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SEC preview: Florida

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida made positive strides in coach Will Muschamp's second season.

But Muschamp made clear in July at the Southeastern Conference media days how high the bar is set for 2013.

"Our goal is to go to (the SEC title game in) Atlanta at the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "And when you don't meet that goal, you haven't achieved anything."

Winning the SEC East won't be easy for the Gators, but it's attainable. The Gators went 11-2 in 2012, a four-game improvement over Muschamp's first season (7-6 in 2011).

"As far as where our roster is and where our locker room is, I'm very comfortable with where we are," Muschamp said. "This is where I wanted to be at this point in time. We're building this thing the right way. And that starts up front with both lines of scrimmage. In our league you better be good there. I know that."

Georgia returns star senior quarterback Aaron Murray and a high-powered offense. South Carolina returns impact defensive lineman Jadaveon Clowney. Both teams were picked ahead of Florida in the SEC East at SEC media days.

An opportunistic defense (plus-15 in turnovers) and ball-control offense helped Florida record eight come-from-behind victories in 2012. Muschamp is hopeful that UF's depth will make up for its lack of star power.

"You don't have eight come-from-behind wins if you don't have guys with toughness and character who buy into the program," Muschamp said.

Muschamp is hopeful that lunchpail mentality will carry over into 2013. He also expects growth from returning starting QB Jeff Driskel, which should lead to more balance on offense in 2013. Florida finished third in the SEC in rushing in 2012, but last in passing.

Driskel, who began fall drills on Aug. 8 after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, is the clear No. 1 quarterback for the Gators. Last year in camp, he beat out Jacoby Brissett, who transferred to North Carolina State during the offseason.

"I think I'm handling the team differently," Driskel said. "When you are the set guy, you can kind of say stuff that you wouldn't have said when there's a competition, and the rest of the team views you kind of differently."

Muschamp's specialty is defense, and he sounds far more confident in that personnel at this point in the preseason.

Muschamp hinted the Gators could go to 3-4 sets on defense this season, based on personnel. The Gators were primarily a 4-3 team on defense last season.

"From the standpoint of personnel, I think the odd-man front fits us very well," Muschamp said. "The thing you've got to have in an odd front, you better have two really good outside linebackers, and I think we do in Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler. You need to have a good nose, and I feel like whether we're in a pass-rush situation, Dominique Easley would play the nose. In (running) situations, Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr would play the nose."

Discipline has been a buzzword of fall camp. Penalties and selfish mistakes, Muschamp said, aren't being tolerated.

For the second straight year, the Gators led the SEC in penalty yardage in 2012 at 68.8 penalty yards per game. "I'm more concerned with the selfish and stupid penalties we've had the last two seasons," Muschamp said. "Something we did not improve on. All the things we wanted to work on and improve as a football team last year we did except for that." As a result, Muschamp said he intends to bench players involved in foolish penalties in 2013. "We recruited well the last two seasons, and we're in a situation positionally that you can be selfish on the sidelines," Muschamp said. "Because we're not going to tolerate a guy ... we've got a deep enough roster, we're deep enough at most positions (where) we can discover the next guy."

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Florida will get tested right away, beginning with its Aug. 31 opener at home against a Toledo team that finished 9-4 and appeared in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last season. On Sept. 7, the Gators will travel downstate to face rival Miami in an SEC-ACC showdown. The Hurricanes were picked to win the ACC's Coastal Division last month at the ACC media day. After a bye week, Florida will begin Southeastern Conference play on Sept. 21 at home against Tennessee. On Sept. 28, the Gators will play at Kentucky.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Muschamp stressed the importance of turnover margin at a team meeting before the opening of fall camp. In 2011, the Gators were minus-12 in turnover margin and finished 7-6. In 2012, Florida was plus-15 in turnover margin and went 11-2. The two losses (Georgia and Louisville) were the only two games during the season in which Florida had a negative turnover margin. Florida was at its best last season when it ran the ball effectively, which allowed its defense to stay fresh late in games. Last season Mike Gillislee was UF's first 1,000-yard running back since 2004, and Muschamp wants the same identity this season behind sophomore RB Matt Jones. "We want 1,000-yard running backs at Florida to be the norm," Muschamp said. The Gators ranked ninth in the FBS and first in the SEC in time of possession at 32:27. Big plays on special teams also helped and will need to continue to help overcome the team's lack of playmaking ability on offense.

AREAS OF CONCERN: With six starters gone on defense, Muschamp is concerned about his team's defense up the middle. Senior DL Dominique Easley will move back inside to help replace first-round draft pick Sharrif Floyd. In addition, the Gators will need to replace two departed NFL draft picks (first-rounder Matt Elam and sixth-rounder Josh Evans) at both safety positions. Converted CBs Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs are both being considered, along with Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye. "Will it be Cody Riggs or Jaylen Watkins at safety, or will it be someone else," first-year defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said at a recent booster gathering. "That's what we have to decide in camp." Riggs has impressed coaches early in camp at free safety. Kicker will be another position that will be hard to replace. The Gators will no longer have the luxury of departed All-SEC kicker Caleb Sturgis, who made 24 of 28 field goals last year and made eight field goals of 50 yards or more in his career. Walk-on Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin will battle for the starting kicking job in camp. "Both have the ability to do the job, but they've never done it in the situations they're going to be put into," Muschamp. On offense, Muschamp is most concerned about replacing Jordan Reed at tight end. Colin Thompson, Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Kent Taylor will battle for the starting job in camp.
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