2013 Season Preview

2013 promises to be a very interesting season for the Florida Gators.  There are a lot of inexperienced and/or new faces stepping into key roles, while certain players such as Jeff Driskel and Jon Harrison on offense and Dominique Easley and Ron Powell on defense have to assume a leadership role from the start.  After a bitter end to a great regular season came in the lifeless choke job against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, there is plenty of reason for the players to be motivated this year.  The main goal is to get back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009, which can only happen by beating Georgia and possibly South Carolina.  Once again the SEC has screwed the Gators with a conference schedule that is much more difficult than those other 2 teams.  An off-season filled with injuries, illness, and ancillary off-the-field distractions has dampened some enthusiasm since the start of June.  Somehow this team has find some early momentum.


The offensive line will see an almost complete makeover.  Jon Harrison is back to anchor the middle, but do to either preseason injuries or graduation the other 4 spots will see some combination of new faces.  Transfers Tyler Moore from Nebraska and Max Garcia from Maryland are slated to see significant time at tackle and guard, respectively.   G John Halapio will be battling a pectoral injury likely throughout the entire season.  DJ Humphries has a lot of pressure to live up to his recruiting hype at LT, while Moore will rotate at RT with Kyle Koehne after a shoulder injury to Chaz Green has shelved him for the entire season – terrible for the rotation and depth.  Freshmen Cameron Dillard and Octavious Jackson, and JuCo Trenton Brown will have to provide depth.  The early indications are that this unit as a whole would show improvement over last year’s group, but I always worry when transfers are in the mix, maybe even more so than with guys that have been on the roster……plus the injuries.  If Jeff Driskel and the passing game are to improve to help balance the offense in 2013, this unit has to lead the way.  Coach Tim Davis did a very good job in 2012 dealing with many injuries and frankly some mediocre talent, so it will be interesting to see what he can get out of this group.

At QB, much offseason talk has been about the development of Driskel as a passer, and deservedly so.  His offseason was productive, getting the opportunity to attend the Manning QB Camp, and also benefitting from continuity at the OC position.  Much of the fortunes for this season ride not on his physical skills, but improvement (or lack thereof) in his decision-making.  He has to go through his progressions, as there were a lot of open receivers missed last year.  Also, given the lack of depth and experience of the backups, I have the feeling he will be asked by the coaches to be more judicious in running the ball this season, as an injury to him could wipe out any hope for a big year.  Tyler Murphy seems to have the #2 job in fall practice, but that may be mainly a function of his experience in the program as opposed to any long-term viability.  Coach Brent Pease should be able to open up the playbook more in 2013 and show more diversity in his play-calling.

The RB depth chart looks solid this year.  Matt Jones is the clear #1 guy, but may miss the first 1-2 games with a lingering viral infection.  Not a good way to open the season, given that the backups, while flashing some raw talent, are either inexperienced or simply have not warranted too many carries up to now.  Freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane will be future contributors, while Mack Brown has probably his best (and maybe last) chance to show he belongs in the SEC.  Former walkon Mark Herndon seems to be in the mix as well.  Hunter Joyer is back to provide experience and tough lead blocking at FB.  Coach Brian White has solid talent to work with, but has to make up for the early potential loss of Jones by piecing together a workable rotation.

The WR unit has been under the microscope given the low level of performance and output the past 2 season, and simply must improve – now.  Quinton Dunbar and Latroy Pittman have the most experience returning, but heralded true freshmen Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood will get immediate time in the rotation – unfortunately mostly out of necessity.  Solomon Patton is back from his mid-season injury, and HB/RB/QB/WR Trey Burton seems to be poised to get a lot of snaps in the slot.  The reviews in fall practice have been mostly good for the young guys, but the SEC is a tough place to learn on the fly.  New WR coach Joker Phillips has a lot of work to do with this group to help Driskel and the entire offense out in 2013.

