GAINESVILLE -- A week ago, Boom went bold.
Last Monday at SEC Media Days, Florida coach Will Muschamp made headlines when he confidently stated, “This is the most complete team we’ve had since I’ve been at UF.”
It was hardly a push the chips to the center of the table moment -- this is July after all and the annual circus event in Hoover ups the ante on any traditional customary bloviating by 400 percent.
But the comment sparked turned heads because the Gators were so dreadful last season. Muschamp, who embraced the hot-seat scuttle in Hoover, wasn’t haranguing delusions of grandeur but he wasn’t projecting false hope, either.
Florida’s roster is loaded with quality. According to Rivals’ rankings, the Gators have 49 players who entered college as four-stars or better.
But stockpiling prospects doesn’t necessarily equate to “the most complete team.”
The Gators need help today. Not tomorrow.
There’s little doubt if Muschamp should be replaced at season’s end, whoever inherits Florida’s roster will be giddy about the immediate future. Gators fans have long shared ambivalent feelings towards Coach Boom, and a comment even slightly raising the stakes (or hope) strike at the heart of their contradictory thoughts.
I joked on Twitter Muschamp’s statement was incorrect. Case closed.
On the surface it’s Jeff Driskel’s potential versus Jeff Driskel’s linear development, but the talent behind Florida’s starting signal caller this fall is much stronger (Will Grier, Treon Harris). The fact Driskel is finally in an offense that can maximize his skills is another benefit.
ADV: 2014 (if ever so slightly)
The Gators are super deep at tailback this fall, but in 2012, Mike Gillislee rushed for over 1,000 yards averaging 4.72 yards per attempt. Ultimately, the stable of tailbacks (Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown, Adam Lane, Matt Jones) + the (theoretical) eradication of Murderball (cc: Bill Connelly) top a lone wolf.
The wideout position is easily Florida’s biggest strength compared to two years ago. Sophomores Demarcus Robinson, Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood stand as emerging playmakers, while senior wideout Quinton Dunbar is the same ho-hum possession receiver he was two years ago -- when he was Florida’s top option at the position.
Jordan Reed was a second-team All-SEC performer in 2012 and standout rookie in the NFL last year. Although Virginia transfer Jake McGee could reasonably replicate Reed’s stats (45 rec., 559 yrds) in Kurt Roper’s spread attack, the promising talent behind the former Cavalier (C’yontai Lewis, DeAndre Goolsby) is eerily similar to the hyped outlook for former freshmen Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson.
ADV: PUNT (or 2012)
It’s the difficult choice between a pair of pu-pu platters, but Florida’s line this fall is scary thin and starts a center who’s never played center, a pair of tackles who can’t stay healthy and a guard who’s 6-9, 350-pounds. Two seasons ago, the Gators’ line barely mitigated disaster; so again, this is like comparing the best Adam Sandler flicks since 1999.
Florida started three former five-star recruits (Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter, Sharrif Floyd) and brought a pair of freshmen five-star studs (Dante Fowler Jr., Jon Bullard) off the bench. The Gators’ youthful front this fall could be stout, but UF’s 2012 contingent was a menacing, seasoned group.
2012 had the vets (Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Lerentee McCray) and 2014 has all the promise (Jarrad Davis, Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin). Bostic was a steady force, but Davis is a natural breakout candidate this fall. How well Antonio Morrison rebounds from a rough 2013 will go a long way in determining the actual upside of the unit.
Vernon Hargreaves III is possibly the best corner in the nation, but he can’t cover the entire field solo. Florida’s secondary is a gluttonous group (Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson) but the 2012 unit was ridiculous also. To wit: Matt Elam, Josh Evans, (a mentally engaged) Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and De’Ante Saunders.
Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Christy were All-Americans in 2012. The Gators’ kickers were so dreadful last season they replaced their special teams coach after just one year in Gainesville. Really, enough said. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose should reprise his ‘12 role as UF’s electric return man, but Solomon Patton actually averaged more yards per return last season than Debose ever has in his career.
2012: 3 (DL, DB, SPEC.)
2014: 3 (QB, RB, WR)
2 pushes (TE, LB); 1 punt (OL).
Ultimately, Muschamp believes this is his most complete team because he believes he’s actually found a functional offense. The purely (unscientific) prospect talent base in 2012 versus 2014 is almost negligible (48 four-stars or better in 2012; 49 in 2014), but two years ago the Gators knew they had a rock-star defense and this year they simply hope they do.
Offensively, UF’s talent pool is better now and in a LOST-like alternate universe its attack could actually be more consistent than its defense. But Florida’s margins remain thin. Although the ceiling on this year’s team could be higher than a group that went 11-2, its floor is definitely lower.
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