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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 34: Florida

Florida’s depth chart at the end of last season featured 37 freshmen and sophomores, which tied the Gators with Tennessee for the most in the SEC. Will Muschamp played 51 first- and second-year players altogether, the second-highest total in program history; Urban Meyer played 55 such underclassmen in 2007. Florida had nine scholarship seniors on the roster, the program’s third-fewest since 1951. Entering the season, Florida’s 148 returning starts were the third-fewest in the SEC. The 37 returning starts on defense ranked last in the conference. These are your excuses for a seven-win season, the program’s lowest single-season total since 1989. But this is Florida, home of the Gators, home of the three national titles, home of feverish expectations – excuses have no place in Gainesville.

Conference
SEC, East

Location
Gainesville, Fla.

Nickname
Gators

Returning starters
16 (7 offense, 9 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 30

2011 record
(7-6, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 42

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Bowling Green
  • Sept. 8
    at Texas A&M
  • Sept. 15
    at Tennessee
  • Sept. 22
    Kentucky
  • Oct. 6
    L.S.U.
  • Oct. 13
    at Vanderbilt
  • Oct. 20
    South Carolina
  • Oct. 27
    vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
  • Nov. 3
    Missouri
  • Nov. 10
    La.-Lafayette
  • Nov. 17
    Jacksonville St.
  • Nov. 24
    at Florida St.

Last year’s prediction

The talent remains high enough to guarantee at least seven wins, and the coaching is good enough to guarantee steady improvement throughout the season. But this is still a program in flux, one that has the talent and coaching to be successful yet is far too inexperienced — both in terms of on-field experience and in time spent in the new systems — to see making a one-year jump from the middle of the SEC to the top of the East division. Here’s the good news: it’ll work, though not to the tune of more than eight wins during the regular season in 2011.

2011 recap

In a nutshell A few noteworthy streaks were kept alive. Florida posted its 24th straight winning season, the longest streak in the country. The program has not posted a losing season in 32 years, since that great 0-10-1 year in 1979; this is also an F.B.S. high. Another current record: Florida reached bowl play for the 21st straight season. The Gators beat Tennessee for the seventh year in a row. There’s your good news. The bad? Losses to Alabama and L.S.U. by a combined score of 79-21. A horrific loss to Auburn. The program’s fourth loss to Georgia since the series moved back to Jacksonville in 1996. A second straight loss to South Carolina. A second straight loss to Florida State. It was a season to forget.

High point The 24-17 win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The victory kept Florida’s streak of winning seasons alive, for starters. It also pushed the Gators into the offseason on a high note; while I’d hate to create any real comparison between the two teams, Meyer’s first squad, in 2005, capped its season with a bowl win over Iowa. A national title followed. Then again, so did Tim Tebow. He’s not walking through the door for the Gators in 2012.

Low point Any number of SEC losses. Losses to L.S.U. and Alabama indicated just how far Florida has to go before returning to the SEC and national title hunt. Florida State’s win, though ugly, did illustrate one painful fact: the Seminoles own the Sunshine State.

Tidbit Last year’s offense was unbearably pathetic against competent defenses. Consider: Florida averaged 451.7 yards per game against Florida Atlantic, U.A.B., Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Furman. On the other hand, U.F. averaged 223.3 yards per game against Alabama, L.S.U., Auburn – only 194 yards against Ted Roof’s defense – Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Ohio State. The latter group had a pulse; the former group didn’t. The Jekyll-and-Hyde split is even clearer when you consider how the Gators ran the football against both groups: 226.2 yards per game against the bad teams, 71.7 yards per game against the good teams. Against Alabama, the Gators gained 15 yards on 29 carries. Against Georgia, with a hobbled John Brantley playing nearly the entire game in shotgun, U.F. managed -19 yards on 22 carries – thanks in large part to the Bulldogs’ ability to get pressure in the backfield.

