August 09, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Gators. Part of SEC Week.
• Coach-in-waiting no more. Will Muschamp has been waiting a long time to get his shot to be a head coach. And while many thought that chance would come with Texas, Muschamp couldn't pass up the opportunity to return Florida to SEC prominence.
Florida's 8-5 campaign a year ago was the worst since 2004 and the worst in coach Urban Meyer's tenure. When Meyer decided to step away for health and family reasons last December, athletic director Jeremy Foley sought out a coach that could bring the same intensity and enthusiasm that made Meyer so successful. While Muschamp will have a little leeway during his first year, fans will expect to see some sort of progress against the usual SEC gauntlet, which includes three top 10 schools in Alabama, LSU and South Carolina and Florida State to end the season.
Muschamp has surrounded himself with some stellar assistants, including offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. While Weis did take a lot of heat for Notre Dame's nosedive a couple years ago, the offense wasn't the reason. If he can employ his offensive style to the talent on hand, the Gators might surprise the skeptics who see South Carolina and Georgia as the division frontrunners.
• On the bright side, it can't be any worse. Quarterback John Brantley really bore the brunt of Florida's disappointing 2010. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,061 yards, but threw just nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions. For a program that was used to ridiculous numbers from Tim Tebow, Brantley never stood a chance.
But he might now in Weis' offensive system. However, he'll need some help from running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and he'll need a go-to receiver to finally emerge. Deonte Thompson, who returns for his senior season, led the team with 38 catches for 570 yards, but had just one touchdown. In fact, only two players had more than one touchdown to their credit -- Rainey had three and Frankie Hammond Jr., had two. Had Rainey not missed five games because of suspension, his numbers could have been better, but then again, who wants a running back for a leading receiver? Finding some sort of stability at receiver will be he key to Brantley's success and ultimately the success of the Gators as a whole.
• We have arrived. While the offense was subpar, the defense had a stellar season and might once again be counted on to carry the team. While only three starters return from last year's unit that ranked ninth in total defense and 29th in scoring defense, several of this year's new starters earned their fair share of playing time a year ago and are ready to lead.
Given the up-and-coming talent in the front seven, actually, "lead" may be putting it mildly: With three rising sophomores on the front line — Ronald Powell, Sharriff Floyd and Domonique Easley — who came in ranked among Rivals' top ten incoming prospects at any position last year, and another sophomore (linebacker Jelani Jenkins) who was ranked in the top ten in 2009, their vision is probably closer to "dominate."
• Back us up here. The secondary took a big hit after Janoris Jenkins was kicked off the team for multiple marijuana arrests, and also lost All-SEC strong safety Ahmad Black and counterpart Will Hill. Still, there's some talent in secondary, even though it's young and inexperienced. Filling Jenkins' role could be sophomore Cody Riggs or one of a handful of true freshmen competing for playing time. Jeremy Brown, the lone returning starter, will anchor the other cornerback position. Matt Elam and Josh Evans, who both saw playing time last year, are the frontrunners for the safety positions.