It only took Jim McElwain one year to get Florida back into the SEC Championship Game. After the Gators won a combined 11 games in the final two seasons under Will Muschamp, McElwain led Florida 10 victories and an SEC East title in his debut season.
But after winning 10 of their first 11 games, the Gators closed the season with three straight losses as the offense languished following the suspension of quarterback Will Grier for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Grier has since transferred, and McElwain’s squad returns 11 starters as it seeks to defend its division title in what should be a wide-open race.
Georgia brought in former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to attempt to get the Bulldogs back on top, while Tennessee returns 17 starters from last year’s 9–4 campaign and appears to finally have the depth and experience to match its talent.
McElwain stopped by Sports Illustrated’s newsroom Tuesday to discuss some of the key topics that could determine whether Florida can contend this fall.
Here are some of the questions McElwain answered:
• Which players impressed the coaching staff during spring practices? Who could be set for breakout seasons this fall?
• Where does the QB battle stand? Will Luke Del Rio emerge to lead the Gators’ offense?
• What about the state of the offense line? Florida ranked last in the SEC in sacks allowed last season? How much progress can the line make?
• Who will be the new leaders of a Gators defense that loses key playmakers like Vernon Hargreaves, Jonathan Bullard, Keanu Neal and Antonio Morrison?
• What can Eddy Pineiro bring to the kicking game? Can the highly touted juco transfer add stability to Florida’s special teams?
• How much added emphasis is on the Gators’ rivalry games this season when matchups with Georgia and Tennessee will likely decide the SEC East?
• What schools would McElwain like to see Florida add to its non-conference schedule?
• What expectations does McElwain have for the 2016 season? Are there specific goals he’d like to accomplish?
• What true freshmen could make an impact this fall? Which players could step into a significant role in their first seasons on campus?