2011 NCAA College Football Odds: Florida Gators Preview

by Aengus Moorehead

2011 NCAA College Football Odds: Florida Gators Preview - Will Muschamp

2010 Season
Overall: 8-5
Vs SEC East: 4-1
Vs Top 25: 0-4

For the second time in as many years, Urban Meyer resigned as the head coach at the University of Florida. After a turbulent 2010 season that saw the wheels come off the Florida wagon, the Florida Gators reached out to another up-and-coming coach to be their leader. Will Muschamp, the former head coach in waiting at Texas and a onetime assistant to Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, now takes over a Florida team that is surprisingly bare at some key positions of need. With Muschamp’s stated desire to transition the team to a pro-style offense and gradually move to a predominantly 3-4 defense, 2011 figures to be a bit rocky at times as everyone learns their new roles. Still, there is plenty of talent on the team, and a “bad” season at Florida is still good by most standards. How quickly the Gators adapt to Muschamp’s way of doing things will determine just how quickly they return to contention in the SEC East.

Quarterback John Brantley was the ultimate square peg trying to be forced into the round hole of the Florida version of the spread option offense. Brantley never quite fit and was never quite comfortable operating in an offense that was accustomed to a quarterback being a powerful running threat as well. Brantley returns for his senior season along with three other offensive starters, but with the change in philosophy to a pro-style offense under new coordinator Charlie Weis, one could make the case that there are no returning starters. Brantley and the Gators will run the ball more, line up under center, use traditional tight ends and fullbacks, and rely on play-action passing. The scheme itself suits Brantley’s skill set, but he still looked shaky in spring. If Brantley continues to struggle in the fall, two blue-chip freshmen - Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett - will have their chances at the job. If Florida struggles at quarterback under Brantley, Muschamp won’t hesitate to go ahead and make the future the present by playing one of the true freshmen.

The skill positions all have talented contributors returning, but they’re all more suited for the spread option offense, so the degree to which they’ll flourish under Muschamp and Weis’ system remains to be seen. Tailbacks Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are blazingly fast but not suited to run between the tackles with a fullback and tight end. That means redshirt Mack Brown needs to stay healthy and be prepared to carry the load inside. At receiver, Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines, Deonte Thompson, and the oft-injured Andre Debose seemed to take to the new offense and should be good group of receivers for Brantley to throw to. Don’t be surprised if freshman Ja’Juan Story finds his way to the field early as well. He’s a big, physical receiver that Weis has always loved to use (think Michael Floyd at Notre Dame).

The question mark for Florida’s offense (besides Brantley) is the offensive line. Just two starters return and both Jon Halapio and Xavier Nixon struggled at times in 2010. Nick Alajajian moved from tackle to center to replace the departed Mike Pouncey. The left of the line features Matt Patchan, who has been injury prone, and Ian Silberman who played in just one game in 2010. There is not a ton of quality depth and the Gators missed on several of their offensive line targets in recruiting, so if the injury bug bites the Florida offensive line, look out. It could be a long 2010. If everyone remains healthy, this could at least be an adequate line.

Defensively, the recruiting depth built up under Meyer will immediately help Muschamp and company. Just two starters return, but plenty of extremely talented and veteran players return, so that number is somewhat skewed. Sophomores Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, and Dominique Easley give Florida a young and freakishly athletic defensive line. There is quality depth as well with Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard coming off the bench at tackle and Chris Martin and Larentee McCray  at end. At linebacker, the Gators return starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins and have plenty of experienced backups like Dee Finley as well. Front-seven depth and athleticism will be the strength of the Florida Gators team in 2011.

The only question for the Florida Gators defense in 2011 is in the secondary where all of the returning starters have departed. Much like the defensive line, recruiting has been very good and there is plenty of talent on hand, albeit inexperienced talent. Janoris Jenkins being dismissed hurt the Gators chances to at least have one experienced cover corner on the defense, so Florida will be looking to any of Jeremy Brown, Cody Riggs, Moses Jenkins, or perhaps some of the highly touted freshmen that signed such as Marcus Roberson or De’Ante Saunders. At Safety, Matt Elam had a good freshman season and steps into the starting role ready to go. Josh Evans is a serviceable free safety but don’t be surprised to see one of the freshmen push for playing time here as well.

Will Muschamp will have no words of thanks for the schedule he inherits in 2011. After the traditional two tune-ups to open the season, Florida hosts Tennessee and then travels to Kentucky. After that, all hell breaks loose. The Gators host Alabama, travel to LSU and Auburn, and then face Georgia in Jacksonville. It could be a long October in Gainesville, but if Florida splits those four games it will enter November’s game against South Carolina with a shot at the SEC East. The season finale against what should be the best Florida State team in a decade will be tough as well, but, at least it’s in the Swamp.

Bodog Sportsbook Odds to win the 2011-2012 BCS National Championship: 18/1

Florida Gators 2011 - 2012 Schedules

DATE OPPONENT
09/03/2011 vs Florida Atlantic
09/10/2011 vs UAB
09/17/2011 vs Tennessee
09/24/2011 at Kentucky
10/01/2011 vs Alabama
10/08/2011 at LSU
10/15/2011 at Auburn
10/29/2011 at Georgia
11/05/2011 vs Vanderbilt
11/12/2011 at South Carolina
11/19/2011 vs Furman
11/26/2011 vs Florida State

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andre debose - charlie weis - chris martin - chris rainey - cody riggs - de’ante saunders - dee finley - deonte thompson - dominique easley - frankie hammond

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