After Urban Meyer briefly “retired” after the 2010 season, University of Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley took a chance on the young and inexperienced Will Muschamp. After a 28-21 record and four seasons of mediocre football, Foley decided to fire Muschamp.
This time, Foley went to the Mountain West Conference to find the 25th coach in Gators history. Former Colorado State Rams head coach Jim McElwain will try to return the Gators to SEC contenders.
How will McElwain do in his first season in Gainesville?
Previewing the offense
The biggest challenge McElwain will face in his first season at Florida is turning around their anemic offense. The Gators ranked last in the SEC in scoring offense in 2013 and 12th in 2014. Good news for Gator fans is McElwain has an offensive background as he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-2011.
The biggest question among Gator Nation is who will be the starting quarterback in 2015? Will Grier redshirted last season, but he looked impressive in the spring game and is considered to have the leg up on last year’s starter Treon Harris.
In nine games as a freshman last season, Harris threw for 1,019 yards, nine touchdowns against four interceptions. The duel-threat Harris was 4-2 in his six starts in 2014.
Grier is probably better suited for McElwain’s offense, which is based on high-percentage passes and vertical throws off playaction.
The biggest strength of the Florida offense will be at the running back position. The team will return a strong stable of ballcarriers, led by Kelvin Taylor. He’ll be backed up by Birmingham Bowl MVP Adam Lane Jr. and true freshman Jordan Scarlett, who should also see some carries in the Gators offense this season.
Florida lacks depth at the receiver position, but the team does have a go-to threat in Demarcus Robinson. In 2014, the Fort Valley, Ga. native caught 53 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sixth-year senior tight end Jake McGee is healthy and should provide Florida with another pass catcher in third-down situations.
Arguably, Florida’s biggest challenge on offense will be their offensive line. The Gators only return one lineman who has started a college game. With just six healthy scholarship lineman, it is important that guard Trip Thurman is healthy and able to play in the opener against New Mexico State.
Previewing the defense
Let’s face it, Muschamp was a below average head coach at Florida. But there’s one thing he did provide the Gators with and that’s a dominating defense on a year-to-year basis. New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was handed the keys to a Bentley with all the talent on that side of the ball.
Gone is first-round pick Dante Fowler, but the Gators are deep on the defensive line with Alex McCalister and Jonathan Bullard returning.
Last season, McCalister led the Gators in sacks with six. He will lead a talented defensive line that will rotate up to 10 players to remain fresh.
The linebacker corps isn’t as strong as the big nasties up front. Projected starters Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis are both coming off knee injuries. While both Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian had solid springs, the Gators need Morrison and Davis back healthy to give the team more depth.
Florida will return one of the best secondaries in all of college football and All-American Vernon Hargreaves III leads it. Sophomore cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson return after superb freshman seasons. Senior Brian Poole is also back after leading the Gators in interceptions last season with four.
Much like last season, Florida will rely on their defense to win a number of close games. The offense just doesn’t have enough playmakers to match up with some of the contenders in the SEC.
Florida won seven games last season (the game against Idaho was canceled) and the team should win seven to eight games again in 2015. One thing Florida has going for them is they only play four true road games this season.
The schedule is favorable as Tennessee, Ole Miss and Florida State all come to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida will have to travel to Missouri and LSU and there’s that game in Jacksonville against Georgia.
If the team can settle on a signal caller, they could upset some teams in 2015. But Florida fans shouldn’t have high expectations this season. A seven or eight wins and a nice bowl game would make for a successful rookie campaign for McElwain in Gainesville.