In 2011 an angry little man by the name of Will Muschamp took over as the head coach of the Florida Gators. The Gators rolled to a relatively uninspired 7-6 record that year and lost to every ranked opponent (Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina) that they played in the process.
Expectations for the program were mixed heading into the 2012 season. The 7-6 debut season was far from a source of relief for fans, but a tradition of winning was still demanded and most believed Muschamp was the man to continue that legacy. Sure enough, the Gators did a lot of winning last season.
Muschamp’s squad took down Tennessee (the Vols were comically ranked 23rd in the nation early in the season), LSU (ranked 4th at the time), South Carolina (ranked 7th at the time) and Florida State (10th in the nation). The lone setback for the Gators during the regular season: a 17-9 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. And of course, the Gators were defeated by Louisville in an ugly display at the Sugar Bowl.
When it was all said and done Florida was “back,” according to most pundits as Gainesville was once again home to a top-10 team (The Gators finished the season 9th and 10th respectively in the final AP and Coaches Poll.).
I don’t think Florida is back.
To be fair: I think Muschamp’s 2011 team was better than its win/loss record indicated. I won’t focus on that as the true objective of this article is to actually look ahead and a re-examination of 2011 is relatively meaningless. But, while I’m re-calibrating expectations for the Gators I think that is worth briefly pointing out.
Conversely to Muschamp’s debut season, I think his follow-up squad was not as good as its record. And, I would point to the following situational (and admittedly debatable) evidence to support that assertion:
- Yes, Florida defeated Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziell. But…this was A&M’s first game of the season. This was Manziell’s first outing of his collegiate career. He was the first freshman to ever win a Heisman Trophy, but this was his first time playing on a college field. And it showed in what he was allowed to do. Johnny Football was phenomenal in the game – he hit 76.7% of his passes. He didn’t turn the ball over. But his 23 completions went for just 173 yards. He didn’t look downfield, because they didn’t know he could. He accounted for 233 yards of offense – a respectable total. But in his other 12 games he averaged over 406 yards. Was this because of Florida’s defense? Maybe. Or maybe he wasn’t let loose yet.
- With ten minutes remaining in the Tennessee game the Florida Gators led by just 7 points. A 75-yard pass play and a 49 yard field goal opened that game up in the fourth quarter. This was a really bad Tennessee team – just ask Derek Dooley. Although that win came over a top-25 team, it holds little to no weight. (And for what it’s worth, I don’t give Georgia any credit for narrowly escaping with a win against Tennessee either.)
- Florida absolutely dominated South Carolina, winning 44-11. A few weeks earlier South Carolina had delivered a similarly impressive whipping to the Georgia Bulldogs. I don’t think South Carolina was truly 28 points better than Georgia. I don’t think Florida was truly 33 points better than South Carolina. I think all three teams in question were prone to very volatile performance results. Georgia was terrible against a South Carolina team that played its best ball of the season that day. South Carolina in turn was terrible against a Florida team that played its best game of the season. But if South Carolina played Florida nine more times there would not be another outcome that lopsided.
- As a Georgia fan I loved the Bulldogs’ win over the Gators. But if I’m looking at this from the outside in, Florida should be embarrassed for losing that game. If there is one fatal flaw for Georgia teams of the recent past it is the tendency to shoot themselves in the foot early on. Aaron Murray threw three interceptions in the first half (he threw a total of 10 all season). A team that was remotely opportunistic could have taken the Dawgs out early. Alabama would have. I think LSU would have. South Carolina did. Instead, Florida one-upped the Dawgs’ turnovers and in doing so breathed life into a defense that had just allowed 44 points to Tennessee, 35 points to South Carolina and 24 points to Kentucky in consecutive games.
- A 37-26 win over Florida State is nice. It’s cute even. But FSU still plays in the ACC. And FSU still struggled the following weekend against Georgia Tech (6-6 heading into the game with a black eye in the form of a 49-28 loss at home to Middle Tennessee State) in a game that meant everything – Conference Championship, BCS Bowl Bid, etc.
For every great game Florida had – the LSU game comes to mind (in addition to the Carolina game) there were a handful of, “Say whaaaat???” moments for Muschamp’s team. A 27-14 win over Bowling Green to open the season was oddly close. A 14-7 win over Missouri was almost embarrassing as a 27-20 win (off a blocked punt return, after trailing by 7 points with 1:43 to play in the game) against Louisiana-Lafayette.
And of course, there was the Sugar Bowl. Florida fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before narrowing the margin to 24-10 at the half. Louisville then went up 33-10 with 8 minutes remaining before the Gators scored two TDs (one on a kick-off return) in garbage time.
So, was Florida a good team in 2012? Yes. The Gators, in my opinion, were a top-25 team. They were not, however, a top-10 team.
