Friday, July 14, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Florida Gators
Jim McElwain has had the fortunate luck of coaching the Gators through a long term transitional period while the SEC East is a mess. If the Gators were playing in the SEC East, they may finish anywhere from third to fifth. As it is, the Gators measure up just behind Georgia in the East as of this moment, and have a chance to steal the division if the ball bounces the right way. Will the Gators find a QB between Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks to finally turn this offense around and push closer to an elusive SEC title?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Jordan Scarlett may be the most important piece of the offense returning. If he can get himself over the 1000 yard mark, and get an increased work load in 2017, the QB situation may develop more quickly. He barely missed that mark last season, but with more carries could come more success across the board.
All three starting receivers return from last season in Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, and Tyrie Cleveland, and TE DeAndre Goolsby rounds out the talented group of pass catchers. Callaway caught 54 passes last season, and with the right QB, could be in for a major breakout season. Powell added 45 catches, while Goolsby added 38 from his TE spot.
Eddy Piniero is back at PK after a solid 2016 season. He connected on 21/25 FG attempts, and is a consistent source of points for an offense that has struggled to score.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The QB situation became interesting when former Notre Dame player Malik Zaire transferred into the program late in the spring. He will be battling it out with Feleipe Franks for the starting job, with Kyle Trask on the outside edge. One of these guys has to develop and say healthy to give the Gators a shot at winning the SEC East. If that does not happen, forget about competing for the division title, and start worrying about staying alive.
The line is a huge question mark for the Gators. Every starter in 2017 is projected to be a sophomore or a junior, and that rarely works for the best. There will be no senior leadership at all.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Gators are exceptionally young on the line on defense as well, but several of these young players got major experience and produced last season. Jabari Zuniga was the best of the bunch, finishing with 8.5 TFLs at DE last season, while CeCe Jefferson was right there with him with 6.5 TFLs last fall. They may be one of the best young bookend combos in the league, and maybe the nation. Khairi Davis and Tevan Bryan are solid inside as well, but the ends get all the glory. Jordan Sherit is also back at DE, and will rotate in and out of the game. He adds one more layer to placing pressure on opposing backfields.
The Gators have one of the more talented CBs in the SEC in Duke Johnson, who finished with seven PBUs last fall. He will be the anchor in the secondary in 2017 for this football team. Marcell Harris is back at Safety, and led the team in tackles last season with 73. Nick Washington returns as well after finishing with 45 tackles. Either Chauncey Gardner or CJ Henderson will win the open CB job, but both are sophomores. Gardner has the edge now after a 32 tackle season last fall.
Johnny Townsend returns as the Punter after an amazing season that saw him average 47.89 yards per punt. He is one of the very best in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The LB unit is a bit pedestrian compared to the rest of the defense, and that could be a problem against teams that really love to pound the football, which they do in the SEC. Kylan Johnson, David Reese, and Vosean Joseph will all be starting, but are still young, and still trying to find themselves in the system.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Michigan at Arlington, 9/9 Northern Colorado, 9/16 Tennessee, 9/23 at Kentucky, 9/30 Vanderbilt, 10/7 LSU, 10/14 Texas A&M, 10/28 Georgia at Jacksonville, 11/4 at Missouri, 11/11 at South Carolina, 11/18 UAB, 11/25 Florida State
The Gators are in what seems like a constant state of flux dating back to the Muschamp era. McElwain is a definite upgrade at head coach, but the Gators have yet to turn thecorner in so many areas, and just when everything looked like it would they lost Will Grier to the PED suspension and transfer. The Gators are starting over at QB, have a young line, and a run game that is not yet fully developed. They have a young, but talented D line, a group of developing LBs, and a secondary that could be very good. The only area where the Gators are completely buttoned up is in the kicking game. The schedule is rather tough with early games against Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, and Texas A&M. Where the Gators get a break is that they have an inordinate number of home games. As of this moment, the Gators could finish second in the SEC East, and push Georgia for the East title, but they are a few injuries away from being purely bad. It could go either way this fall.