Tidbit (more offense edition) You can further encapsulate last season’s offense – the Charlie Weis year, you could say – in two points: Florida went 5-3 when holding opponent to 21 points or less and ranked 111th nationally in third down conversions. From 1990, Steve Spurrier’s first season, through 2010, Urban Meyer’s last, Florida lost only six games when allowing 21 points or less. The Gators converted on 51 of 159 tries on third down, a success rate of 32.1 percent; that sandwiched the offense right between two-win Mississippi, at 110th, and one-win New Mexico, at 112th. For a sample size of ineptitude, see how Florida fared on third down over its final four games of SEC play — against Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. The Gators went a combined 13 of 48 on third down over these four games, with six of those conversions coming in the lone win, over the Commodores.

Tidbit (more, more offense edition) More on last year’s offense. The Gators scored 331 points, the program’s lowest single-season output since 1989. That year, by the way, was the last of Galen Hall’s tenure – he was replaced in 1990 by Steve Spurrier, and the rest is history. It was the lowest total by a first-year coach since Charley Pell led U.F. through that winless season in 1979. The Gators scored more than 33 points against only one SEC opponent, beating Kentucky, 48-10, on the final Saturday of September. In all, Florida finished no higher than sixth in the SEC in the following categories: total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense, first downs and third down conversions.

Former players in the N.F.L.

38 S Ahmad Black (Tampa Bay), QB John Brantley (Baltimore), WR Andre Caldwell (Denver), OG Cooper Carlisle (Oakland), WR Riley Cooper (Philadelphia), LB Jermaine Cunningham (New England), DE Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati), WR Jabar Gaffney (New England), OT Marcus Gilbert (Pittsburgh), RB William Green (Cleveland), QB Rex Grossman (Washington), CB Joe Haden (Cleveland), DE Derrick Harvey (Cincinnati), WR Percy Harvin (Minnesota), P Chas Henry (Philadelphia), TE Aaron Hernandez (New England), LB Brandon Hicks (Pittsburgh), S Will Hill (New York Giants), DT Jaye Howard (Seattle), OG Maurice Hurt (Washington), TE Cornelius Ingram (Denver), DT Ray McDonald (San Francisco), DE Jeremy Mincey (Jacksonville), WR Louis Murphy (Oakland), S Reggie Nelson (Cincinnati), WR David Nelson (Buffalo), C Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh), C Mike Pouncey (Miami), RB Chris Rainey (Pittsburgh), LB Brandon Siler (Kansas City), LB Brandon Spikes (New England), OT Max Starks (Pittsburgh), QB Tim Tebow (New York Jets), WR Deonte Thompson (Baltimore), DE Justin Trattou (New York Giants), OT Phil Trautwein (San Diego), DT Gerard Warren (New England), S Major Wright (Chicago).

Arbitrary top five list

Brothers currently playing in the N.F.L.
1. Peyton and Eli Manning.
2. Maurkice and Mike Pouncey.
3. Chris, Dan and Rob Gronkowski.
4. Clay and Casey Matthews.
5. Dawan and LaRon Landry.