The TE position is essentially a blank slate, as Jordan Reed left for the NFL as really the only contributor from last year.  Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson are the 2 guys in the rotation now.  Taylor has shown some pass-catching ability and speed, but is limited as an in-line blocker unless he can add more weight to his 225-lb. frame.  Thompson has great size at 6’4”, 255, and should be solid in the running game – but can he show at least some ability as a receiver to not tip off the likely play-calling when he is on the field?  I think he has the chance to be a very good SEC-level player with some experience and good health.  Coach Derek Lewis has a huge task in front of him.

It’s time for the offense to carry its weight in 2013, to give a young defense the chance to develop and get some occasional rest, but also to improve the team overall to truly be an elite contender.  There is a lot of promise, but until it is proven against quality competition, I’ll remain somewhat skeptical.


To use a football analogy, the success of the  2013 defense will be predicated on “strength up the middle”.  Gone are NFL draft picks Sharrif Floyd, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Josh Evans, the playmaker of the group, Matt Elam, and also Omar Hunter.  That’s a lot of great talent lost, and it’s up to a promising group of young guys to make up for those losses.

On the D-Line, DT Leon Orr has to step up to realize a level of play that matches his physical ability, while DT Dominique Easley must stay healthy and productive as the leader of the unit.  Dante Fowler and Jon Bullard could be one of the best DE tandems in the SEC this year.  Quality depth is the biggest concern here as Damian Jacobs, JuCo transfer Darius Cummings, and young players like Bryan Cox Jr., Caleb Brantley, and Jay-nard Bostwick have to provide some effective snaps to relieve the starters.  New DL coach Brad Lawing has an excellent track record, and hopefully can mold this unit into an effective one as the season progresses.

At LB, Tank Morrison should take the next step (once he returns from suspension) at MLB, with Mike Taylor a solid backup.  Ronald Powell is back after missing all of 2012 due to a knee injury, and is being relied upon heavily to pressure the QB and disrupt offenses this year.  Daniel McMillan and Jarrad Davis will play as a true freshmen and have promise.  Mike Taylor, Neiron Ball, and Darren Kitchens have some experience and play smart, but are undersized SEC LBs.  This group cannot afford any injuries, as there simply is not enough depth to overcome any significant losses.  LB coaches DJ Durkin and Jeff Choate have their work cut out for them.

The secondary has likely the best CB rotation in the SEC and possibly the country with Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy leading the way.  Brian Poole will play a lot in nickel packages in the slot, while freshman Vernon Hargreaves III looks to eventually become the next great Gator CB – he will play from the start.  The safety position is wide open with the departure of Elam and Evans.  Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs have experience and will likely start, but redshirt freshmen Marcus Maye and Rhaheim Ledbetter, and true freshman Keanu Neal will play this year, and probably early.  Coach Travaris Robinson has done a great job in his short time at Florida.

Knowing the defensive coaching prowess of Will Muschamp and the staff he’s assembled, it’s difficult to see a significant drop-off in the performance of the defense as a whole, but until the games start, I’m unsure as to how the playmaking abilities that were lost can be made up for this year.  This could be another strong unit by the end of the season, but early growing pains and inexperience could lead to a few losses.

Special Teams

This unit was exactly that in 2012, as Florida had one the best overall groups in the nation.  The loss of PK Caleb Sturgis will not be easily replaced – it will affect how aggressive the offense will be, and could contribute to a few losses especially if Austin Harden struggles.  Kyle Christy was a revelation at P last year, and if he can even come close to that performance again, that will help Coach Muschamp with winning the field position battle and gain the “hidden yards” so important in SEC football.  The loss of Andre Debose was a huge blow, as he was one of the most dangerous KO return men in the country.  It’s a wide open field of candidates to replace him.  Coach Choate assumes the reins from Coach Durkin, and has a tough act to follow.


