2011 Record: (7-6, 3-5 in SEC)
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (second year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Gator Bowl: beat Ohio St 24-17
Revenge: 10/6 vs LSU, 10/20 vs South Carolina, 10/27 vs Georgia, 11/24 at FSU
Stats to Cheer: scored on 86.49% of trips to red zone (3rd in SEC); allowed opponents to convert just 27.12% of 3rd down conversions (2nd in SEC)
Stats to Fear: -0.92 turnover margin (last in SEC); converted just 32.08% of third downs (11th in SEC)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 10; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Matt Elam (78 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT), LB Jonathan Bostic (94 tackles, 3 sacks), LB Jelani Jenkins (75 tackles, 2 sacks), DT Sharrif Floyd (46 tackles), DE Dominique Easley (37 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Mike Gillislee (328 yds rush, 5.86 ypc), WR Andre Debose (16 rec, 27 ypr), TE Jordan Reed (28 rec)
Top Recruits: CB Brian Poole (Scout.com's #2 CB), OT D.J. Humphries (#3 OT), DE Jonathan Bullard (#4 DE), TE Kent Taylor (#1 TE), TE Colin Thompson (#2 TE), S Marcus Maye (#7 S), DE Dante Fowler (#10 DE)
Inside Scoop with Dory LeBlanc:
CFBZ: Florida's 7-6 record last year was their worst record since Galen Hall went 6-6 back in 1987. What are your thoughts on Will Muschamp's first year?
Dory LeBlanc: Honestly, right before the season started I thought they would go 8-4 or 7-5. I was on the fence with both Auburn and Georgia, but after some thought said the Gators would beat the Dawgs. I even thought John Brantley would be fine and Florida would play smash mouth football. Obviously, I was wrong on all three counts. I was very disappointed with the QB play of Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, and I know it’s not necessarily fair to say that about a couple of true freshmen, but those true freshmen were both four-star recruits ranked the number one and number three (respectively) quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school. I think expectations were just really high for both of them, and the initial thought that Brissett would red-shirt so he and Driskel would be off-set by a year didn’t quite work out.
I really like that Muschamp implemented both a Pro-Style offense and his 3-4 hybrid defense, and I said a year ago that Ronald Powell was going to flourish at the Buck position. It looks like Powell will now be out for the season with the torn ACL he suffered in the Spring Game, and that is a major loss. There is still a lot of positives on this team, and when any coach changes from a spread to a pro and a 4-3 to a 3-4 there will be a transition period. The same players recruited don’t fit the current system and I believe it takes at least two years for a complete overall to show signs of promise. Luckily for Muschamp, he had young, talented athletes to work with and year two should see at least two more wins. At least that’s what Gator Nation hopes for.
CFBZ: The Charlie Weis experiment is over after one year and Muschamp has replaced him with Brent Pease. Which players do you think will benefit the most from Pease being the new offensive coordinator?
Dory LeBlanc: That’s such a great question and a point that isn’t brought up enough in regards to last season. You’re 100% correct; the Charlie Weiss experiment didn’t work. Just like it didn’t work at Notre Dame, showed signs of some light for the Kansas City Chiefs but never came to fruition because of differences with then head coach Todd Haley. After one season as Florida’s OC, he’s now the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. Sorry Charlie, can’t say I’ll miss ya. He had success as an assistant with the New York Giants and New England Patriots (with four Super Bowl rings between them), but it never seemed to work for him as a head coach for the Fighting Irish or OC for the Gators. I really like Brent Pease, and I think most Gators feel it was a positive hire. At Kentucky, Pease coached Jared Lorenzen to a successful career with the Wildcats, setting school records in total offense, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, and eclipsing many marks set by Tim Couch. As the WR coach for Boise State, he didn’t have the recruiting talent but still coached some good players such as Austin Pettis (school record holder for receptions with 229 and touchdown catches with 39) and Titus Young. Last season he became the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and orchestrated the fifth most scoring offense in the country, the ninth best in total offense, and the eleventh in passing under the winningest QB in college history, Kellen Moore. His resume is impressive to say the least.
This year I think the player who will benefit the most from Pease being hired is WR Andre Debose. Debose is the player I’ve most been waiting for a breakout season from, and he showed signs of it last year. From an outsider’s point of view, his numbers are confusing (16 receptions for 432 yards), but the average of 27 yards per catch is quite impressive. With the tutelage of Pease, I think Debose will land on the national scene. Pease never had a talent like Debose - coming out of high school rated as a five-star number two recruit at wide receiver. Debose is fast, as seen in any offensive highlight (yes they exist) from last season, and is a big play maker. I have been singing Debose’s potential for a while, but I really feel this year he will turn some heads under Pease’s offense.
CFBZ: Who are some players that need to step up on defense this season?
