Following a unique 2020 season, many programs around the nation have been looking to reestablish themselves and their identity through their offseason programs.
For the Florida Gators, their identity rested in the unsustainable hope to outscore opponents with a high-powered passing attack and lackluster defensive efforts. However, in 2021, Florida looks to overcome last year's narrative, engineering success on both sides of the ball.
To do so, the Gators — like the great teams of college football — will look to find their identity through a select handful of players vying to establish themselves as the undenied leaders of the pack.
In anticipation of another year of high expectations for Florida football, AllGators will analyze five individuals that could make or break UF's season with their on-field production as well as their impact off of it.
After highlighting guard Ethan White at No. 5, next is a fellow offensive player with a lot to prove in 2021. Coming in as the Gators' fourth make-or-break player is redshirt junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland.
As a memorable member of the 2018 recruiting class — namely for an infamous signing day ceremony — Copeland ranks as one of the highest recruits the Gators have drawn in on the offensive side of the football during Dan Mullen’s four-year run as head coach.
Ranked as a four-star on composite rankings, Copeland was slated as the 12th ranked wide receiver recruit in his class, 69th best player overall and top Gators commit in 2018.
Following an injury-riddled first year, high expectations came for the Pensacola (Fla.) native, set to be the next great pass-catcher to don the orange and blue. However, those expectations have yet to come to fruition.
Arguably the most talented wide receiver on the Gators roster last season, Copeland fell victim to the more polished skillsets of Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes — with tight end Kyle Pitts also in the fold — when battling for targets. Pairing the experience of others with his own blunders in the opportunities he did get, dropping five balls in his redshirt sophomore year, Copeland failed to assert himself in the crowded room of weapons at Kyle Trask’s disposal.
Even then, Copeland made the most of his 23 receptions, churning out 18.9 yards per catch to total 435 yards and three touchdowns. Now, Copeland looks to build off last year into the effective playmaker he was projected to be.
In 2021, Copeland enters the mix as the unrivaled first option for a Florida passing attack that has a lot to live up to after last season.
Despite likely seeing a considerable shift from the pass-heavy offense head coach Dan Mullen operated with a pocket passer at the helm — altering the scheme to a balanced attack of the run to open up the passing game to highlight the strength of heir Emory Jones — the continued efficiency in the passing game will be crucial to Florida’s sustained success in the upcoming year.
Building a connection with Jones on and off the field since the two arrived in Gainesville at nearly the same time, Copeland presents a comforting face in the uncomfortable situations that SEC defenses can cause.
Set to lineup alongside the likes of Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and Trent Whittemore, Copeland will operate as the elder wideout in a group riddled with inexperience. While his role on the field will be greater than ever, his role as a leader towers in comparison.
If he’s able to showcase his abilities on a consistent basis and lead by example for the others to follow, the Gators offense will have a go-to piece for Jones to utilize in strenuous situations and a variety of playmaking options at his disposal from down to down.