2014 Season Preview

The upcoming 2014 season will be a harbinger of the immediate future of Florida football. Along with the anticipation that comes with the start to a new season, there is as much angst as hope as the dark cloud of a dismal 2013 still hangs over the program. It’s likely a make-or-break season for Will Muschamp, as he is under intense pressure to turn the win-loss record around and establish positive momentum going forward. Part of the hope of a turnaround is pinned on the hire of new Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper and Offensive Line coach Mike Summers. They are tasked with implementing a new philosophy based more on a Spread scheme, and even more importantly rebuilding the confidence of a unit shattered by injury, ineffectiveness, and bad coaching. Fair or not, the fate of this staff rests on a very fast learning curve for a bunch of kids that have been dealt a largely bad hand during their Gator careers to date. Jeremy Foley is a very smart AD, and has mostly ignored the noise from disgruntled Boosters and fans, given the extreme circumstances surrounding last season. Forces both inside and outside of the program have been working to tear down Muschamp and the team. While no one can be sure what would constitute enough of a turnaround for Foley to grant Muschamp another season, common sense dictates that, barring another rash of key injuries, an improved offense and perhaps a minimum of 8 wins are required.


This side of the ball will determine the success (or failure) of the 2014 season, and the future of Muschamp as Head Coach. That’s a lot of pressure to perform under, especially installing a new offense. Roper comes in highly thought of as a QB coach and playcaller, but may not have the luxury of easing in to his new role.

The abysmal 2013 performance led to the worst season since Charley Pell’s initial campaign in 1979 (the Visor’s freshman year at UF). Injuries ravaged every unit, while the ineptitude of OC Brent Pease and OL coach Tim Davis as coaches and recruiters led to their deserved firing. Physical injuries can heal, but can Roper and Summers rebuild the damaged confidence of the returning players? Already, the early returns out of spring practice and fall camp indicate that this offense will be far better suited to the abilities and strengths of QB Jeff Driskel and the skill position players, and will employ a blocking scheme much easier to pick up and implement.

Driskel is back and healthy again, and could thrive in the new offense. He will be asked to make quicker reads, which has not been his strong suit to date – Coach Roper can make a huge difference here. Driskel will still be allowed to run occasionally, and he is a premier threat when used this way effectively. The most interesting off-season battle will be to see which freshman will the backup role – Treon Harris or Will Grier. Both are highly-ranked recruits and bring a lot of promise to the position. Harris is the son of a coach, and played in a similar offense at Miami Northwestern against the best competition in the state while winning a championship. He is also an effective runner, which I feel gives him an advantage right now because of this background. Grier is a very accurate passer and has decent running ability, plus he had the advantage of enrolling early and getting to participate in spring practice. He has stated he wants to redshirt – I hope the performance of Driskel and Harris allow it.

The biggest question mark is the O-Line. At the Tackle positions, returning a healthy Chaz Green at RT is a huge bonus, as that allows Tyler Moore to slide inside back to OG, his natural position. DJ Humphries has to improve at LT – JUCO transfer Drew Savary, and freshmen David Sharpe and Rod Johnson will push for playing time and could provide some quality depth at both slots. Joining Moore in the Guard rotation will be Trenton Brown, Cam Dillard, and Trip Thurman – the performance of this position should markedly improve. Moore is a natural guard, and Brown really came on late in the season as he gained experience and got in shape. The hardest spot to fill will be at Center, as the loss of Jonathan Harrison will be felt. Max Garcia did well in the spring and during fall camp, and will provide senior leadership, with Dillard as the backup. Losing that much experience of making the blocking checks at the LOS hurts though, especially installing a new offense. A lot is riding on Garcia’s speed in picking up the new calls. Coach Summers has some quality material to work with, and hopefully gets this unit to perform much closer to it’s potential.

