Seven keys to success for Gator football
Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 12:05 a.m.
So you want to know how the Gator football team is going to do in 2013, huh?
Well, so do I.
We can all make predictions. 10-2, 9-3, 12-0, 8-4. But we can't possibly know. Football is too unpredictable.
And last year made it that much more confusing.
Florida was not an 11-1 regular-season team that was in the conversation for the national championship game. It was a team with a lot of flaws that overachieved. Somehow, some way, coach Will Muschamp managed his team to 11 wins. He found a way to beat LSU when LSU was the better team. He found a way for his players to pick themselves up after falling behind at FSU. He found a way to beat (gulp) Louisiana-Lafayette when all hope seemed lost.
Because that's the key to a college football season unless you are a dominant team — finding a way to make just enough plays in the handful of tight games.
Take Alabama. The Tide rolled through most of their games, and Alabama was clearly the best team in the country last year. Before the national title game, Nick Saban had to get his team's attention because the players knew they were so much better than Notre Dame after watching film.
But there were three games that could have gone either way. Alabama won two of them by four points and lost the third by five. One loss usually won't kill a season, but two often will knock you out of a BCS bowl game. Alabama found a way to win those other two close games, and that's why it won its third national title in the last four years.
Florida's not there yet, not to that level where it will only come down to a few close games. Muschamp is building that, but this is only his third year. It's not a finished project.
But I think these Gators, despite losing so many juniors to the NFL Draft, will have better personnel than they did a year ago. So does that translate into 12 wins? Not necessarily.
Not when you have to go to Baton Rouge, La., and Columbia, S.C., and even Miami to play teams that can beat you and desperately want to beat you. Not when you still have Georgia in Jacksonville, where Muschamp has not won as a player at Georgia or a coach at Florida.
If Florida is going to be in the conversation for the national title game at the end of this season, there are seven things the Gators will have to do:
1. Jeff Driskel has to be better. Driskel was good last year. He needs to be great. It's his second year as the starter and he has to develop a downfield passing game. Teams knew last year that Florida wasn't going to throw deep and sometimes had eight or nine defensive players within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
2. The offensive line has to mesh. The coaches think the additions of transfers Max Garcia from Maryland and Tyler Moore from Nebraska are going to make this a better offensive line. And that may be true. But with all the injuries in the spring, this line really didn't get to work together very much. An offensive line has to play as a unit so summer camp is crucial for these guys.
3. A skill player has to have a big year. It could be a wide receiver or a running back, but somebody has to make Florida football fun to watch again. If a freshman like wide receiver Demarcus Robinson or running back Kelvin Taylor comes up big, it's going to make the Gators hard to defend.
4. They have to beat Georgia. It's time for Muschamp to record a win in this game. It's not the only game on the schedule, but it's the one they have to win.
5. They can't lose to a lesser team. Man, they came close last year on a number of occasions. Bad losses don't translate well at the end of the season.
6. They need to be strong up the middle. There is an old adage in baseball that you have to be strong up the middle — catcher, middle infield, center field — to be a good team. The same goes for football — defensive tackles, middle linebacker, safety. Last year's starters have all gone to the NFL. Players have to step up in these spots if Florida is again going to be one of the nation's best defensive teams.
7. There can't be a special teams drop-off. When you lose a kicker like Caleb Sturgis, you lose a weapon. Florida won't be as good on field goals, so it needs to pick it up somewhere else with new special teams coach Jeff Choate. The return game, especially on punts, is the likely candidate.
So there you have it. Do these seven things, and we'll see what the computers and pollsters say. I'm sure Muschamp has a similar list in his head.
I do know that he likes this team a lot, that he feels his locker room is the best it's been since he got here in terms of chemistry. We'll see if that turns into wins on the field. It will be here before you know it.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.