Coaching

Will Muschamp (Georgia ’94), 7-6 after his first season. Muschamp eschewed the opportunity to be Mack Brown’s eventual successor at Texas for a shot at replacing a legend at Florida, taking on a premier program with mammoth-sized yearly expectations. Muschamp has slight ties to Florida, having attempted to walk on to the football team as a high school senior only to be rebuffed, but has very deep ties to the SEC. These ties date back to his playing days at Georgia, where he went from walk-on to team captain, and continue with a coaching career that includes stints at L.S.U. (2001-4) and Auburn (2006-7). Muschamp’s a Nick Saban disciple, as his tenure at L.S.U. suggests: he began as Saban’s linebackers coach in 2001, was his defensive coordinator from 2002-4 and followed Saban to the Miami Dolphins in 2005. Auburn gave Muschamp the opportunity to return to his roots, and he responded by leading the Tigers to back-to-back outstanding defensive efforts in 2006 and 2007 — seventh in scoring defense in 2006, sixth in 2007, as solid, well-coached and fundamentally sound as any unit in the country. Texas made an offer no coach could refuse a year later, writing a huge check for him to become Brown’s coordinator in 2008 and then, in November of that fall, naming him the head-coach-in-waiting. For three years, it was simply assumed that he would eventually step into Brown’s shoes; the only issue was when, as Brown showed no sign of slowing down while countless premier programs offered enticing job openings. One school, Florida, had everything Muschamp was looking for: talent, prestige, fertile recruiting grounds, history and, perhaps most of all, a return to the SEC. Was he a surprise choice as Meyer’s replacement? Perhaps, but only because it was so widely assumed that Muschamp wasn’t going anywhere. Well, boom: he’s gone, in Gainesville, and enters his second season having already built a defense in his image. Next, Muschamp must bring Florida’s offense back into relevancy.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Muschamp didn’t touch his defensive staff, which makes sense: Florida’s defense, while young, made great strides over the second half of last season. The Gators did make two significant staffing moves on offense, however, replacing Kansas-bound Charlie Weis and firing offensive line coach Frank Verducci – two prime culprits for last season’s disgraceful performance. Muschamp replaced Weis with former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who spent the last six seasons with the Broncos after a combined four seasons as the coordinator at Baylor and Kentucky; Pease was Boise’s receivers coach from 2006-10 before being promoted to coordinator and quarterbacks coach a season ago. Verducci’s replacement, former Utah assistant Tom Davis, was one of the final contenders for the open offensive line position heading into last season, but Verducci’s ties to Weis eventually won Muschamp over. Pease and Davis: Florida’s offensive fate – and, by extension, the fate of the entire team – rests in their hands.

The Gators made a third staffing move earlier today: Aubrey Hill, the team’s receivers coach, resigned for what the university termed as “personal reasons.” Hill’s untimely resignation was a result of his ties to Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami (Fla.) booster who was responsible for a number of N.C.A.A. violations connected to the university – with more to come, perhaps. Hill spent three seasons with the Hurricanes, from 2008-10, before joining Muschamp last fall. He’ll be replaced on an interim basis by graduate assistant Bush Hamdan, a former Boise State quarterback. Both Hamdan and Pease will work with the Gators’ receivers.

Players to watch

After helping the Kansas City Chiefs lead the N.F.L. in rushing in 2010, Weis failed to get Florida’s ground game going over his lone season in Gainesville. And that was the offense’s fatal flaw: the Gators couldn’t pass, obviously, and needed the running game to carry the offense as a whole. No such luck. Weis went down in flames, though he landed on his feet, replacing Turner Gill at Kansas. It’ll be up to Pease to shift Florida’s focus back to the running game. In hiring Pease, Muschamp took a cue from his former boss, Mack Brown, who heading into last season tabbed another former Chris Petersen disciple, Bryan Harsin, to remake his too-timid offense.

Pease will improve Florida’s offense by taking care of the little things. First, find a quarterback. Next, start running with consistency on first down. Set up play action; Boise’s offense is unstoppable when the run sets up the pass. Convert on third down. Don’t rely on the pass to convert on third down. Run in short yardage situations. Protect the quarterback. Get tougher, please. Don’t call for a six-yard out when you need seven yards. Be flexible. Whatever Weis did, do the opposite. Be the anti-Weis.

U.F. will have a new starting quarterback, even if Muschamp and Pease have yet to settle a two-man competition. They’ll be picking from a pair of sophomores, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, each of whom saw time in the lineup last fall following John Brantley’s midseason ankle injury. Talk about being thrown to the wolves: Brissett’s first career start came against L.S.U., which is no way to open a college career, with Driskel earning key snaps a week later against Auburn. Both struggled, as you might expect, with Brissett hitting on 18 of 39 attempts for 206 yards and Driskel completing 16 of 34 passes for 148 yards. To say there’s room for improvement would be an understatement.

But Pease knows quarterbacks, having coached the position for Boise State a year ago – and for Baylor and Kentucky a decade or so ago – and having served under Chris Petersen for the last six seasons. He’ll have his hands full working with this young pair, but both are talented; each has a sizable skill set, one that could lead to either turning into an all-SEC talent, but both Driskel and Brissett are very raw. It’s a battle that will be decided during fall camp, and I hope that U.F. makes its decision and sticks with it throughout the season – not alternating the pair, which would lead to neither finding a comfort zone in this key season. The safest bet is Brissett, who has the bigger arm and, in my opinion, the higher ceiling.