The 2013 Defense
The Gators’ calling card in 2012 was their defense, and that makes sense given Muschamp’s past as a Defensive Coordinator. Unfortunately for Florida fans, a lot of that Defense is gone:
- DT Sharrif Floyd (37.5 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 Sacks, 1 FF) – 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Matt Elam (67 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FF) – 32nd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- ILB Jon Bostic (56.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) – 50th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- OLB Jelani Jenkins (injured most of the year, 24 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT) – 104th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Josh Evans (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 PBU) – 169th overall pick in the NFL Draft
In addition to those stars, Florida is losing 73.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs and 9 PBU from contributors Omar Hunter, Lerentee McCray, Earl Okine and De’Ante Saunders.
The Gators must replace production in mass – 325 tackles – and in highlights – 50 TFLs, 12 INTs. And, with the Gators taking on seven teams (Toledo, Miami, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida State) that averaged 30+ points per game (FWIW: the national average was around 28 ppg) in 2012, stops will be needed. Compounding that demand is the fact that LSU, Georgia and South Carolina – all conference foes – return starting QBs and multiple weapons.
The 2013 Offense
Florida’s offense struggled at times in 2012, hence a 26.7 point scoring average against BCS Conference opponents. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to pin some of those struggles on quarterback Jeff Driskel.
The chart below compares team points and Driskel’s yards of total offense. As you can see neither figure is remotely consistent. Driskel’s yardage is all over the place as is the team’s scoring. And yet, even within that context there still isn’t always any sign of correlation. Case in point: Driskel accounted for just 88 yards when Florida scored 44 points against South Carolina. In his next game he racked up 187 yards en route to 9 total points.
In any event, both sets of this data need to stabilize and I think that starts and ends with Driskel’s performance. That might have been an overstatement in 2012, but in 2013 it is not. What’s changed? Driskel has lost the team’s leading rusher (Mike Gillislee had 1152 rushing yards and 10 TDs, no other player had over 408 yards rushing or more than 4 Tds) and his leading receiver (Jordan Reed accounted for 34% of Driskel’s passing yards. Take away Frankie Hammond (295 yards receiving, 3 TDs) and Gillislee’s catching (159 yards, 1TD) and 1,018 passing yards and 7 TDs need to be replaced. That might not be a big deal for an Aaron Murray or a Tajh Boyd, but that leaves Driskel with just 633 yards and 5 TDs of returning production (given his 2012 passing numbers).
General 2013 Outlook
Replacing defensive stalwarts will be difficult, but driving Driskel to consistency without key weapons from 2012 will be even more challenging. Take away place kicker Caleb Sturgis (340 career points, 14 of 16 on FGs of 30+ yards in 2012) and the Gators may really struggle.
Add a difficult away game early in the season at Miami (the Hurricanes return 11 starters on offense and 9 on defense from a team that went 7-5 last season) and trips to LSU and South Carolina – both hostile environments and potentially top-10 teams – and the schedule is less than favorable given the standard SEC slate and the typical neutral site Georgia game.
The earliest set of Vegas “Over/Under” lines have been put out by 5Dimes and has the Gators pegged at 9.5 wins. My gut says take the “under” as I’m doubtful that Florida will be better than LSU, Georgia or South Carolina and I think Miami or FSU could surprise them.
In any event, a 9.5 over/under on a team that went 11-1 with one 8-point loss during the 2012 regular season seems to be indicative that I am not alone in my theory that the Gators will take a step back in 2013.
That’s all I got/
2013 is a year to be celebrated by football fans for many reasons: Notre Dame is currently 0-1 and -28 in scoring margin, recruiting photoshops are officially mainstream comedy, Tim Tebow is out of a job, and my Ravens won the Super Bowl.
For the SEC, it’s a year with more opportunities than normal to again reinforce its regional hegemony on the ACC, who again gets a chance to prove the league’s fall post-2000 was the result of a lot of bad breaks, coaching hires, and realignment decisions. My opinion is that, until very recently, ACC and SEC bottom-feeders would be competitive, but there has been a chasm between the definitions of ‘elite’ teams in the two conferences since Florida State’s fall from the elite in 2001. In 2013, I struggle to see the Boston College’s of the world coming close against even Kentucky or Mizzou. All that being said, there are a lot of games on tap for the early season that I want to get a head start on analyzing.
NOTE: I have not gone on my annual
sabbatical pilgrimage beach trip in which I read Phil Steele cover-to-cover, so my information is based strictly on impressions I think I remember from last season, the coaching carousel, and the NFL draft.
