(Although the 2012 season came to an end just days ago, it's never too early to look ahead to 2013 and that's exactly what Crystal Ball Run will do over the coming weeks with our 'Way Too Early' 2013 Top 10. Understand, these rankings are subject to change over the course of the off-season, and as injuries, suspensions and transfers alter college football's best teams. But for now, here's a look at how we expect things to play out.)
CBR 'Way Too Early' 2013 Top 10
No. 10 Florida Gators
After a disappointing 7-6 opening campaign for Will Muschamp in 2011, many in Gainesville- and across the country for that matter- wondered if the former Texas defensive coordinator had the chops to handle a head coaching job as heavy as Florida’s.
Well in year two Muschamp proved he could do just that. The Gators went 11-2 overall in 2012 with a staggering number of quality wins, including victories over Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Not one in college football could match the Gators’ 2012 regular season run.
Still, in the same way Florida entered 2012 with uncertainty, they will do the same in 2013.
The Gators were already set to lose a number of talented seniors, and then were hit in recent days with departures from many of their top underclassmen as well. Florida certainly won’t be “bad” by any means (we do have them ranked in our Top 10 after all), but they aren’t the BCS National Championship favorite they could’ve been either.
Regardless, as we head into the off-season, here’s what you need to know about the 2013 Florida Gators.
The Good: For Florida it all starts with quarterback Jeff Driskel, who evolved into one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in college football in 2012. He finished the regular season with four rushing touchdowns to go along with 12 more through the air.
On defense, the Gators should also once again be pretty darn good with a number of impact players back in the fold. Dominique Easley will be back on the defensive line and will be joined by the surprising Dante Fowler, who finished with 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The defensive backfield will be anchored by the quietly efficient Loucheiz Purifoy and Jalen Watkins.
Most importantly, one of college football’s top ranked recruiting classes should help plug any glaring holes the Gators have entering 2013.
The Bad: As good as Florida’s defense is projected to be in 2013, it could’ve been great had a few NFL decisions gone the Gators’ way. Defensive back Matt Elam, lineman Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jelani Jenkins all elected to go pro, limiting the scope of depth and talent for Florida on that side of the ball. Add those losses with the departure of seniors Josh Evans (the team’s leading tackler), Jon Bostic and Omar Hunter, and this Gators’ defense simply won’t look the same in 2013 as it did in 2012.
Let’s also not forget that the early declaration bug also hit this offense, where tight end Jordan Reed declared, leaving a dearth of playmakers on that side of the ball too. Reed- the Gators’ leading receiver- will be missed, especially with the departure of Mike Gillislee, Florida’s leading rusher.
Looking at this in the big picture, Florida seems suited to handle their losses on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not yet clear if they have proven playmakers to replace Reed and Gillislee though.
The Uncertain: There are plenty of uncertainties entering the season but one to keep an eye on could be the status of Ronald Powell. As easy as it is to forget now, Powell was once the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country, and finished the 2011 season with nine tackles for loss and six sacks before missing of all of 2012 with a knee injury.
Powell’s return should help offset the loss of both Floyd and Hunter up front.
The Verdict: Had Reed, Elam, Floyd and (to a smaller degree) Jenkins returned, a strong argument could’ve been for Florida as one of the BCS National Championship favorites entering 2013, if not the favorite overall. Without them, the Gators remain in the conference’s upper-tier with Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and a few others, but certainly have their work cut out for them.
In the broader picture, the big questions for Florida come on the offensive side of the ball: Can Driskel continue to develop at quarterback, and can they find playmakers to help him out? Also, can the Gators survive another brutal schedule which includes trips to LSU, South Carolina and Miami.
If the Gators can find answers to those questions, they could find themselves in the BCS title picture. If not, another good- but not great- season seems likely.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.