More silliness from last year’s offense: Chris Rainey averaged 95.3 yards per game in the six wins in which he played; in Florida’s six losses, on the other hand, Rainey averaged 48.2 yards per game. Fellow back Jeff Demps had 83 combined offensive touches against Florida Atlantic, U.A.B., Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Furman and Ohio State — all wins. In his six remaining games, missing Auburn, Demps had 28 total offensive touches. Silly, this offense, and terrible.

Pease is not paying mere lip service to the idea that Florida is going to emphasize the running game: his offense will go directly through a pro-style, power-running game, and look for the Gators to identify two or three backs who can earn the tough yards in addition to breaking plays outside the tackles – the latter is something each back on last year’s roster could do, but the Gators must be able to churn out yardage inside the box. The Gators’ top options at the position heading into September are senior Mike Gillislee (328 yards, 5.9 yards per carry) and sophomore Mack Brown, with Gillislee the team’s best hope for a consistent threat.

He’s not only the most proven returning back but also the most complete; Gillislee has shown some flash and a proclivity for lowering his shoulders – and there’s too small a sample size to say that Brown can do the same. Even if Gillislee puts a stranglehold on the starting job, earning 20 touches per game, U.F. will need Brown, fellow sophomore Chris Johnson, senior Omarius Hines and incoming freshman Matt Jones to contribute in secondary roles.

What do I call junior Trey Burton – a receiver, tight end, fullback, backup quarterback, running back, all of the above? Burton’s flexibility makes him one of the Florida’s most irreplaceable players, the sort of do-everything, adaptable piece this offense used to have in spades. In 2012, Burton (19 receptions for 149 yards) should see an even larger role as an intermediate target in the passing game, especially with U.F. short on options at tight end. But between Burton and junior Jordan Reed (28 for 307), the Gators can give either Brissett or Driskel a pair of nice security blankets on passing downs.

Having this pair in the fold might help open things up for junior Andre Debose (16 for 432) and sophomore Quinton Dunbar (14 for 216) at receiver. All that’s missing from Debose’s repertoire is consistency; when he gets the ball in his hands, there are few more dangerous players in college football. But this offense won’t simply send Debose deep, or have him catching screen passes – he’ll need to play more like a traditional receiver, which entails beating press coverage, making plays over the middle of the field and moving the chains on third down. That he came out of a pro-style system in high school helped boost true freshman’s Latroy Pittman’s stock during the spring, likely leaving the rookie and senior Frankie Hammond as Florida’s top two reserves at the position.

Florida ended last fall ranked eighth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 299.5 yards per game, but the Gators had a hard time getting stops on the road – allowing 330.3 yards and 21.0 points per game in games played outside of Gainesville. But the development of last year’s group, one of the youngest in program history, points towards one absolute certainty: Florida, as run by Muschamp, will be defined by the way it stifles opponents on the defensive side of the ball. That’s the path the university took when it hired Muschamp, of course, but it does mark a change from the Meyer-run Gators, even if those teams were extremely underrated defensively.

This defense is going to be very, very good. U.F. landed some good news last month, when Muschamp disclosed that junior end Ronald Powell (32 tackles, 6.0 sacks), who tore a knee ligament during spring drills, would play this coming season – though Muschamp did not supply a timetable as to when Powell would be back at 100 percent. Powell’s knee injury was just one of several setbacks the Gators’ defensive front experienced during the spring: U.F. was also working without senior Lerentee McCray (24 tackles, 7.5 for loss), sophomore Leon Orr, senior Earl Okine and junior Dominique Easley (37 tackles), essentially robbing the team of an adequate two-deep.

