The Florida Gators enter the 2017 season coming off of two straight seasons in which they were able to win the SEC East. Their head coach Jim McElwain has won 19 games in two seasons as the head man in Gainesville and has guided the team to an 11-1 record in the Swamp.
Yet, somehow it feels like a season in which Jim McElwain NEEDS to be more successful.
Perhaps it’s the complete lack of an aerial attack in Gainesville since the departure of Tim Tebow in 2009.
Or maybe it’s the fact that the team was smoked by Alabama in the SEC Championship in each of the last two seasons.
Could it be that the Gators haven’t beaten their arch rivals from Tallahassee since 2012?
The fact that the Gators weren’t recruiting quite the ways fans were used to certainly rubbed some the wrong way.
Most likely it’s a combination of all of these factors.
Welcome to the first installment of River City Rogue’s coverage of the Florida Gators 2017 football season. I’ll be reporting back to you each week of the Florida Gators season. This is my first time covering a college football team for an entire season and I must say I’m extremely anxious to get things going.
So, let’s get to it!
The Gators enter 2017 ranked #16 in the Coaches Poll and #17 in the AP Poll. Most teams coming off of 19 wins in two seasons would be garnering a bit more national attention and respect than the Gators are this preseason. But there’s one big reason the expectations for the 2017 Gators are more modest than many of the Rowdy Reptile faithful would like:
As mentioned before, the Gators haven’t had an effective passing offense since 2009. In recent years the situation has gone from bad to worse. And just when the Gators believed they found their QB of the future in emerging star Will Grier, he got suspended, testing positive for a banned substance. He never played again for the Gators.
Now, after a season in which the Gators saw the underwhelming duo Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby under center the Gator Nation is getting impatient. Jim McElwain came into Gainesville heralded as an offensive guru, but to this point he hasn’t found the right guy at QB.
And while the Gators seemingly have better options at QB in 2017 they’re still in the middle of a three-way competition to figure out who will be the opening day starter.
Luke Del Rio, the man who earned the starting job to start 2016, is back to compete. But this year he’s far from the favorite to land the job.
He’s competing with Malik Zaire, who had a brief, but impressive career at Notre Dame prior to transferring to Florida as a grad transfer. He’s never attempted more than 40 passes in a season due to injury and intense competition at the QB position in South Bend, but his athleticism and arm strength make him an interesting option for the Gators.
The third musketeer is Feleipe Franks – a highly touted redshirt freshman that has all the physical tools in the world. The 6’6”, 220 lb. QB will likely be the starter for the orange and blue in 2018. But can he win the job as a 19 year old while competing with Zaire and Del Rio, who are both three years his senior?
Outside of the QB room, there is a lot to be optimistic about with this Florida offense.
The wide receiver group, even without the oft troubled Antonio Calloway, appear reminiscent of some of the more explosive groups from the Gators hey day in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland is bursting at the seams with talent. He had some incredible moments as a freshman, including a 98 yard TD reception that helped him average over 20 yards a catch on the year. The expectations are sky high for Cleveland. JUCO transfer Dre Massey appears to be a big time playmaker, and Brandon Powell has developed into a nice receiver after starting his college career as a running back. The Gators will also have Kadarius Toney, a high school quarterback turned receiver, at slot receiver – he’s been turning heads for the Gators in practice and will likely touch the ball in a multitude of ways in 2017. Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Daquan Green also come in with acclaim. Needless to say the Gators are confident in their group of receivers this year.
At tight end the Gators return two impressive receivers in DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis. Goolsby, a senior with steady hands and some nice athletic ability, enters 2017 with 55 career receptions for 619 yards and 4 TDs during his two seasons at UF. Lewis, a true junior, had a decent season for the Gators last year scoring two times and hauling in 18 catches for 184 yards.
The Gators offensive line is as good as it has been in quite some time. The team returns four starters including their young star Martez Ivey, who will replace their lone departure to the NFL from the group, David Sharpe, at left tackle. The rest of the group is comprised of right tackle Jawaan Taylor, center TJ McCoy, and three guards competing for two jobs: Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson, and Brett Heggie.
The experienced offensive line will be paving the way for some heralded running backs highlighted by junior Jordan Scarlett. In his first two years at Florida, Scarlett averaged over five yards per carry and in 2016, as a sophomore, he put up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He’s joined by Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine in the backfield.
The Gators offense could be the best it’s been since the days of Tim Tebow and He Who Must Not Be Named. But that’ll come down to the play at QB. Whoever wins the starting job will need to be much more explosive to quench the thirst for offense of the Gator faithful.
Stay tuned for the defensive preview that will drop this Wednesday and the Florida vs. Michigan preview that’ll be out Friday.
Thanks for reading!
Agree with my assessment of the Gators offense? Think I’m crazy?
Let me know what you think in the comment section below.