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You can read the entire Florida preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Will Muschamp, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Charlie Weis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dan Quinn
While there is a lot new about the 2011 Gators, there are some songs that remain the same. For one, there is the chirping about the quarterback. John Brantley returns for his senior season after the disaster that was 2010. Brantley was the recipient of much of the blame as the Gators stumbled to an 8–5 record. He ended up sharing the position with two other players for the last half of the season.
New coach Will Muschamp has made it clear that Brantley will be the starter despite a brutal performance in the spring game. Florida is hoping that new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis can salvage a good season out of his quarterback, who waited for his chance behind Tim Tebow, flopped badly and now has to learn a whole new offense.
Brantley will be playing behind a re-tooled offensive line and throwing to a group of receivers who have done little in their college careers. But Florida’s coaches believe players like wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and running back Chris Rainey are on the verge of something special. Rainey missed five games because of suspension last year and only had 366 yards, but he averaged 7.2 yards per carry. He will be featured in Weis’ offense. “I can see the field so much better and pick out the spots where I want to run,” Rainey says.
Last year’s other two quarterbacks have found a home, Jordan Reed at tight end and Trey Burton at fullback.
Florida won't win the SEC East with John Brantley at quarterback.
The Gators could very well be a team that relies on its defense, even though seven starters must be replaced. The backups a year ago received plenty of playing time and are poised to take on leading roles.
Florida should be better up front with sophomores Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley at tackles and Ronald Powell playing the hybrid end-linebacker Buck position — which Muschamp used when he was with the Miami Dolphins and had Jason Taylor.
Jelani Jenkins may be the key to the defense, because he’s got the talent to be an All-SEC player as an outside backer. The middle will be manned by Jon Bostic, who made a big impact last season. The secondary is a concern, especially after All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from the team in late April following his second arrest in three months on possession of marijuana.
A year ago, Florida fared well statistically on defense, but some of the numbers were misleading. The Gators failed to make big plays when it mattered most in losses to Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Florida State.
John Brantley, QB The senior has all the tools and has a year’s worth of experience, but you have to wonder about his confidence level.
Chris Rainey, RB After a tumultuous 2010 season, Rainey returns with a new offense that will feature his many attributes.
Jelani Jenkins, LB Gator defense needs a big year from the talented but inconsistent outside linebacker.
|Sept. 3rd||Florida Atlantic|
|Sept. 24th||at Kentucky|
|Oct. 8th||at LSU|
|Oct. 15th||at Auburn|
|Oct. 29th||vs. Georgia (at Jacksonville)|
|Nov. 12th||at South Carolina|
|Nov. 26th||Florida State|
The biggest challenge on special teams will be to replace Chas Henry, the nation’s best punter a year ago who doubled as the field goal kicker. Caleb Sturgis returns from a back injury to be the placekicker, and freshman Kyle Christy is expected to handle the punting duties. Florida can be dynamic in the return game, with Andre Debose handling kickoffs and Rainey running back punts.
Florida has a team with young and mostly unproven talent and a coach who is in his first year. You add in one of the nation’s toughest schedules, and it could be a recipe for disaster. Of course, the last time Florida had a such a tough stretch the media nicknamed it “The Gauntlet.” That was in 2006, the year of Urban Meyer’s first national championship.
Muschamp put together a great staff to work with a team that is not short on talent. Don’t look for the Gators in a BCS bowl this year, but they will be a factor in the SEC East race.
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