That will change in September – and will change drastically if Powell is ready to go by October. The light turned on for the junior during the later stages of last season, when he started getting more consistent pressure on passing downs, and the staff praised Powell’s play during the spring prior to his knee injury. A healthy Powell does many things: in terms of personnel, it would allow U.F. to keep McCray at linebacker; in terms of a pass rush, it would give this defense a potential terror off the edge; and overall, a healthy Powell spells a vastly different front seven – more dangerous, more hostile, more athletic, more disruptive, better.

It will be interesting to see how Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn use Easley and fellow junior Sharrif Floyd (46 tackles, 6.5 for loss). The pair will swap starting spots this fall, with Floyd moving inside and Easley occupying a role as Florida’s bigger end. But both are flexible, can swing between both positions, which will allow U.F. to put together any number of different looks on that side of the line. The Gators need to replace Jaye Howard inside, but Quinn has several options at his disposal: Orr, senior Omar Hunter (31 tackles) – still waiting for him to break through – and JUCO transfer Damien Jacobs, among a few others.

So what happens if Powell suffers a setback, or if his recovery runs off of schedule? Then McCray moves down from linebacker and into the starting spot at end. It’s not a great situation, but it could be worse. Another name to watch in this role – it’s a bit of a hybrid spot, one that looks for lighter, more agile linemen – is true freshman Jonathan Bullard, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s best end prospect and the sixth-best prospect regardless of position. At the very least, Bullard could be used effectively in certain packages while putting in work in the film room and the weight room.

This is one of the best linebacker corps in the nation. That’s the case even if McCray is needed down on the line, though the Gators are at their best when McCray is starting on the strong side. He did so five times last fall, sandwiching a four-game spell he missed due to injury. If McCray is needed elsewhere, Florida will turn the strong side over to junior Darrin Kitchen (21 tackles) or sophomore Michael Taylor (36 tackles, 4.5 for loss) – the latter a superb talent who will continue to see plenty of time as one of the team’s top reserve linebackers. For now, however, Taylor is going to sit second on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

This defense runs through senior Jonathan Bostic (94 tackles, 10.0 tackles), a presumptive all-SEC pick who, if the front four can keep him clean, has the potential to make a run at some serious national hardware. Flanking Bostic on the weak side is junior Jelani Jenkins (75 tackles, 1 interception). All in all, it’s a wonderful group. You can combine McCray and Kitchens on the strong side, with one bigger option and the other a speedier linebacker who moves well in coverage. Bostic is a do-everything potential all-American. Jenkins is a weak side linebacker personified – he’s very dangerous in space.

Solid last fall, Florida’s secondary merely needs additional experience before becoming one of the elite groups in college football. You like the athleticism, as always, and you love the potential, especially at cornerback; but this secondary is still young – again, especially at cornerback – and should have its fair share of up-and-down moments as it continues to gain experience throughout this coming season. The Gators are going big at cornerback: sophomore starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson (22 tackles) are 6’1 and 6’0, respectively, and reserve Jaylen Watkins (34 tackles) is 6’0. Watkins, Roberson and junior Cody Riggs shared starts last fall, with Roberson starting the year’s first 10 games before suffering a season-ending neck injury.

Purifoy will start after vaulting ahead of Riggs and Watkins with a strong spring – Florida wasn’t scared off by his lack of starting experience. One of the Gators’ two starting safeties will be junior Matt Elam (78 tackles, 11.0 for loss), a third-team all-SEC pick a year ago. He’ll likely be teamed with sophomore De’Ante Saunders (26 tackles, 2 interceptions), who brings a cornerback’s mentality to the deep middle, though U.F. could also go with senior Josh Evans (51 tackles).

So there’s talent here. But it’s young: Florida will start three sophomores, each a true sophomore, unless Evans grabs the starting safety spot aside Elam. But even if Evans does start, the Gators’ top four cornerbacks include two sophomores and two juniors. There’s incredible room for growth, but this secondary is one full season away from reaching its full potential. Another thing to consider: Roberson might still be slowed by that neck injury when the Gators open the season next month.