2013 ACC/SEC Games, Quickly and Carelessly Analyzed
1) August 31: Georgia at Clemson
This game, with the level on which both programs are currently playing, is what makes College Football’s lack of a playoff so damn frustrating. These are two culturally similar schools separated by about 60 miles of country roads and 30 miles of interstate. The two schools have played 60 times, but just twice since 1995, which strangely coincides with the advent of the BCS and the season-killing ability of a loss, regardless of the opponent. (Story for another day: how this could change in coming years and how awesome that would be.)
In this particular matchup, remember the Orange Bowl-over in 2012. Its result is relevant because these two offenses will push the 103 combined points Clemson and, well, mostly West Virginia scored in the game that got Steel Curtain architect Chuck Noll committed.
10 returning starters from the prolific 2012 Georgia offense? (And a defense that saw seven players taken in the NFL draft and even more graduate?) Check.
A Clemson offense that averaged 81.7 plays per game at 6.3 yards per play? (And a defense that yielded 5.6 yards per play?) Check.
First defense to five stops wins. Todd Grantham, this is how you actually get one of those NFL jobs instead of just being a perpetual candidate.
No prediction here, I don’t bet on my teams.
2) August 31: Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Yikes. Not only did Virginia Tech’s new Offensive Coordinator’s 2012 offense finish 115th in the country, but Kirby Smart’s D is well-acquainted with him– because he is former Auburn OC Scott Loeffler (will be legally changed to Laugh-ler on Sept. 1). Gene Chizik knew he had to have a good year in 2012, and Loeffler’s West Coast offense was supposed to be the cure. Whoops.
Logan Thomas can throw the ball a long way. He is a decent runner. What he can not, I repeat NOT do, is perform even adequately as an accurate short-to-medium range passer. In the ‘tough luck for him’ category, that is precisely the keystone of the West Coast offense! He’ll get picked off 4 times in this game, and Alabama will be unanimous #1 before a lot of northern schools are in session (UGA? August 12. C’mon, man). We’ll leave it at that because I don’t need to waste valuable bandwidth to tell you that Bama is going to be a tough out this year.
Tide 31, Hokies 0.
3) September 7: Florida at Miami
Good news: if Miami holds serve against Florida Atlantic on 8/31, Miami’s front-running bandwagoners will be out in full force (so, Sun Life will be half-full). I’m kinda cheering for that not to transpire, and for this to happen instead. The opportunity to hear Will Muschamp’s insane ramblings on TV for 3 1/2 hours is enough comedic fodder to last DudeYouCrazy the rest of the season.
As far as the actual game itself goes, I expect no offense to be played. At all. I assume Jeff Driskel is still the QB at Florida (again, Phil Steele), and I know Miami has the crazy-fun-to-watch Duke Johnson. Those players aside, I’ll watch because I am a sucker for good, slobberknocking, defensive football.
Florida 22, Miami 13.
4) August 29: North Carolina at South Carolina
These teams played 59 games before South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992, and have played once since. You wouldn’t know it talking to a ‘Cocks fan, but UNC has owned this series all-time, taking a 35-17-4 record into Columbia. There’s a lot of latent animosity here stemming from at least these following items:
– Former UNC basketball coach Frank McGuire, who was the architect of their 1957 undefeated team, left in 1961 and became the S.C. coach in 1964.
– The Cocks’ departure from the ACC in ’71, in which they felt slighted in an NC-school-heavy league, was less than amicable from both sides.
– Steve Spurrier. He did this after a 1989 win at UNC as Duke’s coach, did everything but buy a house at Chapel Ridge golf club in Chapel Hill in 2004 and was set to be the Heels’ next coach until this happened, and…well, he doesn’t like my Heels or my Bulldogs.
– The one that really rubs me the wrong way: S.C. fans insist ad nauseum that UNC chickened out of their return game to Columbia (after the Cocks won 21-15 in Chapel Hill in 2007 and my buddy Alex, who was an S.C. student at the time lost one of his buddies in Chapel Hill’s arboretum for 36 hours after the game) when the agreement netted South Carolina three Thursday night primetime openers in 4 years from ESPN (this year’s being the third). UNC was offered the Chick-Fil-A kickoff vs. LSU. If the roles were reversed, I’d be more understanding. At least neither team pulled a Tennessee (sorry to link Bleacher Report).
So South Carolina loses 8 starters on D, their whole two-deep at linebacker, and a big running back who would have abused UNC’s 4-2-5? In the words of Lloyd Christmas, YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE! In all seriousness, Jadeveon Clowney vs. James Hurst is incredibly compelling trench warfare,
South Carolina’s young receivers UNC’s slow secondary scares the crap out of me, and my only previous trip to Columbia saw Larry Fedora’s Southern Miss team fall well short.
The Cocks will win, but Carolina (yes, CAROLINA) will keep it respectable. The spread is 14.5. Let’s cover (or come close).
Giving you the business,