Athlon Sports released the second half of their preseason top-25 list today, ranking teams 12-25 (the other 11 teams will be released starting tomorrow through the 28th.)
Florida came in outside the top-10, at No. 13 overall. Here is the list of the teams that have been released so far.
15. Florida State
16. Oklahoma State
22. Fresno State
23. Arizona State
25. Oregon State
While a case can be made for the Gators to be a top-10 team to start the season, their Sugar Bowl loss, especially the fashion in which they lost, coupled with the players they lost in the draft, likely kept Florida a little lower than fans would like.
Athlon broke down the Gators by offense, defense and special teams.
Starting with the offense, Athlon hit the nail on the head saying, “Jeff Driskel will need to improve his field vision and ability to read defenses. The junior is mobile, but he needs to do his part to decrease Florida’s sack totals.”
Florida allowed 39 sacks last season, most in the SEC, and a lot of those were due to Driskel trying to do too much with the ball in his hands. With another year in the same offensive system and a year of starting under his belt, Driskel should be more comfortable on the field and trust his teammates more heading into this season. We will be able to tell early on if Driskel has developed better field vision and improved his decision-making.
Athlon also noted that Matt Jones has taken the starting position at running back, a position that will be the feature of the offense. Along with that, the offensive line could shape up to be the best unit that Florida has had under Will Muschamp.
Moving on to defense, Athlon noted that Will Muschamp wants to play the best players at all times.
What coach doesn’t, right?
Athlon called the situation with Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell an “interesting dilemma.” I would call it an embarrassment of riches and Muschamp would probably call it a good problem to have. You can never have too much talent on a football team, the coaching staff will just need to get creative in the ways they use all of the talent on the roster.
Athlon singled out linebacker as the position with the biggest question marks, and rightly so. The future is bright with Antonio Morrison in the middle and with players like Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Michael Taylor, Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Jeremi Powell; the Gators should be young but talented in 2013.
Athlon praised the cornerbacks for their depth, but neglected to mention what safety would look like. You can’t blame them; the coaching staff doesn’t even know what safety is going to look like yet.
We do know that Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins, Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole can all play cornerback if needed but the coaching staff is still looking for a solid communicator to step up and take a starting safety spot.
Marcus Maye had a good spring practice and he looks poised to be a front-runner at safety heading into fall camp.
Moving on to special teams, you can’t put into words what Caleb Sturgis meant for the Gators. Having Sturgis on the sidelines allowed the coaching staff to change what plays they would call on offense due to their confidence in Sturgis being able to kick field goals from 50-plus yards. Florida badly needs either Brad Phillips or Austin Hardin to step up and fill those shoes.
Kyle Christy missed most of the spring after hurting his shoulder falling off of his scooter (you can’t make this stuff up folks). Christy will be fine for fall camp and the staff hopes he can equal or improve upon his 45.8 yard-per-punt average from a year ago. The way Florida relies on their running game and ball control, having a reliable punter like Christy is vital for the Gators.
Athlon listed Jeff Driskel, Loucheiz Purifoy, Dominique Easley, Antonio Morrison and Jaylen Watkins as Florida’s “key players.”
Dominique Easley and Jaylen Watkins’ versatility is what make them such valuable players for the Gators. Easley can play defensive end, defensive tackle and even nose tackle in a pinch. This will allow Florida to play their best four defensive linemen at all times. Watkins ability to play nickel, corner back and safety gives Florida a tremendous amount of flexibility in the secondary.
A player that should be on that list is Matt Jones. After watching Mike Gillislee run last season, you can’t undervalue what Jones will mean to the Gators this season. Florida is going to run the ball, there’s no attempt to disguise that fact, and having a bruiser like Matt Jones in the backfield who can carry the ball 20-25 times a game will allow Florida to control the clock and run the physical type of offense that Will Muschamp wants to run.
Overall, this is a fair ranking for the Gators. Could they have cracked the top 10? Sure. Should they be ranked ahead of LSU after physically handling the Tigers last season? Sure.
But when push comes to shove, Florida is in the best conference in the country and if they take care of business on Saturday, they’ll end up where they want to be at the end of the season.