Debose is electric, but Florida’s return game will take a slight step back without Rainey and Demps. There are no worries about the kicking game, especially after sophomore punter Kyle Christy’s strong second half to close last season. At kicker, U.F. has one of the nation’s most accurate legs in senior Caleb Sturgis – he made 22 of 26 attempts a season ago. In all, Florida has two of the best in the nation in Debose and Sturgis; not many others can match what this pair brings to the table.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line Depth still isn’t where Muschamp wants it to be up front, but this line is far more experienced than it was at this point a year ago. The Gators return four starters, with two of those linemen jostling for the starting job at right tackle, as well as two capable reserves at tackle and along the interior. But the Gators are losing the numbers battle, even if the program had a pair of very well-regarded true freshmen – D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker – on campus in time for spring ball. Looking at Florida’s roster, it will take Muschamp and his staff one more full recruiting cycle before getting the sort of depth and separation on the depth chart it needs to handle the star-studded defensive lines of the SEC.

Another issue is the change in mentality: Pease will stress an interior running game similar to the one seen at Boise State, so U.F. must be able to move defenders between the tackles. Last year’s line was too small to mount an effective push inside, but adding senior James Wilson into the starting lineup at left guard will give the Gators a bit more strength and aggressiveness in the running game. He’ll be joined inside by a pair of returning starters: Jonotthan Harrison at center and Jon Halapio at right guard – the latter stands as the Gators’ best lineman.

Florida can only hope that senior Xavier Nixon finally fulfills his potential as a senior. While he had a fine bounce-back season last fall after a dreadful 2010 campaign, Nixon has yet to recapture the form that made him a budding star coming out of his freshman season. With Nixon at left tackle, Florida needs to settle on a starter on the opposite side; junior Matt Patchan currently leads sophomore Chaz Green – the pair split start at right tackle last fall – but Patchan’s inability to maintain an adequate weight for the strong side is a concern. If Nixon suffers an injury, Patchan would swing to the blind side and Green move into the starting lineup at right tackle.

Inside, the Gators’ top reserve is junior Kyle Koehne, who can play both guard spots. At center, Harrison will be backed up by senior Sam Robey. The issue: Florida’s starting five is fine – not great, but fine – but the specter of one or two missing any extended time due to injuries looms large over the entire line. Teams like L.S.U. and South Carolina are going to rotate eight or nine rabid, angry defensive linemen over the span of 60 minutes; Florida’s offensive front must be up to the challenge.

Game(s) to watch

This is the reverse of nearly every other schedule in college football. Most teams cap non-conference play by the end of September; Florida, on the other hand, will play three of its non-league games in November, highlighted by the season finale at Florida State. One thing to like: U.F. gets South Carolina, Missouri and L.S.U. at home, as well as Georgia at a neutral site. One thing not to like: U.F. opens with back-to-back SEC road games, beginning with Texas A&M – which is going to be primed to open with a conference win – and running through Tennessee, which will be vastly improved. There are breaks to be found on this schedule, but they don’t last long. Bowling Green is followed by the Aggies and Volunteers. Kentucky by L.S.U., whether or not that game is Gainesville. Vanderbilt – which is no longer Vanderbilt, if you know what I mean – by the Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Tigers. It’s your typical conference schedule, in other words.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Three different offensive coordinators in as many years, three different offensive systems in as many years. A new quarterback, whether the Gators go with Brissett or Driskel. An offensive line that lacks depth; it’s a group that could crumble if there are any meaningful losses along the interior. A receiver corps stuck in the middle, with the experienced options recruited for an entirely different system and the new faces not quite ready for prime time. This offense, simply put, is not ready to mount a serious run against the SEC’s elite defenses – and as a result, Florida is not ready to make a run back to the top of the SEC.

Then there’s this defense, and it’s this defense that takes an otherwise mediocre team and lifts into the hunt for a national ranking. If Powell is healthy, Florida’s pass rush will be better than it was a season ago. That will be of an enormous benefit to a young secondary that still needs time to grow as a group. But more so than a season ago, U.F. has the sort of depth Muschamp requires along each step of the defense: the Gators are deeper up front, especially at tackle; have two or three linebackers fighting for snaps behind the top threesome; and go seven deep in the secondary, even if more than half of the seven are sophomores. Florida knew that Muschamp would turn this defense into a menace – and he’s delivered.

