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TGS 2011 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...FLORIDA GATORS
by Gary Olshan, Chief Analyst


Since his hiring in December, new HC Will Muschamp has talked about doing things the "Florida Way," which is about adhering to the school’s code of conduct. He quickly showed he wasn’t just paying lip service. In April, star CB Janoris Jenkins was arrested for marijuana possession, his second such arrest this year and third in the last 23 months. Soon after, the 39-year old Muschamp dismissed Jenkins from the Florida program. whose players have racked up more than 30 arrests since the start of the Urban Meyer era in 2005. Looks like the new sheriff in town means business.

Muschamp also said he wanted a "wow factor" with his hiring of an offensive coordinator, and he certainly achieved that goal by hiring Charlie Weis, the former Notre Dame head coach now back in the college game after a season in which he helped the Kansas City Chiefs make a surprise run to the playoffs. "When you have the opportunity to hire a Charlie Weis," Muschamp says, "with the track record he has offensively, developing quarterbacks, it brings instant credibility to what we’re trying to do." Muschamp wasn’t specifically seeking NFL coaches. But aside from Weis, he also hired longtime NFL assistant Dan Quinn (most recently handled the Seattle Seahawk defensive line), because they had worked together during Muschamp’s one NFL season, with Miami in 2005, and their defensive schemes and philosophies meshed. It's worth noting the Florida staff owns more than 50 years of NFL experience and six Super Bowl rings (four for Weis).

Among Muschamp and Weis' first on-field projects is to rebuild the confidence of sr. QB John Brantley, who struggled mightily in Meyer’s patented spread attack last year, throwing nine TD passes and 10 interceptions. But Weis believes Brantley can effectively execute his more NFL-style attack, with his strong arm and quick release. "We put a lot on the quarterback in our system." Muschamp says, "and I am really pleased with his poise, his leadership and his habits off the field in studying what we need to do—getting us in and out of the right runs and the right protections. He has got the ability." But while Brantley is the clear favorite, he isn’t guaranteed the job. While last year’s backups, Jordan Reed and Trey Burton, have been moved to new positions, the Gators signed two of the nation’s top prospects, 6-4 Jeff Driskel and 6-5 Jacoby Brissett. Driskel, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 QB recruit, enrolled early and went through spring practice, leaving Weis gushing and giving himself a chance to win the job in August.

The underperforming WR corps (averaged an SEC-worst 10.4 yds. per reception LY)—led by inconsistent senior Deonte Thompson (38 grabs; too many drops LY)—needs to better stretch the field this season. Coaches are hoping that speedy soph Andre Debose (10 catches; sterling 28-yd. avg. & two TDs on KO returns) will be the home-run threat missing from LY’s arsenal. Gainesville sources tell us that prized 6-4 frosh WR Ja’Juan Story (4.4 speed) could quickly work his way into the rotation, while 6-3 soph TE Jordan Reed (359 YR, 5 TDs; split time between QB & TE LY) has wowed everyone with his combination of strength, speed and skill. The dynamic, blazing backfield duo of 5-8 Jeff Demps (551 YR, 6.0 ypc) and 5-9 Chris Rainey (366 YR, 25 reception, 7.2 ypc), who worked at both RB and WR last year, provide plenty of fireworks. But a MAJOR rebuilding job awaits along the OL (only one starter back), which lost NFL first-rounder Mike Pouncey and second-rounder Marcus Gilbert.

Along with the new NFL-flavored attack, the reformed, somewhat youthful defense (21, 3 ppg LY; only 4 starters back) is also decidedly pro-style, with aforementioned Quinn installing a 4-3 with a swing man, known as the "buck." Quinn is seeking to put much more pressure on opposing QBs after the Gators managed a meager 21 sacks last year. Athletic, 6-4, 250 lb. soph Ronald Powell (No. 1 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class) reveled in the "buck" role during the spring, making plays all over the field. Active soph DTs Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd showed in the spring they appear ready to help pressure the passer up the middle. Yes, the vaunted secondary (176 ypg LY; 2nd in SEC) took a hit with the dismissal of A-A Jenkins. But there is no shortage of speed in the secondary, spearheaded by soph SS Matt Elam (legit NFL prospect, an elite recruit year ago), and swift jr. CB Jeremy Brown. In fact, Quinn says the speed of his outside pass defenders allows him to play more man-to-man coverage than zone. Sturdy LB corp, featuring 6-1, 223-lb. soph Jelani Jenkins and 6-1, 238-lb Jon Bostic (combined 133 tackles). Junior PK Caleb Sturgis (22 of 30 in 2009) appears to be back to full health after missing most of 2010 with a back injury.

Summary... UF has clearly the toughest schedule in the SEC, but the still-gifted Gators have enough playmakers on both sides of ball to be a factor in the inferior SEC East (compared to the super-rich West) and seriously challenge defending champ South Carolina. Intense, highly-driven Muschamp should have his "blue-collar" team (that’s what he’s calling them) primed for a 4-0 start in a navigable September before a brutal October (home game vs. Alabama followed by back-to-back trips to LSU and Auburn) goes a long way in determining whether the Blue & Orange has a shot at a BCS bowl. But, heck, if Brantley can be the next-level passing talent he was expected to be coming out of high school, the sky’s the limit.


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