This post continues our series checking in on next season's opponents. Our goal is to have gathered useful information about each character from Carolina's villains gallery prior to the beginning of the season. We've previously talked about the East Carolina Pirates, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Navy Midshipmen, the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Auburn Tigers, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, the Tennessee Volunteers, and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Today, we're talking about the Florida Gators.
The Gators are coming off a disappointing 2010 season. After a remarkable run of success from 2006-2009, complete with multiple loaded recruiting classes, most people thought that even the departure of Tim Tebow wouldn't be able to tank the Gators in 2010. They were wrong. First, Florida lost to Alabama in a game in which it was clear that Meyer's squad didn't belong on the same field as the Tide. Then, the Gators lost subsequent games to Mississippi St. and LSU, both in games where the Gators offense looked lost more often than not. The Gators bounced back with an exciting win over rival Georgia, but our own Gamecocks would put the nail in the coffin of the Gators' season with a blowout victory in the Swamp. The Gators also lost to rival Florida St. for the first time in many years. A bowl victory over Penn St. allowed the Saurians to finish the season on a high note, but the damage had been done. Urban Meyer retired shortly after the end of the season. Florida hired Will Muschamp as his replacement, hoping that Muschamp can bring the Gators back to their former level of success.
One might think that Florida's woes last season owed to inexperience, but outside of the quarterback position, Florida was generally an experienced team last year. This year, that's not the case. Phil Steele ranks Florida 85th in the nation with 13 returning starters. The Gators must replace significant players on an already shaky offensive line, and they also lose some important players from the secondary. Of course, it must be noted that Florida has an unparalleled talent base; the key is finding the right lineup and getting the players to perform to the best of their ability.
Continue reading after the jump.Offensive Prognosis
After running Urban Meyer's spread option for the past few years, the Gators will be undertaking a change of approach in Muschamp's first year. Muschamp made a splash when he brought in former Notre Dame head coach and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Wies to be his offensive coordinator, and Weis has installed a pro-style offense. This approach should benefit struggling Gators QB John Brantley, a drop-back passer who struggled to adapt to Meyer's scheme. The other good news is that the Gators return two speedy senior RBs, Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey. While neither has managed to be Percy Harvin, both are solid players who are threats to take it to the house anytime they touch the ball, and I've always also been surprised to see that Demps is a tough character, to boot. The worry for the Gators is again the offensive line. The Gators line struggled to open holes and protect Brantley last year, and with the line still green, more struggles could be ahead. The play of the offensive line could be the difference maker for this team.
Things look much more optimistic for the Gators on defense. Although the Gators have some holes to fill at linebacker and in the secondary, the uber-talented defensive line should make this one of the league's better defenses. DE Ronald Powell is a likely star in the making, while DT Sharrif Floyd should begin to make his presence known as one of the best run-stoppers around. I'm a big believer in the idea that defensive lines win championships, and Florida has a good one.
This game is huge for the Gamecocks. Along with the Georgia game, this game is one of the two key matchups that will determine whether or not Carolina makes it back to Atlanta. Win, and I think it's very unlikely that Florida will finish ahead of us in the standings, particularly considering the brutal schedule the Gators face this season. Lose, and we could have just cost ourselves our trip to Atlanta.
I think the key matchup in this game is the Gators offensive line versus the Carolina defensive line. Last year, we manhandled the Gators in the trenches, keeping Florida from doing anything on offense for most of the night. The Gators defense stood strong for a little while, but the wear of not being able to get off the field for very long took its tole in the second half. At that point, what had been short gains for Marcus Lattimore in the first half became eight- and nine-yard gains, and the rout was on. I don't expect us to win by three TDs again, but I do think the game will follow a similar pattern, as I again think we outman Florida in the trenches. I'm calling for a Carolina victory, one that I project will wrap up a 7-1 SEC record and a return to Atlanta.