But you wonder about the magic number: the number of points this offense must average a game for Florida to win the SEC East title. Is it 21 points, 24 points, 27 points? It’s at least 20 points, and I look at this offense, look at this schedule, look at the SEC at large and wonder how a reworked group – one with some fairly large personnel issues – plans on scoring with consistency from September through November. Pease is an upgrade, but how long will it take the Gators to find their rhythm in his specific system? It won’t happen overnight, and it’s a process that will be slowed by teams like L.S.U., South Carolina, Georgia and others.

I can see Florida losing another six games before I can see this team winning the SEC East, which is not something you’d say – with a tweak for divisional membership – about the upper crust of the conference. The Gators remain too unbalanced; the defense could carry this team to nine wins, but the offense is going to fall flat at least once or twice over the span of the season. If Pease is the answer, U.F. will be a serious title contender heading into next season. For now? Florida and Tennessee are in a near tie for third place in the East, one full notch below Georgia and South Carolina. Eight wins will signal progress, but it won’t land the Gators an SEC title game berth.

Dream season Florida loses to L.S.U. and Florida State but sweeps through the rest of the schedule unscathed, primed for a title game rematch against the Tigers. Muschamp would be the third Florida coach to reach double-digit wins in his second season, joining Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer – that’s some good company.

Nightmare season The Gators’ offense falls flat against A&M and Tennessee, disappears against L.S.U., South Carolina and Florida State, and can’t do enough against Georgia to score an upset. For the second straight year, U.F. heads into bowl play at 6-6.

In case you were wondering

Where do Florida fans congregate? If you’re interested in U.F. football chatter with a dash of recruiting coverage, look no further than Gator CountryGator Bait and Fightin’ Gators. For added coverage, check out the Web sites of The Gainesville Sun and the Orlando Sentinel. The best blog coverage can be found at Alligator Army.

Florida’s all-name nominee K John Crofoot.

Word Count

Through 91 teams 363,309.

Up Next

Who is No. 33? Among the graduates of the next university on the list — popping up around noon — is the C.E.O. of a Kentucky-based company that once sued a major television network.

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Comments

  1. Humana says:

    Louisiana Tech is next.

  2. jtt says:

    Name is charlie ergen, he was the ceo of dish network in 2009 when they sued espn. He went to the university of tennessee.

  3. Devil (in the details) says:

    @jtt

    You’re doing this on purpose, huh.

    Dish Network is a Colorado company.

    It’s Louisiana Tech that is next.

  4. FLAGSHIP says:

    The Flagship of the University of Louisiana system is next.

  5. Azdak says:

    Dish Network is based in Colorado. La Tech is next.

  6. VmanV says:

    How many years has it been now since UF left the state of Florida for a non-conference game?

  7. [...] Myerberg, in his preseason piece on his No.34, Florida, has a villain for last year’s poor showing by the Gators.  First, the historical context: [...]

  8. Ryan says:

    Dish’s HQ appears to be in Meridian, CO, not KY. But Louisiana Tech alum Mike McAllister is CEO of Humana based in Louisville. They sued NBC over a medical drama back in the 80′s, I think?

  9. Ryan says:

    Typo, sorry…Mike McCallister

  10. Cory says:

    LA Tech finally comes up.

    Michael McCallister (Tech Grad) is the CEO of Humana, which sued NBC in the 80′s over some episode of a medical show.

    Looking forward to reading our write up.

  11. Washington Irving says:

    “Florida posted its 24th straight winning season, the longest streak in the country. The program has not posted a losing season in 32 years, since that great 0-10-1 year in 1979; this is also an F.B.S. high.”

    I believe both those streaks are eclipsed by Florida State, with 35 consecutive winning seasons, having not posted a losing season since going 5-6 in 1976.

