ESPN's Palmer predicts rebound season for Gators
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 6:13 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — The media members at SEC Media Days picked Florida to finish third in the SEC East this season, but at least one national analyst believes the Gators can compete for the conference championship.
ESPN's Jesse Palmer, a former quarterback at UF, believes his former school can rebound after the 4-8 debacle in 2013.
“I think they're very, very hungry based on what happened last year,” Palmer said. “There's a lot of motivation there, and they understand how tough the schedule is and what those expectations are.
“But at the same time, there's a level of excitement considering the brand new offense with Kurt Roper, who I thought was a great hire. If Florida can stay healthy, then I think the sky is the limit.”
Palmer said the key will be the play of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who said last week he's fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered 10 months ago.
“This system is going to make better use of his skill sets by playing out of the gun and taking advantage of his running ability,” Palmer said of Driskel. “He was recruited as a spread quarterback. A guy like Kurt Roper, who's been a quarterback guru coaching under David Cutcliffe, I think he's just a blessing.
“But Jeff is going to need help. Somebody has to step up and be a presence on the perimeter at wide receiver, whether it's Quinton Dunbar, Ahmad Fulwood or Andre Debose. I think Jake McGee is a huge get for Florida. That B-position in Kurt Roper's offense is important for them, and he'll be a favorite target of Jeff Driskel this year.”
The improvement and production of Driskel and the offense could ultimately decide the fate of Florida coach Will Muschamp. He's on the hot seat after last year's results and has embraced that pressure, but Palmer has confidence in Muschamp.
“I don't know if he necessarily has a win total he needs to reach,” Palmer said. “I think they have to compete for the SEC East with whatever win amount that is, and it depends what those wins are. A win against Georgia, with his track record against them (0-3), would be huge. If they're competitive going on the road against probably an undefeated Florida State, even if they don't win, I think that's big.
“Nobody denies the defense and how good they can be under Will Muschamp. He has proven he's one of the best defensive minds in the country. People are waiting to find out if this offense can have a pulse, which really is what it has lacked. I think they are going to have that. I believe Will Muschamp's the guy for the job, I really do. With this new offense, if Florida can stay healthy, I really think they have a shot to get to Atlanta.”