Running back should be in the capable hands of Kelvin Taylor as the starter. He showed flashes of being a solid SEC RB as a freshman, and will be backed up by Matt Jones, Mack Brown, and Adam Lane. Jones may finally get to show off his receiving skills to help with the passing game, which will help lighten his ball-carrying load as he has struggled with injuries. Brown is a senior and has plenty of experience, and redshirt freshman Lane has drawn physical comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice. The performance of this group should be solid.

Now comes the mystery group that is the WR corps. After being underutilized in 2012 and ignored in 2013, no one is quite sure what this unit will contribute this season. Quinton Dunbar is the leader, and physically plays the part of a SEC WR – now is his time to shine. Demarcus Robinson came in hugely hyped in 2013 as a freshman, but poor work habits and some dumb off the field behavior wasted his first season. Off-season reports indicate he has his mind right now and worked hard – he has all the physical tools to be an all-SEC performer someday, but it has to start now. There is plenty of untapped potential among Ahmad Fulwood, Andre Debose, and Latroy Pittman. Some of the freshmen will get a chance early for playing time, led by the promising CJ Worton. Roper’s offense should be a godsend for these guys, and their playmaking abilities may surprise the SEC this year. An interesting development is the promotion of Chris Leak to WR coach – can he transition his QB skills to this group in reading coverage, route running, and blocking schemes?

The TE position has been completely revamped due to injury and scheme change. Of most importance is the transfer in from Virginia of Jake McGee, a quality player who was a 2-year starter – he inherits the starting role and could thrive in this offense. Colin Thompson has left the program, and freshmen C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby could get immediate playing time. Both have some raw physical skills, but can they develop quickly enough to provide receiving depth? Coach Roper’s offense flexes out the TE in the ‘B’ position quite often, relying less on in-line blocking and more on stretching the defense down the seams. This scheme alone should help open up the offense in general, make Driskel’s life easier, and force defenses to actually guard the entire field instead of loading up the box with no passing threat to worry about.


This unit is Coach Muschamp’s calling card. They performed very well early in 2013, but eventually wore down both physically and mentally as the offense sucked the life out the entire program. Injuries struck at many key positions here as well, but there was also locker room infighting as the defenders became frustrated with the offensive meltdown, and this damaged team chemistry. Even with the loss of star DL Dominique Easley, and experienced CBs Marcus Roberson and Luchiez Purifoy, there is a lot of quality material returning to again have a solid SEC-level defense. The hope is that the defense isn’t relied upon so heavily in 2014 and stays much fresher.

The D-Line will be an interesting mix of different levels of experience, and has the chance to play more closely to that of a SEC-level unit again given better health. Dante Fowler is the leader, and should be an all-SEC candidate at DE. The rotation at the other DE/Buck position is a question mark. Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox have little experience, and Freshmen Gerald Willis and Taven Bryan come in as highly-regarded prospects, but the SEC is hard on young guys. Fowler must stay healthy, and some of the DTs such as Jon Bullard may need to play some outside to shore up this group. The situation at Tackle is much better. Bullard, Leon Orr and Darius Cummings return, and there is a lot of young talent to provide depth between Khairi Clark, Caleb Brantley, Jay-nard Bostwick, and Joey Ivie. Bullard is the top player, but needs to up his level of consistency and intensity. New DL Coach Brad Lawing has an excellent reputation of developing linemen and has enough talent within this group to make it an effective unit, but some of the young guys have to prove they can quickly adapt to the SEC.

The LB corps has a lot to prove this season, as their play fell off markedly last year and was, quite frankly, sub-par. There is plenty of experience with Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball, and Antonio Morrison returning, but their performance left much to be desired. Jarran Reed looks to be the breakout start in the middle. Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin have promise, but have not proven they can stay healthy. Daniel McMillian has the physical tools, but hasn’t put it together mentally. Morrison has the best chance to bounce back, but Tank needs to get his mind right and focus on playing hard every snap. This group was pushed around last year, and don’t appear to be capable of playing SEC run defense. Decent in pass coverage, but with a very good secondary behind them, they may be tested early and often by the quality teams to see if they can slow down the running game. Overall, this unit looks average at best, and I can see a lot of 4-2-5 looks to try and get the best players on the field, and mask a deficiency.

