I’m starting to think it was Tim Tebow and not Urban Meyer who made the Florida Gators the nation’s premier program from the 2006-09 seasons. In that stretch, with Tebow as the full-time starter in three of those seasons (Chris Leak was the official starter in ’06), the Gators won two national titles and a Sugar Bowl, played in three SEC Championship Games (winning two) and went a combined 48-7. The Gators didn’t lose to Florida State in any of those four seasons and blew the Noles out in three of them.
The Gators went 8-5 in the first post-Tebow season, landing in the Outback Bowl. And that would be Meyer’s final game in Gainesville. UF pounced on one of the nation’s top rising coordinators to replace Meyer in Texas’ Will Muschamp, but Meyer left the cupboard pretty empty as Florida finished 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC in 2011. Ironically, UF played in the Gator Bowl and beat the team Meyer takes over this season, Ohio State.
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Florida isn’t even the class of East Division any longer much less the SEC, with LSU and Alabama now that conference’s two superpowers. Shoot, the Gators aren’t even the class of the Sunshine State as FSU has won the past two in the series and held UF to a combined 14 points in those games. Florida fans are starting to get antsy and expect a return to national prominence this season. Another mediocre campaign could put the pressure on Muschamp.
Muschamp has proven to be an ace recruiter, although perhaps not quite in the class of Meyer or FSU’s Jimbo Fisher yet. The big offseason change on Muschamp’s staff was Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis leaving to be the head coach of Kansas (why KU wanted Weis after how bad the Gators were on offense last year is a question for another day) and replacing him with former Boise State Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease. Under Pease last year, in his first season as the coordinator after five years as receivers’ coach, the Broncos averaged 44.2 points and 481.3 yards, winning 12 games. If you want a point of comparison, Pease’s Broncos beat Georgia in Atlanta to start the 2011 season, 35-21. Meanwhile, UF managed just 20 points in losing to the Dawgs in Jacksonville on Oct. 29.
This unit was clearly the weak link in 2011 as it ranked 105th nationally in total offense (328.7 yards per game); 73rd in rushing (143.0 yards a game); and 89th in passing (185.7 yards per game) in Weis' lone season in Gainesville. The Gators managed a combined 46 points in losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn, South Carolina and Florida State (UF scored 48 vs. Kentucky alone).
Seven starters are due back on offense, with big question heading to the fall at quarterback. John Brantley has moved on after never coming close to living up to his hype coming out of high school. The Gators have another five-star recruit on the roster in Jeff Driskel, but he was 16-for-34 for 148 yards with two picks in limited time last year as a freshman. Fellow frosh Jacoby Brissett saw more time, finishing 18-for-39 for 206 yards with four picks. Those two will continue their battle into fall camp.
The one-two punch of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey (two of the nation’s fastest players) at running back is gone, leaving senior Mike Gillislee as the guy. He has played only sparingly or in mop-up situations his first three seasons but won the starting job this spring. Gillislee rushed for 328 yards and two scores, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, last season. UF has been looking for a stud receiver since Percy Harvin left. The Gators have a ton of top recruits at the position, guys like Andre Debose, but none has shown to be a go-to guy. Perhaps the most intriguing offensive player is Trey Burton, who plays multiple skill positions (fullback, H-back, tight end) and will see some snaps under center in a Wildcat-type package.
While this group did struggle at times to stop the run, overall it was very good in 2011. The Gators ranked 20th in the country in points allowed per game (20.3) and ninth in total yards per game (299.6). It should be even better this year with 10 starters back. One key, however, could be how quickly junior defensive end Ronald Powell heals. Powell, who had a team-high six sacks last season, tore an ACL in the spring game but is hoping to be back by late September, although that seems a bit optimistic.
The Florida defense is loaded with five-star recruits and future NFL players on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary, but must force more turnovers. The Gators had only 14 takeaways last season (eight interceptions, six fumble recoveries), the worst single-season total in school history since UF began keeping fumble stats in 1950. Florida dropped 15 potential interceptions, including six by linebacker Jelani Jenkins. The defense went six games in a row without even forcing a fumble as UF finished 113th in turnover margin.
2012 Florida Gators Football Schedule Analysis
UF is assured of no worse than 3-1 in its nonconference schedule: wins Sept. 1 vs. Bowling Green, Nov. 10 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and Nov. 17 vs. Jacksonville State are locks. As usual, the Gators conclude the regular season vs. FSU and the Noles are already 6.5-point home favorites on 5Dimes to win their third straight in the series.
In SEC play, the Gators at least don’t have to face Arkansas or Alabama from the West Division during the regular season. But LSU comes to Gainesville (Gators do get a bye week before this game), along with South Carolina, Missouri and Kentucky. On the road, UF will play the first-ever SEC game at Texas A&M and also travels to Tennessee and Vanderbilt while facing Georgia in the annual Jacksonville game.
2012 Florida Gators Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, Florida has two “over/under” wins totals: 7.5 (over a -170 favorite) and 8 (under a -135 favorite). To win the BCS title, UF is +6200 and just to play in the game it is +2300. To play in any BCS bowl game, UF is +550. To win the SEC, the Gators are +1500 and to win the East Division, they are +310 (third).
2012 Florida Gators Football Predictions
It’s hard to predict UF not knowing who its quarterback will be or when Powell, the team’s best defensive player, will be back. In a glass-half-empty thought, the Gators didn’t beat a single quality opponent a season ago (sorry, but Ohio State wasn’t quality last year). In a glass-half-full look, Florida could have beaten both Georgia and South Carolina in 2011 and that defense totally dominated Florida State despite a 21-7 loss.
I believe this at best is an 8-4 team in 2012, with expected losses at A&M (Kyle Field will be rocking for that SEC opener!), vs. LSU, vs. Georgia and at FSU. But a loss in Week 3 at Tennessee is very possible if Florida still is having problems at QB (plus, Powell will still be out). And certainly a loss to South Carolina could happen. I’d say 7-5, and thus take the under on both wins props. The SEC East Division title will have to wait until 2013.
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