Once again, the Florida Gators are not the pick to win the SEC’s Eastern Division. But they’re perfectly fine with that.
It was the same story in coach Jim McElwain’s first two seasons, and both times the underdog Gators somehow proved their critics wrong and found their way to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.
The Gators, of course, will be motivated by this latest perceived slight. And they will find comfort in the knowledge that they do know what it takes to make it to Atlanta.
Here are five things Florida needs to do to reach the SEC Championship Game again:
1. QB production
Much of the blame for UF’s offensive struggles, which stretch all the way back to the 2010 season, has fallen on the quarterback position, where inconsistent play and lack of stability in the starting role have been major issues.
Poor quarterback play should not be an excuse this year.
McElwain has said he likes his QB room, likes the talent and depth he has to work with, so it’s time for the position to produce the way it’s supposed to.
In August, the Gators need to establish who their most consistent and productive quarterback is, name him the starter and then go with him.
All the pieces now seem to be in place around the quarterback. Now, it’s time for the triggerman to get it done.
2. Defend The Swamp (and Swamp II)
The Swamp, of course, is Florida Field, where the Gators are 11-1 overall under McElwain and 6-0 against SEC opponents. The Swamp II, of course, is EverBank Field in Jacksonville, where UF is 2-0 against arch-rival Georgia. So, in two seasons, the Gators are undefeated (8-0) against conference foes in their two favorite stadiums. And that’s one of the big reasons they’ve gotten to Atlanta both years.
The goal is to continue the trend in 2017.
The good news for the Gators is they get an extra conference home game with LSU coming to The Swamp. That gives UF a home SEC schedule of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU and Texas A&M (and, of course, the home away from home game against UGA). If the Gators can sweep those five games, they’ll likely be on their way to Atlanta again.
3. Win both lines of scrimmage
The Gators have had mixed results the past two years. They’ve consistently won the line of scrimmage on defense, but struggled to hold their own on the offensive front. Still, UF managed to win the East somehow. It’s unlikely the Gators can make it three in a row if they don’t take care of business on both lines of scrimmage.
With a deep and experienced group now, the offensive line has a chance to do what the defensive line has done the past two years — win the line of scrimmage.
4. Develop the young guys
With turnover being a yearly thing in college football, it’s imperative that many of the true freshmen are brought up to speed and are able to contribute over the course of the season. The coaches and veteran players have done a nice job with that the past two years, which has contributed to UF reaching the SEC title game.
Once again, the Gators are going to need significant production from its freshman class, especially at linebacker, in the secondary, at running back and defensive tackle. The class appears strong in those areas. Now, it’s a matter of getting the freshmen ready to go.
5. Stay healthy
Florida’s overall depth has improved in McElwain’s three seasons. But it still isn’t where it needs to be in all areas. Linebacker is the biggest potential problem area in 2017.
The Gators have no proven depth at the linebacker positions. That means the starters — David Reese, Vosean Joseph and Kylan Johnson — better stay healthy. If they don’t, true freshmen and walk-ons will be called on, which could prove to be disastrous in the grind that is the SEC.
The Gators now have enough depth to absorb some injuries at most positions. But it’s a different (and somewhat scary) story at linebacker.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.