The secondary has the potential to be strong again despite losses to the NFL, but few positions are settled as there is a lack of 1st-team experience. It all starts with Vernon Hargreaves III, who will challenge for SEC and national honors at CB. Right now it appears there will be a revolving door at the other CB post until 1 or 2 guys separate themselves from among the group of Brian Poole and true freshmen Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor. Plenty of talent, but short on experience – an injury to Hargreaves could prove problematic. At safety, there will be a lot of quality competition between Marcus Maye, Marcell Harris, and Keanu Neal, with Jabari Gorman likely backing up both positions. This is a physical group that will be stout against the run, but their coverage skills are in question until they prove it on the field in a tight game.

Defensive Coordinator DJ Durkin and DB Coach Travaris Robinson should be able to mold a solid overall defense by the end of the season, but there could be some shortcomings in the LB and inexperience in the secondary that require some scheming around until a few guys prove they are ready for SEC football.

Special Teams

All phases of the kicking and the return game took a huge step back in 2013. The loss of confidence in the entire group from the coaching staff was alarming, and every spot is an open competition right now.

Punter Kyle Christy completely lost his way, and Austin Hardin and a cast of thousands couldn’t remotely approach the level of departed PK Caleb Sturgis. Christy has to return to 2012 form or will be benched for good in favor of Johnny Townsend, who filled in adequately last season. The same goes for Hardin, who will be challenged by Frankie Velez for PK duties through fall camp and into the start of the season. Coach Muschamp has no time to coddle this group given the stakes of the upcoming season.

The return game was anemic last season as well, as there simply were no playmakers available to try and provide decent field position. Hopefully Hargreaves won’t be called upon as the PR, even though he really looks the part and has the ‘it’ factor – he is simply too valuable as the best CB on the roster. It may fall upon one of the freshmen to fill this role in 2014 – there are some exciting prospects such as Alvin Bailey that could get their chance early. At KR, an intriguing prospect is the return of Andre Debose. He has been one of the most dangerous KRs in the country, and could be play a huge role is helping the offense with improved field position, and possibly influencing the outcome of a few games with some big returns.

Schedule and Outlook

Only recently has the excitement level for Gator football begun to come back this summer. Everyone was disillusioned after the abject failure that was 2013, and here’s hoping for an entirely fresh start across the board. Florida opens with 3 straight home games where the confidence of the team can be slowly rebuilt, and the new offense can get valuable reps in before the schedule toughens.

Idaho – Win
Time to establish a new identity for the offense and use this as an advanced scrimmage; stay healthy (please)!

Eastern Michigan – Win
Continue to build the confidence of the offense and get the reps more up to SEC-level speed; again, stay healthy (please)!

Kentucky – Win
SEC opener at the Swamp; a chance to better gauge the development of the offense, and settle on rotations on both offense and defense.

@Alabama – Loss
Despite the doomsayers, the Gators have enough talent to stand strong against the Tide, who will be breaking in a new QB. The real test will be to the confidence of the offense in the new system against a quality SEC opponent, and how well it can execute in a hostile environment. I think for now that the lack of depth and the unknown capability to respond to adversity on the road against an established program will lead to a loss, but can also be a building block to the key part of the schedule coming up. The Tide running game is based on brute power, and Florida’s front seven has not proven it can stand up for a full game against that type of attack.

Open Date (first of 2) This comes at a good time, in advance of perhaps the most important game of the season in terms of development of a winning attitude and confidence

@Tennessee – Win
Florida will travel to Knoxville to play the inbreds of Tennessee. The Vols are sick of being the Gators’ whipping boy since 2005, and are talking a big game right now for a program that been irrelevant for years. It will be interesting to see how Florida responds to a second straight SEC road game, as Tennessee is sure to throw everything into winning this game. A second straight loss here could seriously damage any physical and emotional progress from September, and start the howling (again) for Muschamp to be fired. This is simply a huge game for the Florida program.

