If Florida wants to win the SEC East, its offense has to take a step forward in 2013. The Gators ranked last in the SEC in passing offense last season and averaged only 334.4 yards per game.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel was solid in his debut year as the starter, throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed for 413 yards and four scores.
Although Driskel shined against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, he didn’t play well in the Sugar Bowl versus Louisville, throwing two interceptions on 29 attempts.
There’s a lot of pressure on Driskel, especially with a largely unproven receiving corps.
Can he take the next step in his development this year?
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May.
Florida ranks as Athlon's No. 13 team in the 2013 Top 25 countdown.
Is Florida's Jeff Driskel a Top-Five Quarterback in the SEC?
Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Jeff Driskel really did all the Florida coaching staff asked him to do in 2012. He protected the ball (just five INTs), became the second-leading rusher with 408 yards and four touchdowns and won 11 football games as a first-year starter. But it was obvious at times that Driskel was underdeveloped as a passer and locked on to one receiver much throughout the season, often getting him and the offense into trouble.
Driskel should improve as both a passer and a runner this season, but I’m not sure he’s going to put up top-five numbers as a passer. Seven other returning quarterbacks finished with better numbers last year. So, if we’re talking numbers, Driskel will probably be on the outside of the top five looking in.
Florida should have another strong running game but still have limited playmakers at receiver. Driskel could still win 10 games and only throw for 1,700 to 1,900 yards. And who wouldn’t take that?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s go ahead and pencil in Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray as top-five quarterbacks in the SEC. I like Jeff Driskel as a potential top-five talent, but he won’t have the receiver talent to put up the numbers of an upper-echelon SEC quarterback. And this is an offense that looks to be a ball-control attack once again. Give me Bo Wallace, Tyler Russell or Connor Shaw to maximize their opportunities this season. Driskel will be fine, especially if he gets anything out of a receiver position that’s been a mess for some years now, but other SEC quarterbacks have higher ceilings for regular-season production right now.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Top five in the SEC isn't the same today as it has been for the last few decades. In a league that has long struggled with producing elite signal callers, the nation's toughest league has begun to churn out All-Americans, Heisman Trophies and National Champions under center of late. So will Jeff Driskel be better than Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray? Certainly not, however, could he pass Connor Shaw, Tyler Russell or Bo Wallace and finish as one of the five best quarterbacks in the SEC? Absolutely. He is an extraordinary athlete who will be an upperclassman for the first time this fall. Driskel has always been able to make big plays with his legs and will continue to do so this season, but he showed flashes of brilliance as a passer and leader of the offense a year ago. He needs to be more consistent in the pocket and within the framework of the offense, but there is a reason Driskel was the No. 1 QB recruit in the nation coming out of high school. He already has an 11-1 season under his belt and I think analysts tend to forget he was just a true sophomore last year. I'm expecting big things from the burly Gators passer in 2013 and that likely makes him the fourth or fifth best QB in the SEC.
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
There are only three quarterbacks in the SEC I would take over Jeff Driskel: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray of Georgia. Those three quarterbacks have established an elite tier for themselves in the SEC.
Driskel would be next on my list. He has enormous potential entering his second season as a full-time starter. Driskel is a big (6-4, 237) quarterback with a strong arm and great athleticism. He rushed for 408 yards last season, including a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to help secure a win against Vanderbilt. Driskel threw for only 137.2 yards per game last season but was accurate and took care of the football, completing 63.7 percent of his passes while throwing only five interceptions.
Florida coach Will Muschamp has continued to express confidence in Driskel, who coaches believe has taken on more of a leadership role as his understanding of coordinator Brent Pease’s offense has grown. But Driskel won’t be able to carry Florida’s offense by himself. The Gators are still waiting on someone to step up at wide receiver. If Driskel gets the proper help, he should establish himself as one of the SEC’s top five quarterbacks.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Jeff Driskel’s debut season certainly wasn’t awful, but Florida needs more from him in 2013. A late-season injury slowed his progress in the final month of the year, finishing with 1,646 yards and 12 passing scores. Driskel added 413 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, which included a 177-yard rushing effort against Vanderbilt.
Although Driskel was efficient and completed 63.7 percent of his throws, the Gators averaged only 146.3 passing yards per game. And in SEC contests, Driskel threw for only 139 yards per game. It’s not out of the question for Florida to win the SEC East with a similar performance, but the defense might take a small step back with the departure of safety Matt Elam, tackle Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jon Bostic, and the offense loses running back Mike Gillislee and first-team All-SEC tight end Jordan Reed.
Although Driskel isn’t asked to win a lot of games with his arm, he should be better by default in his second year as a starter. However, making progress as a passer also hinges on Florida developing a go-to receiver or two.
Numbers aren’t necessarily a good indicator of how to rank quarterbacks, but it does play a role in establishing a pecking order. I think Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are clearly the top three quarterbacks in the SEC. After that, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw is probably No. 4, with Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace fighting it out for fifth place. I think it’s unlikely Driskel posts top-five numbers, but the talent is certainly there to rank among the top five in the conference. Is it possible? Yes. But I think Driskel falls just outside of the top five at the end of the season.
I have nothing against Driskel and think he is perfectly capable of doing his part to help Florida win the SEC East in 2013. However, when it comes to the quarterback competition, Driskel is already facing an uphill battle before he even takes a snap this fall. When it comes to the likely all-conference picks at the position, it's pretty safe to assume, barring injury, the primary candidates are Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, not necessarily in that order. This means that Driskel is already looking at no better than fourth place in this "race." And while there is quarterback uncertainty at Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, that's not the case at LSU (Zach Mettenberger), Mississippi State (Tyler Russell), Missouri (James Franklin), Ole Miss (Bo Wallace) and South Carolina (Connor Shaw). Among this group, I like Shaw and Wallace the best, although I also think Russell and Franklin are capable of staking a claim to a top-five spot as well.
There's no disputing Driskel's talent and ability, but there's also no lack of depth at the quarterback position in the SEC as evidenced by the presence of the reigning Heisman Trophy recipient, a two-time national champion and the player most likely to hold all of the conference's passing records when his career is over. In the end, Driskel's caught up in a numbers game and just misses out on being a top-five quarterback in the SEC this season.
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