First Practice: March 13
Spring Game: April 6
After a nice bounce-back season in which Florida went 11-2 and was a possible BCS Championship contender, the Gators have been gutted of experienced talent.
This doesn’t mean Will Muschamp’s squad can’t overcome this, but it’s something that must be dealt with if Florida wants to be in contention for the SEC crown in 2013.
Florida’s recruiting classes tell us that Muschamp should be able to rebuild immediately, but having to go toe-to-toe with Georgia, South Carolina, LSU, Alabama, etc. is not easy.
Stability Factor (1=chaos, 5=rock solid): 3.0
Many of us still have the image of the Gators being outplayed, outhustled and outhit by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. That’s why you feel like Florida is teetering between another huge season or a huge disappointment.
Florida will be counting on a larger-than-normal number of new faces to be key contributors. In Gainesville, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the talent is in place. But anytime you have this many question marks it’s hard to go all in with a team.
Under the Microscope: Jeff Driskel, QB
There’s no question that Driskel improved a great deal last season, but if Florida is really going to take another step in 2013 it will likely fall to the junior to become more consistent.
When you see the success of young quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, everyone just believes the learning curve isn’t that big. But as talented as Driskel is his game really needed to be tweaked.
If the coaching staff can get Driskel to improve his pocket presence this spring they’ll have to be confident moving forward.
Locked and Loaded: Cornerback
There are individual players who have more upside than any of Florida’s corners, but this unit is deep and talented.
Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins are the standout corners and will rank among the best in the SEC. They are good cover guys and will be tough defenders.
But Florida will be able to substitute for them liberally if it would like.
While the Gators have explored using Loucheiz Purifoy on offense, he’s still one of the team’s best corners. There is also incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who many believe is good enough now to start. It’s more likely he’ll be a regular on defense and special teams.
Don’t overlook Brian Poole and Cody Riggs, who are returning from injuries.
Jockeying for Position: Safety
Florida was stout at this position last year with Matt Elam and Josh Evans, but both are headed to the NFL.
So now you get a serious battle for two important positions on the defense.
The aforementioned Poole could be shifted from corner to one of the open spots. Also being considered for starting roles are Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers. Neither one has been asked to do much so far in their careers, but if one or both have a good spring they could see the field much more in 2013.
Name to Know: Tyler Moore, OT
Moore made an impression as a freshman at Nebraska as he started four games for Bo Pelini. But after leaving Nebraska to take a year off at St. Petersburg College in his hometown of Clearwater, Fla., Moore is ready to play football again.
He’s in Gainesville and will compete with Chaz Green at right tackle.
Moore will need the spring to get back into football shape, but he could become a star on the line by fall.
Spring Will Be a Success If …: Some receivers step up as main targets
While Driskel is being asked to become a bigger leader this season, it will help his maturation if he has someone he can count on to make big catches.
Enter Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar, who both have star potential but have yet to show it. If Debose can keep his head on right then he could have a breakout season.
There’s also a chance that freshman Demarcus Robinson could be a Sammy Watkins-type player in his first season.