LSU – Loss
Next up is a return to the Swamp to face LSU. The Tigers lost a lot of talent and leadership to graduation, and may still be deciding on a permanent starter at QB. They again will have a talented roster, but this is a winnable game for the Gators if they play smart football. They don’t have the firepower on offense yet to overcome turnovers or a slew of mental mistakes. Stopping the Tiger rushing attack is the key to this game, and I’m not sure if the Gator front seven is good enough yet to do it.

Missouri (Homecoming) –Win
The Tigers come to Gainesville, and this will be as much a mental test for Florida as physical, as the Gators will be coming off of 3 emotional battles, and can’t afford a letdown. The Tigers were deluded by a historically weak East Division in 2013 and seem to think that playing in the SEC is no big deal – it’s time for the league to remind them of their standing.

Open Date

Georgia – Loss
It’s on to the final stretch, starting with Georgia in Jacksonville. Everyone knows Muschamp is 0-3 vs. his alma mater, and he’ll be under intense pressure to reverse this disturbing trend. Even with the tremendous struggles on offense for most of his tenure as Head Coach, the Gators have had the chance to win this game in the 4th quarter each of the last 3 seasons. Can Florida get over the mental hurdle and finish? Sometimes the hardest thing to do is get over that hurdle

@Vanderbilt – Win
Next up is a trip to Nashville. Vandy broke their 26-game losing streak to Florida last season – in the Swamp no less, a real blemish on Muschamp’s resume. Payback will be in order, as the Gators will put the Commodores back in their place.

South Carolina – Win
Florida returns home to face what appears to be the preseason favorite in the SEC East, South Carolina. Everyone who has read my column for the last 10 years knows that I have no desire to “help” Steve Spurrier win the East “if it can’t be Florida”. That line of thinking is crap – all he has done is try to beat the Gators on the field and in recruiting, so I could care less what he did as a player and coach at UF. Florida needs to beat his brains in if at all possible, to help re-assert it’s dominance in the series. Despite the Gamecocks’ recent success, I’m of the opinion that they will take a step back this season, and this game is there for the taking with a loud Swamp crowd supporting the Gators.

Eastern Kentucky – Win
The final home game is next as EKU comes to the Swamp for a nice paycheck and a beatdown – no Georgia Southern flashbacks here. The Colonels will suffer the wrath caused by last season’s GSU meltdown.

@Florida St. – Loss
Finally, it’s off to Taliban City to face the Criminoles and the King Crab. No matter how much hate there is for F$U, it’s always tough to stay emotionally ready after the grind of the SEC schedule, especially when this game is on the road. F$U is talking proud about how they are ”back”, just as they were when they dominated a garbage conference in the 1990s to pump up their record as they played 1 or 2 tough games annually. After all these years, the ACC still stinks. In all likelihood they will have waltzed to another bloated record against minimal opposition, and have plenty of weeks to game plan for the Gators. Muschamp’s struggles have infinitely helped F$U recruiting in-state the past few years, and the Gators will be an underdog in this game. I’m just not sure the offense, no matter how well it may progress as the season plays out, will be ready to carry the load it will need to.

Overall Record 8-4
SEC Record 5-3

There is so much riding on the results of 2014, unfairly or not, for Will Muschamp and the entire program. The perception of the Gator program is one of skepticism, from knowledgeable observers to recruits. Basically everyone outside of the players and coaches is in wait-and-see mode. A good season that shows offensive progress can lead to a great offseason and recruiting class, and help permanently turn the corner for a positive future. More struggles, whether they are due to injuries or with learning the offense, and change will be in the wind again, leading to a handful more of seasons lost trying another rebuilding effort. No pressure……

It’s that time again……HEEEEEEEEERE COME THE GATORS!!!