The schedule is again challenging, as the Gators will face 5 preseason Top 25 teams, including the usual SEC gauntlet.  Florida opens with Toledo, a solid MAC team with a very good offense that could stress the young defense and force the Gator offense to perhaps open things up more than the staff would prefer before going on the road to play Miami in game 2.  That game could turn out similar to the Texas A&M game from 2012 – either a springboard to a big season and a confidence-builder, or a real letdown leading to more questions than answers going into the SEC schedule.  The ‘Canes will be incredibly hyped for that one, and expect them to throw everything they have at Florida to win that game.  If the Gators struggle on offense and/or turn the ball over, that could very well be a loss.  After a bye week, the SEC schedule opens with the traditional matchup with Tennessee.  The Vols are essentially starting over on offense will have an almost entirely new starting lineup as well as a new head coach.  They also lost the handful of decent defenders they had from 2012, and will be hard-pressed to keep this game competitive throughout the second half.  Next comes the first SEC road trip to Kentucky, with a new head coach in Mark Stoops who has their fan base excited……for some reason.  They have a long way to go before really scaring a team like Florida, although weird things happen on the road.  Arkansas then comes to the Swamp, another team featuring a new head coach in Bret Bielema, who comes from Big 10/11/12/whatever country to the SEC.  He’ll understand quickly why Urban Meyer bailed on Florida and facing the SEC every season.  Next up is a trip to LSU, who will have major payback on it’s mind after Florida’s dominating, physical win at the Swamp.  Even with a huge amount of losses on the defensive side, they will be ready for the Gators.  A new venue then awaits, as Florida travels to Columbia to face Missouri in a possible trap game, after a tough game at LSU and prior to meeting Georgia.  A key off week then precedes a huge game for Muschamp, as he has to get over the hump and beat the Puppies to have any realistic shot at getting to Atlanta.  Vanderbilt comes to the Swamp for their annual ugly, closer-than-expected loss, then what could be a battle for the SEC East title looms at South Carolina, another team with revenge on its mind after they imploded with turnovers at the Swamp.  Finally, the Gators return home for the final 2 games of the season.  Georgia Southern comes in for a big payday, and then the Criminoles slither in from Taliban City, I’m sure feeling proud of another good win-loss record built on a patsy Almost Competitive Conference schedule.


Toledo (Win – could be closer than expected)

@Miami (Win – could easily be decided in the 4th quarter)

Tennessee (Win – the Vols are simply talent-deficient)

@Kentucky (Win – too much turnover in talent and coaching to be ready for a quality opponent)

Arkansas (Win – Bielema’s coaching will be to control the clock and make this a 2nd-half game)

@LSU (Loss – even with a young defense, the Tigers have payback in mind in Death Valley)

@Missouri (Win – trap game after a tough loss; could be another game decided in the 4th quarter)

Georgia @Jax (Loss – it pains me to say this, but Muschamp hasn’t won this one yet)

Vanderbilt (Win – typical close game with the Commodores after a grueling SEC schedule)

@South Carolina (Loss – another revenge game, and Florida does not play well at Columbia)

Georgia Southern (Win – beat an outmanned opponent while resting up for F$U)

Florida $t. (Win – with no SECCG to get ready for, all the eggs get thrown on this basket, and the Gators use the Swamp to put F$U in their place – again)

9-3 overall (5-3 SEC)

Overall Assessment

Florida will have to avoid the injury bug at some key positions even more than usual this season in order to have any chance at getting to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  The pre-season injuries to Halapio, Green, and Debose, and the illness that Matt Jones is fighting through have potentially stunted the growth of the offense.  Despite that, I’m in the camp that by the end of the season this team could be better and more balanced than the 2012 team, but not match the 11-1 record from 2012.  Will Muschamp has built an excellent staff and is proving to be a solid evaluator of the talent needed to compete at a high level in the SEC.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this group can overcome the losses on defense, and has yet to develop a winning identity on offense.  The off-the-field news of Aaron Hernandez has been a real downer as well.  I can’t seem to shake the feeling that things are not going to fall Florida’s way this season like they did in 2012.  Perhaps even 9 wins is a stretch.

No matter – the season starts this Saturday.  HEEEEEEEEEEEERE COME THE GATORS!!!