|Florida's 2013 schedule|
The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
The Gators have nine starters back from a team that put together the strongest regular-season résumé in the nation in 2012. Coach Will Muschamp and his staff have enough talent to fill the holes in the defense left by the early departures of tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam. Floyd, for example, will be replaced by senior Dominique Easley, who moves inside from defensive end. That will allow 6-foot-2, 263-pound sophomore Dante Fowler Jr. -- who could be the Gators' best player by season's end -- to assume a bigger role on the outside. Florida's offensive line will be bolstered by the availability of transfers Tyler Moore (Nebraska) at right tackle and Max Garcia (Maryland) at left guard. The run-first attack will rely on a stable of young backs led by sophomore Matt Jones, who gained 5.3 yards a carry in limited action last season.
The case against
For all the Gators' accomplishments in 2012, they got clobbered by Louisville 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl and almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette at home. Their passing game was at times nonexistent, and unless some of the freshman wideouts distinguish themselves quickly, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel won't have many downfield targets.
As the SEC continues to adjust to realignment, a second consecutive bridge schedule spares the Gators from a date with Texas A&M. Florida does go to Baton Rouge on Oct. 12, but LSU has to replace 11 early departures to the NFL. The SEC East title could be decided as early as Nov. 16, when Florida travels to face Steve Spurrier's best South Carolina team.
33: The average Florida drive in 2012 began on the Gators' 33-yard line. That's a testament to Florida's defense and to punter Kyle Christy, who usually keeps the field flipped in the Gators' favor. If Florida can keep the field that short in 2013, it will take pressure off the offense.
DE Dante Fowler Jr.: As a rotation player at Florida's Buck position in 2012, Fowler finished fourth on the team with eight tackles for loss. Expect more now that the sophomore is a starter. Fowler's emergence also allows the Gators to move Ronald Powell -- a former five-star recruit who missed all of 2012 after tearing an ACL -- to outside linebacker. That fills two positions of need.
Freshman to watch
WR Demarcus Robinson: The returning Gators combined for a paltry 647 receiving yards in 2012. Someone needs to emerge as a playmaker in the passing game. The most likely candidate in the freshman class is Robinson, a 6-2, 201-pounder from Fort Valley, Ga., who impressed coaches and teammates in the spring with his speed and physicality. "He can catch the ball when he is in different body positions and different body angles, and he is a guy who can blow by," Driskel said. "He's a guy who has good ball skills. He is going to be a big-time player and he's definitely going to show up next year."
CB/WR Loucheiz Purifoy: While the 6-1 junior is a potential first-round pick at cornerback, he spent much of the spring working on offense. If Florida's young receivers don't develop quickly, Purifoy will be increasingly pressed into double duty, Champ Bailey style.
Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)
QB Jeff Driskel: 2,131 passing yards, 18 TDs; 565 rushing yards, 7 TDs
RB Matt Jones: 1,020 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 110 receiving yards
RB Trey Burton: 190 rushing yards, 4 TDs; 222 receiving yards, 2 TDs
Coach speak: Will Muschamp
SI: How did you jump from seven wins in 2011 to 11 wins in 2012?
WM: Two of the major things we emphasized going into last season were turnovers and the fourth quarter. We were minus-12 [on turnovers] in 2011. We ended up being plus-15 in 2012. That's a huge difference. We were outscored in 2011 by 50 points in the fourth quarter, 72-22 [in SEC play]. In 2012 we outscored our opponents by 41 points, 61-20. So you're talking about a 91-point difference. I see you adding it up there. So those two critical factors put you in a BCS game.
SI: How much can the offense improve in coordinator Brent Pease's second season at Florida?
WM: It's the first time since 2010 that we've had the same offensive coordinator, so we expect to make tremendous strides. As a defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas and in my second year at Florida, we made huge strides our second year on defense. I expect that this year offensively. We have quarterback Jeff Driskel back. We're better up-front. And I feel very comfortable with where we are at running back.