Written by: Kevin Camps
• 2015 Overall Record: 10-3
• 2015 Conference Record: 7-1
• Rank: #19 In College Football Playoff Poll
Offensive & Defensive Most VALUABLE players:
• Offense: Junior Running Back, Kelvin Taylor.
Taylor was the stable piece in the offense that helped the struggling offense move the ball. His best run came in South Carolina on a critical game sealing drive. Taylor has scored 13 touchdowns to go along with 985 yards.
• Defense: Senior Defensive Lineman, Jonathan Bullard.
Bullard has been as dominant as any defensive lineman in the SEC. He came back for his senior year to improve his stock and he has done just that. Bullard finished his All-SEC season with 63 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
5 Things that didn’t go as Expected
1. The Florida Gators Entire Season
Coming into the season most predicted seven or eight wins for Florida. Most did not see a 10-win season and trip to Atlanta. Had the Florida offense performed better, who knows what might have been.
2. Antonio Morrison Recovery
Morrison’s knee injury was gruesome and playing a portion of this season seemed to be best-case scenario. Turns out he played the entire year, led the team in tackles with 97 and was an All-SEC 2nd team selection.
3. The Kicking Game
Coming into the year, I don’t think we expected Austin Hardin to be great, but we didn’t expect him to struggle this much. It adds to the amazing job this staff has done to overcome so many flaws in the team to get to 10 wins.
4. Last Five Games
After the 7-1 start and wins over Tennessee, Ole Miss and Georgia the last four games should have been a cake walk, but the offense dramatically regressed and made games against Vanderbilt and FAU to close for comfort and the lack of offense finally bit the dust against Florida State and Alabama producing one non meaningful touchdown.
5. The Moment Grier took the Banned Substance
Giving Grier the benefit of doubt here. I am going to say he didn’t expect to lose a full year of football when he took those substances. If he was innocent in not knowing, the NCAA didn’t care and sealed his fate for the rest of the season and beginning of the next.
Top 5 Plays of the Season
1. Antonio Callaway game winning touchdown vs. Tennessee.
Callaway took the fourth down pass and went 63 yards for the game-winning touchdown after Florida was down 13 points in the 4th quarter. It changed the course of the season and the attitude of this team.
2. Austin Hardin Game Winning Kick vs. Vanderbilt
The entire Gator Nation was holding their breath while Hardin, kicked home the game winning and SEC East clinching 43-yard field goal. With the way Hardin has performed the odds of him making this were slim to none.
3. Jake McGee Catch and Shake vs. FAU
Florida found itself in a dogfight with FAU and was very close to losing the game. Jake McGee caught a throwback pass from Harris and shook two FAU defenders for the game-winning touchdown.
4. Antonio Callaway Punt Returns vs. LSU & Alabama
Though they were in losing efforts, Callaway showed his explosion from anywhere on the field. The punt return against LSU tied the game after being down 14 points and the punt return against Alabama in the SEC Championship went for 85 yards.
5. Taylor Seals it Against the Gamecocks
There were other plays to go into this category but this run by Taylor was a phenomenal run in a critical moment. Florida was reeling in the midst of a South Carolina comeback and then Taylor popped the big and silenced the stadium as the Gators went on to finish 7-1 in conference play.
5 What If’s that Could Have Changed the Season
1. What if Grier doesn’t get suspended?
The obvious what if we have been asking for 2 months now. We are not saying Florida would have gone on to win the SEC Championship or be in the playoff, but chances are the offenses would not have regressed at the rate it did. Not only did the team take a blow, but the national perception of this team took a hit as well.
2. What if Bullard decided to go pro?
Often times we see players leave to early or leave to late and it not work out. For Bullard it worked out beautifully. He built his draft stock on his way to earning All-SEC first team honors and national recognition as one of the best defensive linemen in the country. If Bullard left along with Fowler, we may not have seen the dominance in the front seven that we saw this year.
3. What if Florida had a Reliable Kicker?
If the Gators were able to field a reliable kicker a couple games down the stretch aren’t as stressful. It also may have change the course of a few games as well. For this edition of Gators, 3 points were critical and for most teams 3 points were guaranteed at certain places on the field. For Florida that wasn’t the case, not even extra points.
4. What if Grier to Callaway is incomplete?
I truly believe if Grier had not completed the pass to Callaway for the touchdown this season is completely different. It put such a confidence and belief in this team that we saw for the remainder of the year. Had it been complete Florida probably doesn’t go to the SEC Championship and Tennessee goes on to play in Atlanta.
5. What if Treon continued the type of success he had at LSU?
If Treon were able to duplicate or come close to his output at LSU, Florida would either be preparing for a playoff game or a New Year’s Six bowl game. The quarterback situation would probably be just as cloudy, but we would be more comforted knowing that Treon would be here at the beginning of 2016. But we are in limbo about the position and fans are already discussing Treon changing position or transferring.
