The Florida Gators finished the 2016 season with a record of 9-4 and earned a bid in the SEC Championship game. Can they return to the SEC Championship again in 2017? According to sportingnews.com they’ll face as many as five teams in the preseason top 25 consisting of Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and Michigan. The Gators are currently ranked 14th in the nation in the same preseason poll. They have a good balance coming off of their recruiting class with 5 offense and 5 defensive players coming in as their top 10 recruits. Florida natives Tedarrell Slaton (OL), James Robinson (WR), and Zachary Carter (DE) are just a few of the key names. Gators recruiting was exceptional in landing local prospects in this class. Eight of their top ten are from The Sunshine State. This is a plus in a state like Florida, always overflowing with talent.
A look ahead to what Florida should be looking at coming into 2017:
Who will be the signal caller for the Florida offense in 2017? The two quarterbacks vying last season were Austin Appleby and Luke Del Rio. Appleby has since moved on seeking a career in the pros. Del Rio, son of Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio, is recovering from a shoulder injury. In 2016, Appleby and Del Rio combined for a total of 18 touchdowns and 15 INT’s. Florida needs more consistent play at the quarterback position. So, could the promising freshman Feleipe Franks be the answer? The good news is there top receiver from a year ago, Antonio Callaway, is back as is RB Jordan Scarlett who could be just the 4th Gator running back to rush for over a 1,000 yards in the last 20 years.
Antonio Callaway could be thrust into a much bigger role this season since some experts consider him one of the best receivers in the nation. He’s also a big threat as a return man. In 2015, he averaged 15.5 yards and was able to score 2 times. The statistics weren’t as fruitful last season, but the threat remained. The biggest question that comes with Antonio is his off the field issues. His most recent citation came in May for a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana which has already landed him a week 1 suspension against Michigan. Furthermore, red flags went up when sources learned the criminal record of the man he was accompanied by when caught.
Can Randy Shannon make Florida a top ranked defense in the SEC? Shannon was the defensive coordinator in Miami back in 2001-2005 so he knows what it takes to make a stifling defense. He lost some key players up front but Jabari Zuniga and CeCe Jefferson return and could really contribute up front and develop the new young linebacker core of Florida.
What will Florida’s new secondary look like with the losses of Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor at cornerback, and Marcus Maye at safety. All were drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. Florida also has a new defensive back coach in Corey Bell who comes from Florida Atlantic. The players that the Gators staff will look for are the future replacements of proven players Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner at cornerback, and Marcell Harris, senior safety. Gardner who played in 11 games last season ended 2016 with 3 INT’s.
Florida will most likely start a trio of sophomores at linebacker since the loss of Davis inside. Reese, who will likely play inside as the Mike, has a nose for the football. Kylan Johnson, a former high school quarterback, has an understanding of how defensive looks can affect an opponent’s play calling. Vosean Joseph plays with a chip on his shoulder, thus replacing the presence of Davis, becoming the enforcer of the group.
Florida was 12th in the SEC and 112th in the Nation in scoring per game with 23.9
14th in the SEC and 113th in the Nation in rushing yards per game with 128
14th in the SEC and 116th in the Nation in total yards per game with 344
Number 1 in the SEC and 2nd in the Nation against the pass allowing only 148 yards per game
Number 2 in the SEC and 5th in the Nation in total yards allowed with 293 yards per game
I can see Florida winning the East again and playing in the SEC title game, but for now I’m predicting them to finish 2nd with the looks of their schedule and key losses to the defense. Still, I would not be surprised to see them in the title game once again.