No one could have imagined that 12 months after completing a two-year run that included back-to-back 13-1 seasons and a national championship that Florida’s football program, which opened the 2010 season ranked No. 3 in the Coaches’ Poll and No. 4 in the AP poll, would limp home with an 8-5 record and end the Urban Meyer coaching era in Gainesville.
NOTE: Florida is picked to finish No. 3 in the SEC East by Scout.com publishers/writers.
Meyer’s resignation last December not only produced shockwaves throughout the collegiate football world, but sent athletic director Jeremy Foley on a coaching search that ended only three days after Meyer’s resignation with the hiring of 39-year old Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Muschamp, who spent his early youth in Gainesville before playing football at the University of Georgia, has a coaching background which includes stops at Auburn and LSU prior to his stint at Texas. His highly energetic coaching style figures to be a welcome change for the Gators after being constantly reminded of Meyer’s ongoing health problems since his first “resignation” as the UF head coach back in December 2009.
And Muschamp will need all the energy he can summon up to revive a Gator program which appears to have its lowest level of overall talent, depth and experience since before Meyer’s arrival at Florida in 2005.
In a brilliant move to bring instant credibility to his new coaching staff, Muschamp hired Kansas City Chief offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to handle the same duties for the Gators. Weis, the former head coach at Notre Dame and four-time Super Bowl champion as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, quickly ditched Meyer’s spread offense for a pro-style attack that is expected to play to the strengths of returning senior quarterback John Brantley, who had a mediocre junior season, averaging just 158 yards passing per game while throwing nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
Brantley’s spring game performance (4-of-14 in a controlled scrimmage setting) didn’t do anything to solidify his position as a top-caliber SEC quarterback, although both Muschamp and Weis insist that Brantley played well throughout spring practice (which was closed to the media and the public).
Redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and early enrollee Jeff Driskel are both expected to push Brantley for playing time in the fall, but Brantley’s experience will certainly earn him the first crack at directing Weis’ offensive show come September.
There are a bunch of playmakers on hand to help Brantley be successful. Chris Rainey (366 yards, 7.2 average) and Jeff Demps (551 yards, 6.0 average) are the fastest running back tandem in the SEC and should benefit from lining up in a pro-set which will allow them to use their blazing speed to pick out holes in front of them.
Senior Deonte Thompson (38 catches, 570 yards) and juniors Omarius Hines (20 catches, 281 yards), and Frankie Hammond (22 catches, 276 yards) figure to stretch defenses vertically. The emergence in the spring of quarterback-turned-tight end Jordan Reed into a major offensive threat plus the versatile Trey Burton (349 yards rushing, 32 catches for 210 yards last season) are expected to provide more weapons from multiple locations in the offense.
The biggest concern on offense will be the offensive line, which has to be totally rebuilt after losing four starters from last year. Injuries throughout the spring limited the time to bring any cohesiveness to the line and the makeshift unit put together for the spring game was the major reason the first two offensive units managing only one touchdown in the contest.
While it will be Weis’ job to revive an offense which was held under 15 points four times last year, Muschamp will be relying on his proven skills as a top-flight defensive coordinator to turn a defense, which gave up 21 points per game last year, back into the type of rugged unit that was a key element in Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national title seasons.
Seattle Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn, who worked with Muschamp with the Miami Dolphins in 2005, was brought in as the new defensive coordinator, but it’s clear that Muschamp’s stamp will be all over the UF defense.
Muschamp noted in his first UF press conference last December that the SEC’s dominance nationally is built around its ability to produce great defensive line play, and the Gators are hoping to build their 2011 defense around a trio of sophomore linemen (Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Dominick Easley) who were the cornerstone of Florida’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class last year.
Solid linebacking from Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic and Gerald Christian gives Florida a chance to be very good at keeping pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something that will be a necessity with an unsettled situation in the defensive backfield.
The dismissal of All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins from the squad after his second arrest for possession of marijuana, left a gaping hole at that position. Sophomore strong safety Matt Elam is a playmaker and junior Josh Evans, who started three games last season, will need to step up in a big way to ease the loss of All-SEC safety Ahmad Black.
Ray Guy award winner Chas Henry leaves Florida as the school’s top all time punter with freshman Kyle Christy getting the first crack at replacing him. Junior Caleb Sturgis, who was sidelined early last season with a back injury, returns as the primary placekicker after going 22-of-30 on field goals in 2009.