Dory LeBlanc: This question is harder to answer than you may think. Heading into last season, I really felt the Gators would struggle against the pass, and be pretty effective against the run. Turns out, the passing defense was Florida’s strong suit; finishing third in the SEC with an average of 166.8 yards allowed. Now, I’m a firm believer in tape over stats, and when you watch the tape there are two things glaring back at you. Number one, the Gators didn’t face Arkansas the conference’s offensive leader. The Razorbacks just put up sick numbers against almost everybody; their passing attack was head and shoulders above everyone else in the SEC in 2011. In scoring (20.3 ppg), rushing (132.69 ypg), and total defense (299.5 ypg) the Gators were ranked fifth in the conference. If they were to have played Arkansas I think their passing average would have been significantly higher. Again this year, Florida won’t face Arkansas and will also avoid the always run-heavy Alabama Crimson Tide but will face pass-happy offenses with high expectations like Tennessee (in Knoxville). A few players have already been named to award watch lists, but it seems like SEC defenders are all over those, so I don’t know how much stock should be put in them in August. The obvious is that you hope Dominique Easley comes back to 100% after the torn ACL; I think him and Sharrif Floyd are going to have to set the tone for four quarters up front, followed by linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. Last year Matt Elam was second on the team in tackles (74) and tied for the most interceptions with two. Between six players last season there was a total of eight interceptions, and I think the corners Cody Riggs and Louchiez Purifoy need to step their game up a lot this year. I think that’s the most of the starting defense? Yeah, so all of them. They are dealing with a lot of injuries right now and the health of the players is first and foremost. I don’t want to see anyone push themselves to get back and they cause even more injury. I think there’s enough depth and it is a talented coaching staff that they all should be able to improve in the second year.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Dory LeBlanc: I think 8-4 is a possibility. They’ve got back-to-back games in hostile territory weeks two and three against Texas A&M and Tennessee and again at the final regular season matchup with Florida State. They play LSU at home, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. A successful season is wins against Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State and Muschamp’s head doesn’t explode. In all seriousness, a successful season is a marked improvement from whichever QB ends up starting, the team stays healthy, and there’s at least a shot at the SEC Championship game. I really believe things take time (Urban Meyer’s second year was an exception, not the rule), but they’re heading in the right direction.
Florida is one of the toughest teams to predict this season. Urban Meyer did a fantastic job of winning football games at Florida but he left a mess for Will Muschamp to clean up and Muschamp's squad struggled last season. It's clear this Florida squad has talent but it also has major question marks on the offensive and defensive side of the football. I wouldn't be shocked to see Florida win the SEC East and on the other hand I wouldn't be shocked to see them finish fifth.
The questions with the Florida offense will start with the most important position on the field. The QB battle is between two sophomores that both completed less than 50% of their passes last year and combined for a TD to INT ratio of 2 to 6. Both QBs are very talented but they also are not very experienced. The good news is that Charlie Weis won't be coaching them. The bad news is that Florida must travel to Texas A&M and Tennessee in weeks two and three of the season where they will be playing in a hostile environment from the get-go. Another question mark is who will replace the "star" power of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The tandem combined for over 1400 yards rushing, 47 receptions and 12 TDs. Not only did they provide Florida with most of their offense but they also provided a boost in special teams as they both had returns for TDs and Rainey blocked two kicks. That's going to be tough to replace. Establishing the run with Mike Gillislee, or anybody else for that matter, is going to be vital for Florida's chances to get off to a good start to the season. It's also feels like it's been a long time since Florida has had a go-to receiver (acutally it's only been since 2009- Riley Cooper). Whoever wins the QB will have some nice targets but someone has to step up as the play-maker. As you can see, the Florida offense has a ton of questions.
On defense, Florida has some of the best talent in the league. Most teams would kills for guys like Matt Elam, Dominique Easley, Jonathan Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. Those guys are just the tip of the iceberg as Florida has four and five star prospects up and down their line-up. Ronald Powell's ACL injury is a big blow to Florida as it means Florida will start the season losing it's top two sack leaders from last season and it's unknown when/if Powell will play this season. That puts more pressure on guys like Dominique Easley (1.5 sacks in 2011) to take the next step. If Florida wins big this year, it will most likely be because of their defense but they need some guys to step up on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Florida has a favorable schedule this year but that doesn't mean it's easy. In fact far from it but their toughest conference road game is a toss up between Texas A&M and Tennessee and that's not bad. Florida gets their toughest conference games at home (or in their home state) in Georgia, LSU and South Carolina and they also get Missouri at home. If Florida can get through the Tennessee/Texas A&M games and go 4-0 heading into LSU they could be in for a big season. That would give this team a ton of confidence to build on and even an expected loss to LSU would still have them in a very favorable position. Phil Steele has Florida ranked #10 in his pre-season poll and he ranks their defense as #2 in the country. I'm not that high on Florida but if everything comes together they clearly have the talent to reach that prediction.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
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