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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Is 2013 the Return of the Gators?

Wild on Sports
Is 2013 the Return of the Gators?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

In 2009, Florida won its second BCS National Championship Game in three years, and was at the upper echelon of college football with stars like Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow leading the team under head coach Urban Meyer. However, after Tebow left Florida for the NFL and Urban Meyer stepped down from coaching, there was much uncertainty in Gainesville. Florida hired Will Muschamp away from Texas, where he was there “coach in waiting” and Muschamp has Florida playing great football again. After a disappointing 2011 season, the Gators went 11-2 last year, only losing to Georgia and Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. This year could be Muschamp’s most important and he has the players and overall talent to fight for a national championship.

The Gators start the season ranked #9, with four other SEC teams ahead of them. The Gators have a relatively slow start to their schedule, with games against Toledo, Miami, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas. SEC rivals always play each other tough, but Florida should be able to handle the weaker teams without much issue. Florida’s most important game will be October 12th, a game they will play against LSU, in Baton Rouge. If the Gators can win that game, it could lift them to finish the season, with games against elite teams like Georgia and South Carolina, as well as the rivalry game with Florida State. However, if Florida loses, they could carry it into their game two weeks later against Georgia, which will determine their place in the SEC East. Florida closes the season at South Carolina, home vs. Georgia Southern, and home against Florida State. Muschamp is 1-1 against the Ol’ Ball Coach, and will need a second straight win in order to make it into the SEC Championship game. The game against Georgia Southern will give the players a relative break from competition before their matchup with Florida State. For the Gators to be in the national championship conversation, they will need to win the SEC East so that they can get a spot in the SEC Championship Game, as it is likely that the winner of that game will go to the National Championship Game.

Muschamp’s team is once again loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball to lead the Gators through the SEC. This will be Jeff Driskel’s second year starting for the gators, and was able to win 11 games last year, without putting up huge numbers. However, with starting running back Mike Gillislee gone to the NFL draft, Driskel will be expected to air the ball out more this year. Unfortunately for Driskel, Florida has an extremely young receiving corps, and will take time to develop. With five weeks to prepare before their showdown with LSU, the receivers should be able to develop rapport with Driskel; by the time Florida plays LSU. Florida will have to replace Gillislee and are hoping that Trey Burton can live up to the hype that surrounded him when he was recruited. On defense, Florida will have to replace dominant DT Shariff Floyd, but they have a good mix of veteran and young talent to produce a solid rotation on the defensive line. Florida also returns starting corner backs Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who are already generating draft buzz even before the year starts. Florida’s biggest question on defense will be replacing their linebackers, but they have a young linebacking corps, and some five-star recruits coming in to fill the gaps. Florida’s defense needs to utilize it strong cornerback play, which will allow the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback.

Florida is heading into 2013 with high expectations and their season will likely come down to two games, Georgia and South Carolina. These three teams are expected to battle all year for SEC East supremacy. While Georgia is the preseason favorite to win the East, Florida will get to play them at home, which will give them a better opportunity to win the game. If Florida can beat both South Carolina and Georgia, expect them to face the SEC West Champion for not only the SEC Championship, but also a National Championship shot.


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