Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: After being an afterthought in the SEC in 2011 (7-6,
3-5), Florida made major strides in Will Muschamp's second year as head coach,
going 11-2 overall for its fourth double-digit win campaign in the last seven
The Gators jumped out to a fast start to the season by winning their first
seven games, including triumphs over nationally-ranked foes Tennessee (37-20),
LSU (14-6) and South Carolina (44-11), rising all the way to No. 3 in the AP
Poll themselves. In a hard-fought, neutral-field contest versus Georgia on
Oct. 27, Florida fell in a 17-9 final, but closed out the regular season by
capturing four straight victories.
Because of its loss to Georgia, Florida was unable to represent the SEC East
in the conference championship game, but its 7-1 league mark was strong enough
for an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl, although it lost to a heavy underdog
Louisville, 33-23. The Gators have played in a bowl game in 22 consecutive
years, the second-longest active streak to Florida State's 31.
OFFENSE: Florida was far from a dynamic offensive squad a year ago, putting up
26.5 ppg on 334.0 ypg while scoring touchdowns on just 52 percent of its red
Muschamp employs one of the most run-heavy offenses in the SEC, with more than
65 percent of the plays coming on the ground in 2012, but with the loss of top
tailback Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards, 10 TDs) and the continued maturity of
quarterback Jeff Driskel, things could change a bit in coming campaign.
Driskel won the quarterback competition last offseason and made the coaching
staff look real smart after posting an impressive year (.637 completion
percentage, 1,646 passing yards, 408 rushing yards, 16 total TDs, five
interceptions). Now firmly supplanted as the starter, he knows that he must
take on an even bigger leadership role as a junior.
"It's easier to be more vocal when you're the set quarterback," Driskel said.
"When there's a competition, you don't want to step on anyone's toes. I'm a
lot more confident because I've played more and gotten a lot more snaps and
played one year as the starting quarterback. I'd say the guys respect me a lot
more this year."
Although leading pass catcher Jordan Reed (45 rec, 559 yards, three TDs) has
moved on, Driskel built a strong rapport with Quinton Dunbar (383 yards, four
TDs) and Trey Burton (172 yards) last season and both should see increased
production. Loucheiz Purifoy, who tallied 51 tackles in the defensive
secondary last year, is slated to see action at receiver in 2013.
Matt Jones (275 yards) was impressive in limited action last season, averaging
more than five yards per carry, and as the No. 1 running back on the depth
chart, he is primed for a breakout year.
DEFENSE: The Gators' defense was the biggest reason the team spent the
majority of last season ranked in the top-10, as they held opposing teams to
just 14.5 ppg and 288.2 ypg, both figures ranking the team fifth in the
nation. However, UF will need to overcome the loss of several key players,
including defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jon Bostic, and safeties
Josh Evans and Matt Elam.
Of the four returning starters, defensive tackle Dominique Easley (8.5 TFL,
four sacks) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (39 tackles, three picks) are the
most polished and both should contend for All-SEC honors in 2013.
With the departure of so many key defensive components, there will be ample
opportunity for young players to step up and become the next superstars.
Jonathan Bullard (five TFL) and Dante Fowler Jr. (eight TFL, 2.5 sacks) each
saw plenty of playing time in the defensive line rotation as freshmen, and
both are expected to take a big leap with another year of seasoning. Antonio
Morrison (34 tackles) was also an impressive freshman a year ago and appears
to have what it takes to supplant Bostic at middle linebacker.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The loss of Caleb Sturgis -- one of the most trusted
placekickers in the nation who made 24-of-28 field goal attempts as a senior
-- could haunt the Gators. Brad Phillips will take over as the field goal
kicker after missing his only attempt last year. Kyle Christy, who averaged
nearly 46 yards per punt, will try to become a Ray Guy Award finalist for the
second straight season.
Andre DeBose will be Florida's primary return man once again in his senior
season. He racked up over 600 total return yards in 2012, including a 100-yard
touchdown in the Sugar Bowl. He now has four career kickoff returns for
scores, which ties him with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin for
the most in SEC history.
OUTLOOK: Although the SEC West has been the stronger division over the past
several seasons, it appears as though the East is starting to close the gap,
with Florida (No. 9), South Carolina (8) and Georgia (5) all ranked in the
top-10 in the final 2012-13 AP Poll.
With the loss of so many keys players, Florida appears to be in slightly worse
shape than it was a year ago, but Muschamp is optimistic that an equally
strong campaign is on the horizon.
"I'm excited about year three, making positive strides in our program,"
Muschamp said. "In our league, there's going to be tight games. Doesn't matter
who you play. You better coach and play well in those situations. I'd love to
have some 40-point wins, (but) at the end of the day I worry about one stat,
and that's winning, and it doesn't matter how you do it."
The three-horse race between Florida, Georgia and South Carolina is sure to be
a fun one to watch unfold as the season progresses. In addition to contests
with the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks, the Gators also have to fight through a
tough schedule that includes matchups with LSU, Vanderbilt, Miami-Florida and
Florida State. They might not be the favorite to capture the SEC East crown,
but a double-digit win season is well within reach, as is perhaps another BCS
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