against Kentucky before going for their 11th straight win against Tennessee. A 4-0 start is likely.
October represents a major step up in competition, as they go Ole Miss, at Missouri (who I still can’t peg and will later write about only to jinx them), at LSU, bye, Sunlit Libations Festival. If Grier has the confidence from a lackluster September schedule, a split of October puts Florida squarely in the running for the East. Because…
November isn’t much better than September. A trip to South Carolina on the 14th looms large, but otherwise they’re a win at home against Vandy from (obstensibly) a 6-2, 5-3 SEC season. They close with FAU and Florida State at home, and Florida State (mark my words) is going to take a MAJOR step back this year.
The defense is good, the offense is finally competently coached…Florida is primed to surprise this year. I hope I’m wrong.
NEXT: probably Auburn/Alabama before working back to the East.