The 2016 season kicks off with Massachusetts traveling to the Swamp for a large paycheck and a beatdown.
Most of the attention of Gator Nation will be given to the performance of the offense – again – with new QB Luke Del Rio taking the reins. After the debacle of the second half of last season with the Will Grier drama and under Treon Harris, everyone has to be excited with seeing functional, consistent QB play. It’s hard to believe that this will be the first time in 4 seasons that the same OC and scheme are in place, which alone holds promise for improvement.
Lots of new faces will be on display on offense along with Del Rio. Austin Appleby should and Kyle Trask possibly will take snaps at QB. JUCO transfer Mark Thompson gets his first chance at RB to show the staff what he can do, while true freshman Lamical Perine will get some carries, sharing the rotation with Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett. Freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain should join JUCO transfer Dre Massey to bolster the WR corps, featuring the return of Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell.
This will be the first chance to see the revamped OL, although not the best test for them until next week. The starting five of David Sharpe, Martez Ivey, Cam Dillard, Tyler Jordan, and Fred Johnson should be good, but depth needs to be developed quickly both at tackle and the interior. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Sandifer, Richard Desir-Jones, and T.J. McCoy, and true freshmen Jawaan Taylor, Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe will all get plenty of snaps.
The Gator defense should have little trouble dominating the game, despite lots of new faces as well. The D-Line could develop into one of the best in the SEC this season. CeCe Jefferson, Caleb Brantley, Taven Bryan, and Khairi Clark should form a fine rotation at tackle. Bryan Cox, Jr., Jordan Sherit, and Keivonnis Davis lead the way at DE, with redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga and true freshmen Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton coming in with high expectations.
At LB, redshirt freshmen Vosean Joseph, Rayshad Jackson, and Kylan Johnson, and true freshmen David Reese and Jeremiah Moon, will join starters Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. The secondary features great starting CBs in Jalen (Teez) Tabor and Quincy Wilson, but JUCO transfer Joseph Putu and freshman C. J. McWilliams will get plenty of snaps to gain much-needed experience. At safety, Marcus Maye leads a solid group that includes experienced depth in Duke Dawson, Nick Washington, and Marcell Harris, along with freshmen Chauncey Gardner and Jeawon Taylor.
Special teams will also hold the interest of the fans, as Eddy Pineiro finally gets his first chance in live action to see if he can begin to fulfill his promise at placekicker. Last season’s wretched FG kicking directly contributed to some late season losses. Johnny Townsend should be of the best punters in the country.
UMass should pose little challenge, as they are overmatched physically and in skill level. Hopefully the Florida offense is provides an early and expanding lead, allowing the staff to rest starters on both sides of the ball as early as the second quarter and to get a lot of guys on the field to gain experience and develop depth. Plenty of young guys will get their chance to prove they belong in the rotation at various positions, especially on the OL, in the LB corps, and in the secondary.
This should be a glorified scrimmage before the SEC season begins. As always, the mantra for these games is, “no injuries!”
Prediction: Florida 51 UMass 13