    Paul: Yeah, I have my cake and eat it too with this stat. I give it to Florida here but also hand it to Florida State later on, with an asterisk. And I’ve always included F.S.U. among those teams with a longer streak of winning seasons than Southern Mississippi. I should make a stand, but I do think that both programs can make the claim for holding the longest active streak.

  12. Hokieshibe says:

    @Washington – what about FSU’s vacated wins? I thought there were a bunch of those from that online class thing a couple of years back (which, as I recall, put Bowden out of the race with Paterno for most wins at the time). I’m pretty sure that resulted in a couple of losing seasons…

    On a different note, how is Florida ranked in the preseason polls? That’s rediculous. And if they don’t lose before meeting LSU, then LSU gets to beat another ranked team.
    I always hated that – when people are talking about SoS and they go “Team X beat 7 ranked teams! What a brutal schedule!” but maybe 3 of those teams are actually ranked by the end of the year. There’s always one or two SEC teams that start like that (Florida nad Auburn this year) and they only serve to bolster SoS arguments for the rest of the SEC teams (not that they need it). Miami used to be the same way, although I guess poll voters are starting to get wise to them…

  13. Exactly says:

    @Hokishibe

    “…how is Florida ranked in the preseason polls? That’s ridiculous. And if they don’t lose before meeting LSU, then LSU gets to beat another ranked team.”

    * * * * *

    This is JUST ONE EXAMPLE of how the SEC has RIGGED the system. It’s so obvious, yet not many call them out on it.

    The SEC is just another conference. They are not “the best conference” or play “the best football” they simply play a different style of football. Often “styles make fights” and they stack the deck heavily in their favor starting with an embarrassingly weak and favorable OOC schedule, their “SoS” is just a byproduct of the manipulation of a deliberately flawed and inequitable system.

    When the SEC managed to work the system to get the matchup they wanted in the mythical NCG, the other colluding conferences finally had enough and changed the system.

    The change is a move in the right direction but still needs improvement. Polls, and especially human polls, need to be jettisoned from the selection process.

    What’s the point in having divisions, and conferences and crowning division and conference champions? It should be a filtering process towards the post season and the crowning a National Champion. Post season spots should be reserved for Conference Champions. That the most recent “Nat. Champ” didn’t even win its division is an embarrassment to the sport.

  14. DMK says:

    @Hokieshibe

    Then again, Auburn was ranked #23 in the 2010 preseason poll and … moved up.

    If the SEC is really way better than other conferences, then there’s nothing weird about its 6th-best team being the nation’s 23rd-best team, right?

  15. Gotham Gator says:

    A terrific summary, as always. I am a little more optimistic about the season. Two reasons.

    First, the defense was terrific last year, and nearly everyone is back. No. 9 overall is nothing to sneeze at, and they accomplished that feat with an offense that couldn’t hold the ball. Despite constantly coming back onto the field after a three and out or in bad field position, or both, the defense got the job done. This could rank among the best defenses in school history.

    Second, the offense can’t be as bad as last year. (It can’t, can it? Please tell me it can’t). Worst offense since 1979, which was the worst of the last 60 years, easily. Not only did you have questionable coaching by Weis, the offensive line was terrible, and the senior starting quarterback was injured most of the year, leaving only two true freshmen to be thrown to the wolves. You can’t run if everyone knows you can’t pass.

    If you combine even a semi-capable offense with Florida’s defense, the Gators easily win 2-3 more games last season and contend for the division. No, the Gators don’t beat Alabama or L.S.U., but every other game is in play. That’s about where Florida should be this coming year. Ten wins or so and a chance at Atlanta.

    To sum up, the low point of the season was unquestionably the home loss to Florida State. Holding your arch-rival to 95 yards and 7 first downs and still losing 21-7 is terrible. It also perfectly sums up what went wrong in 2011.

  16. AMFKNole says:

    Apparently, they didn’t actually change the offensive system. Muschamp is making Pease use the same system from last year.

  17. Lee says:

    UF will win 9-10. Number 34 is wayyyyy off. They will finish much better than that.

  18. RedBaron says:

    We suck and will have a very disappointing season AGAIN!

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