Gators will have chip on shoulder
Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 8:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 8:54 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — Almost every year since 1990, Florida has been a powerful presence at the annual SEC Media Days.
Gator players have appeared all over the preseason All-SEC lists voted on by the coaches and media. And Florida has been a popular pick to advance to Atlanta and win the league title.
Man, how things have changed.
Florida has basically no presence at this year's Media Days.
Not a single Gator appears on the coaches' first-team preseason All-SEC team. There's also a good chance none will show up on the media's team that comes out at the end of the week.
And it would be a shock if any of the writers or bloggers or broadcasters pick Florida to win the SEC. The early consensus seems to be UF will be picked third — in the East.
Coming off a rare five-loss season and a coaching change, the preseason expectations for Florida may be at an all-time low at this event.
“We've heard it on TV, but we don't really care,” senior quarterback John Brantley said. “We go out every day and try to get better, whether in the weight room or conditioning and in everything we do.
“We're not worried about that. We're worried about what's going on at the moment. I guess in a way it puts a little chip on our shoulder. Definitely. It makes you want to go out there and prove everyone wrong.”
Expectations for Florida may be low, but they apparently are way up there where they usually are with the players and coaches.
No one else may think they're a threat to reach Atlanta and the SEC title game — but the Gators seem to think they have a realistic shot to get there.
“I think so,” UF coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday. “I believe that. We've got a good football team on campus. Like in any season, things have to fall the right way.
“I have high expectations for our team. I tell them all the time: When you play at Florida, you expect to win championships. That's what we expect.”
Down to 71 scholarship players, and with a lack of depth on both lines of scrimmage and nagging questions about quarterback play and play-making potential at wide receiver, the perception seems to be that Florida is facing a major rebuilding project in 2011. And that it's going to take time for the Gators to regain elite status in the SEC.
Brantley, for one, doesn't see it that way.
When asked if the Gators were a long way off, he said, “Absolutely not. We're right there. (The low expectations) give us more motivation to get back to the top.”
Whether they make it there may depend a great deal on Brantley and quarterback play.
Brantley lost his confidence over the course of last season running an offense that did not fit his skill set. Now, he's in a pro-style offense and being coached by one of the most respected offensive coordinator/quarterback coaches in football (Charlie Weis).
Brantley's shaky performance in the spring game brought back bad memories from last season (at least for UF fans), but it has not altered Muschamp's perception of Brantley.
Muschamp continues to give a strong endorsement to Brantley.
“I've been really pleased with his demeanor and the respect he's got from his teammates on both sides of the ball,” Muschamp said. “I've got tremendous confidence in Charlie Weis and he's got confidence in John. That gives me an awful lot of confidence.”
Quarterback play, however, is only one of several concerns heading into the season.
UF lacks depth on both lines of scrimmage, has lots of inexperience in the secondary and still is searching for more playmakers on offense.
“We have more unknowns going into camp than I would like, but that's part of it,” Muschamp said. “We have to do a good job working through August and making sure our football team is ready to roll.
“I'm excited about the work ethic of our team. I think our guys have really bought into each other. We've got a close-knit group. I'm real pleased with the progress. I'm excited about the season.”
Motivation shouldn't be a problem, not with all those low expectations floating around out there for Florida.
No Gators on the coaches' preseason first-team All-SEC team? That may be a first.
“I'll remind (the players) when we play those coaches each week,” Muschamp said. “Nobody really thought much of you. That will be good. I'll have some fun with that more than anything.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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