The Gators were a little (or maybe a lot) off their game last season, rumbling and stumbling through a disappointing 7-6 season. But I did OK picking Florida games, finishing with a respectable 11-2 record (it would have been 12-1 if I hadn’t been a dummy and picked Ohio State to win the Gator Bowl).
It’s on to a new season and I’m ready to try again. The Gators are, too.
Even though we were only allowed to attend one practice (where nothing much really happened, with the Gators in shells), I’ve been around the coaches and players the last month and I’ve been getting a very positive vibe from them. The Gators are convinced they’re going to be better this season — much better — and I’m starting to feel the same way about this team.
Teams usually experience a bump in the second year of a new coach, and I’m confident this is going to happen at Florida.
* The offense is going to be much better and much more productive. Quarterback play will be better (whoever ends up starting) and I think Brent Pease’s scheme is better than what UF had with Charlie Weis. Pease seems to have a knack for finding mismatches and spreading the ball around. I know some are worried about the apparent lack of playmakers in the receiving game, but I think Pease will find a way to use all his weapons, including Trey Burton and Omarius Hines, and the passing game will be a pleasant surprise to UF fans. There’s no doubt the running game will be more effective. The line is bigger and stronger and the backs (Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown and Matt Jones) are better suited for the downhill running game the Gators want to employ. If injuries bite Gillislee again, I look for Brown and Jones to break out this season.
* The defense was very good last season and should take its play to another level in the second year in the Dan Quinn (and Muschamp’s) scheme. The Gators did not produce many turnovers last season because their play was too tentative at times in a new system. They know the system now and will be flying around more (which usually leads to big plays and turnovers). Moving Dominique Easley to end and Sharrif Floyd to tackle will produce great results, improving the outside pass rush and stabilizing the run defense up the middle. The Gators will be very good at linebacker and have a chance to be great in the secondary. Overall, this could be one of the strongest defenses in the nation.
* Special teams should play a major role again. UF has one of the nation’s elite place-kickers in Caleb Sturgis and lots of potential playmakers in the return game and on the kick-block teams.
* The schedule is easier than last season, mainly because Alabama isn’t on it. This year’s schedule is doable. Here’s an early upset vibe I’m getting: Gators over LSU in The Swamp. But we’ll get to that pick later.
This week’s prediction: Florida 45, Bowling Green 10.