Top 5 Recruiting Needs
Despite landing commitments from early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, at this point neither are an immediate fix. The best chance to fixing the situation quicker would be flipping current Georgia commit Jacob Eason. The Gators have Luke Del Rio, the former Alabama and Oregon State transfer, but there is no guarantee he will resolve the problem right now. Even if Eason were to flip, you never know how a true freshman will respond in SEC play. Franks has great upside but Eason is the type of QB that can change the class as a whole.
Normally kicker is not high on the list of needs, but in this case it is not far behind quarterback. The inability to make field goals put more pressure on an already struggling offense coming down the stretch. Florida is still in search of one for this cycle, but it is necessary when there is a chance the offense may not be much improved. Florida’s main target is current Alabama commit Eddy Pineiro.
3. Offensive Line
Florida has some good young pieces on the line led by All-SEC selection Martez Ivey. Florida will need to add depth on the line to go along with what should be a much improved group. Florida currently has two linemen committed but will need to add at least 2 more.
Florida will need to add depth at the linebacker position. They are losing Antonio Morrison and it is a good thing Jarrad Davis elected to come back. Daniel McMIllian saw some additional time late in the year but has not produced much since his time here. Alex Anzalone was set to have a good year prior to a season ending shoulder injury. Also, Matt Rolin saw playing time as well. All those guys were highly recruited that haven’t produced much on the field. Florida has commitment from a top linebacker in Jeremiah Moon and are looking to add elite linebacker Mack Wilson. Another one to watch is David Reese who recently decommitted from Michigan a day after a visit with Randy Shannon. Reese is a load coming down hill at linebacker.
5. Wide Receiver
Florida has done a decent job so far filling this position so far with commitments from Freddie Swain, Joshua Hammond, Rick Wells and JUCO Dre Massey who looks to be very explosive. Florida is not done though, there are still a few big fish out there in Nate Craig-Myers and Benjamin Victor. Florida is in the need of some playmakers on the outside. Callaway has big time potential but adding some complimentary pieces will help. Brandon Powell showed promise but tapered off as the season went on for various reasons. Demarcus Robinson might not be back and Ahmad Fulwood has been a disappointment to say the least. Expect some opportunities for some young guys next year.
5 Bold Predictions for Upcoming Spring
1. Quarterback Situation is Still Unsettled.
This comes with one caveat, if Eason commits, I think you commit to him. If not, I think leaving spring the position is still up in the air. Luke Del Rio is probably the leader going in, but Treon, Franks and Trask will get their shot. I expect Mac to drag this out until the first game unless one guy really separates himself. Another caveat is how McElwain handles Grier.
2. Offensive Line will show marked improvement.
With the opportunity to play meaningful snaps during this season, the growth and opportunity for these young linemen will really begin to show in the spring. Ivey will be moved back to tackle and show why he was one of the top recruits coming out of high school.
3. Treon in transition.
At some point in the spring Harris’ position will be in question and it will eventually lead to him considering a transfer. Though the quarterback position may not be settled, Treon will not be in the running. If Treon does not switch positions, which is definitely no guarantee, he could potentially transfer out to a better situation for his personal goals.
4. Despite Losing Elite Talent. The Defense is Still Dominant
Florida will lose Bullard, Morrison and most likely Hargreaves. They could also lose McAllister, Neal and Maye. Those are big losses but Florida has enough talent returning to still field a quality defense. I doubt the later three all go but it is a possibility. Tabor and Wilson will still be two the best corners in the SEC. Jarrad Davis will be one the best in the conference as well. The defensive line had some young pieces that emerged this year in Jefferson, Brantley and Ivie to go along with rising senior Jordan Sherit and Bryan Cox. One player to watch is early enrollee Chauncey Gardner who is a definite playmaker on that side of the ball. They may not match the output of this year’ defense, but will once again be in the upper echelon of defenses in the SEC and in the country.
5. Mark Thompson will pass Scarlett and Cronkrite on the depth chart at RB
The JUCO transfer will come in the spring and provide some needed strength to the backfield. Florida doesn’t not have a back with his skill set on the roster. At 230 lbs Thompson will prove to be a load to bring down. If Taylor returns he will provide a 1-2 punch Florida needed in last year’s offense when things go tough.
Looking Back on 2015
This season has been a great ride full of ups and downs and ins and outs. The team may not have been flashy but they have been fun to watch and cheer for. Many players on this team went through a tough couple years with the previous staff and deserved the opportunity to play for a ring or two. At the end of the day this team won 10 games and had an opportunity to play for the SEC Championship. Just being in the playoff conversation was exciting. From Antonio Morrison to Antonio Callaway this team showed grit and toughness. Under any new regime you need a team like this to lay the foundation for a strong future. Coach McElwain has put the excitement back in Gatornation. Let’s hope it can continue through to next year.