Florida Football Predictions
In the first season under head coach Will Muschamp, the Florida Gators opened up the 2011 season 4-0 and were ranked No. 17 in the country. Things didn’t exactly go as planned from that point on. Florida would lose six of their final eight games before knocking off Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl to finish the year just 7-6. A lot is going to be expected out of Muschamp in his second season, as the Gators return 17 starts (7 offense, 10 defense). Let’s take a look at what Florida will be sending out to the field on both sides of the ball in 2012.
The Gators quarterback woes continued last season. John Brantley was able to keep his the starting job and played well early in the year, but he was never the same after suffering an injury against Alabama in the fifth game of the season. Brantley has since graduated, forcing the Gators to open 2012 with a new starter under center. It’s unclear just who that will be. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett will likely continue to battle for the job in fall practice.
Florida also has to replace their top two weapons in the running game in Chris Rainey (861 yards, two TDs) and Jeff Demps (569 yards, six TDs). Rainey was also second on the team with 381 receiving yards. Both of these players were a threat to take it to the house every time they touched the ball. A lot is going to be expected out of Mike Gillislee (328 yards, two TDs) to produce at a high level, but he will have some help. Florida is excited about what sophomore Mack Brown will bring to the table and they also return wildcat specialist Trey Burton.
The receiving corps looks to be in pretty good shape, despite the loss of Rainey and wide out Deonte Thompson (21 catches, 264 yards). One player that opposing defenses will have to pay attention to, is wide out Andre Debose. While he only had 16 catches, he finished with a team-high 432 yards (27.0 ypc) and four touchdowns. Florida also brings back sophomore Quinton Dunbar and one of the top tight ends in the SEC in Jordan Reed.
Last year the Gators had just one starter back on the offensive line, and it was a big reason why they struggled to run the ball and couldn’t keep Brantley healthy. With four starters back from last year and the addition of a couple of very highly touted recruits, this unit will be a strength in 2012.
The Gator defense played about as well as they could given the struggles on the offensive side of the ball. With pretty much everyone back from last year, big things are expected out of this group this season.
The only starter that won’t be back from last season is defensive tackle Jaye Howard (65 tackles, 5.5 sacks). His loss doesn’t figure to hurt the production of the defense line, as they return defensive end Ronald Powell (32 tackles, six sacks), two of the top defensive linemen in the SEC in tackle Sharrif Floyd (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and end Dominique Easley (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and will be moving outside linebacker Lerentee McCray to defensive end.
The strength of the defense lies at the linebacker position, where Florida is absolutely loaded with big time playmakers. Middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic (team-high 94 tackles, three sacks, seven TFL) and weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins (76 tackles, two sacks) are two of the top rated players at their position in the SEC. One of the reasons they decided to move McCray to the defensive line, was to make way for freshman sensation Antonio Morrison. Without question one of the elite linebacker corps in the entire country.
The secondary also has a ton of talent coming back from last season. Not only do they return all four starters from last year’s unit, they have six back who started at least eight games and could potentially get back 2010 starting corner Jeremy Brown. The player to watch out for is junior strong safety Matt Elam.
SEC Prediction – 2nd SEC East
I look for the Gators to one of the most improved teams in all of college football. We will find out if that’s the case when they go on the road to face Texas A&M and Tennessee to open up SEC play. The defense should be very good, but I still have my concerns about what Florida will get out of their starting quarterback(s). I currently have them losing to Georgia and LSU at home in conference play, which has me picking them to finish second behind Georgia in the East.
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