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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

College Football Preview: No. 24 Florida

Scott Enyeart |
June 27, 2011 | 11:25 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(Neon Tommy will be previewing the 2011 College Football Season throughout the summer. You can find links to each of our Top 25 previews here. Today, we preview the team ranked 24th, the Florida Gators.)

The Gators hope to improve on last year's 8-5 record. (Tampa Gator via Wikimedia Commons)
The Gators hope to improve on last year's 8-5 record. (Tampa Gator via Wikimedia Commons)
Head Coach:

Will Muschamp (0-0, 1st year as head coach)

Florida's 2010 Season:

8-5, Outback Bowl - Defeated Penn State 37-24

Offensive Analysis:

-- Six returning starters

-- Impact Players - RB Chris Rainey, QB John Brantley, TE Jordan Reed

The Gators' offensive unit ranked 83rd in the nation last year in total offense. Senior QB John Brantley is back as the team's signal caller, but after a disastrous 2010 campaign, Brantley will have to fend off true freshman Jeff Driskel in order to keep his job. Whoever ends up winning the QB battle will have capable targets to throw to, as both Frankie Hammond and Deonte Thompson return to the wide receiving corps.

The running game features one distinctive characteristic: speed. Chris Rainey, who will likely line up as the starter, averaged a monster 7.2 yards per carry last year despite missing five games due to suspension. If Rainey can keep out of trouble off the field, he could have a big year on it. Sharing ball carrying duties with Rainey is speedster Jeff Demps. Demps was the 2010 NCAA 100-meter champion running a time of 9.96, and also was the Gators' leading rusher in 2010.

The biggest addition to the Gator O this year is offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Weis won three Super Bowls as the OC for the New England Patriots and had a 35-27 record as head coach at Notre Dame. He's known for working wonders with both quarterbacks and the offenses he commands, and should make the offense in Gainesville a threat to defenses throughout the SEC.

Defensive Analysis:

-- Four returning starters

-- Impact Players - DT Jaye Howard, LB Jelani Jenkins, DE Ronald Powell

Florida finished 2010 ranked ninth in the country in total defense, an impressive number to say the least. The unit must replace seven starters in 2011, but it's not as green of a group as you might think. A number of players who project as starters this season saw significant playing time last season coming off the bench, and should have no problem adjusting to larger roles as first-stringers.

First-year head coach Will Muschamp (pictured left), who is known for coordinating great defenses at Texas, Auburn and LSU, won't be handling defensive coordinator duties. Instead, Dan Quinn, who comes to Florida via the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, will serve as DC. However, make no mistake, Muschamp's fingerprints will be all over the Gators D.

The secondary will likely suffer some growing pains as they replace All-SEC CB Janoris Jenkins, who was dismissed from the team in April, as well as both safety positions. What the secondary lacks should be made up for in the front seven. Sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins, who was the team's second leading tackler in '10, returns for the Gators. Additionally, fellow sophomores Sharrif Floyd and Ronald Powell will anchor the d-line and are stars in the making. Look for Powell to have a big season as a hybrid DE-LB pass rusher, similar to NFL stars like Terrell Suggs and Jason Taylor.


The Gators' team speed is just ridiculous. The speed of the running backs is well-documented, but the speed on the defensive side of the ball will help Florida remain a factor in the ultra-competitive SEC. Urban Meyer was one of the more celebrated coaches in college football, but coaching staff turnover in recent seasons caused the team to suffer. Muschamp, Weis and Quinn are great coaches and collectively are an overall upgrade over 2010's staff. The Gators have a very manageable non-conference schedule - they face Miami (OH), South Florida and Appalachian State all at home.

Areas of Concern:

The Gators only have 73 of an allotted 85 scholarship players on the roster, so depth could potentially be a major issue. Though the offense Weis will install is more tailored to Brantley's abilities as a QB, the fact remains that it's still a new scheme to learn. How quick can he grasp and master the offense? The Gators are young and promising, but youth is always a concern for any team, especially when they're in a tight ball game where experience can often be the difference between winning and losing. Games on the road at LSU, Auburn and South Carolina will be challenging.

Final Thoughts:

This may be Will Muschamp's first head coaching job, but he has coached in enough major BCS programs to know what it takes to win and handle the pressures that go with running a perennial top-25 program. The Gators have the talent be competitive in the SEC East, but will need to shake off the demons of 2010 if they want to win it. Be patient Gator fans, the future is bright.


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