Florida Gators 2011 Preview Guide

Before I head off to upstate New York for the summer, I figured I’ll give you guys one final humongous post.

I also thought it would be fun if I gave my projections, and compared them to Joey’s (even though we’re formatting them differently). So here we go:

FAU Owls

Coach: Howard Schnellenberger (9th season: 53-55)

Who They Are: The Gators’ test dummy for their new schemes. If Florida has any issue at all, I will be shocked. No, I won’t. That’s not strong enough. I will be a word that hasn’t been invented yet if Florida wins by anything less than five scores.

They’ve also got a coach that’s got a star marked beside his name in all Gator fans’ books. Remember when Gator fans gave Schnellenberger, then the Miami coach, the peace sign? Remember how he gave half of it back? Remember how our fans then unloaded a barrage of oranges at him? Remember how he then ordered a needless field goal to make it 31-7 with very little time left?

Well, I do. I saw tape of that and was incensed. I was pleased when Urban Meyer tacked on a field goal against Miami in 2008 to make it 26-3, but we got the wrong guy. It’s Schnellenberger who has a target on his back and it’s Schnellenberger who’s going to ultimately pay the price. We didn’t really get him good enough in 2007- I want more.

What They Will Do: Play the Lane Kiffin Game and try to avoid getting their doors blown off, all by leaning on Alfred Morris, their leading rusher from 2010. They have maybe 2% of the talent that Florida has, and trying to do too much with that talent results in… a blowout. At least they had a good QB last year. But Jeff Van Camp is gone, leaving the QB spot wide open.

This just makes the decision easier: run. Yes, great idea, Howie boy, run against a front 7 that has three ESPNU Top 10 players in the nation. Run against a front 7 that’s coached by Will Muschamp. Yes, yes, yes, genius!!!

You might be asking: well, shouldn’t they throw some? Legitimate question, admitted. Now here’s the answer: if FAU throws, Florida is going to hang triple figures on them. Throwing against a Muschamp led defense can lead to three things: interception, incompletion, or sack. There won’t be any time to throw. Get one off and it’s going to be batted down if not picked off. Incompletions stop the clock, meaning a longer game, and more Gator snaps. I don’t know how much of a soul Muschamp has, but when Charlie Weis has a reason, he runs it up. And he likes reasons.

What Will Happen: The producers from the End of the World! will show up and ask Schnellenberger if he’d like an audition. That’s how bad this game should be. Florida is way, way, WAYYYYYYYYYYYY too strong. Morris gets overworked and Tyler Murphy and maybe even Chris Provancha will see plenty of action in mop-up duty as this game is over by halftime.

Projection: Florida 73, FAU 3

UAB Blazers

Coach: Neil Callaway (4th season: 15-33)

Who They Are: In short, a Trojan Horse. This is a team that’s done mediocre in their in the woeful C-USA, but that doesn’t come close to explaining how they nearly pulled off a daring mid-afternoon robbery in Neyland Stadium and then a few weeks later gave Mississippi State the fight of their lives last year. True, those are two average SEC teams, but the best from C-USA shouldn’t beat an SEC team not named Georgia, should they?

No, they shouldn’t. But this is a team that makes its living by capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes. Their QB may be the single most underrated in college football. His name is Bryan Ellis, and, as a sophomore, just missed breaking 3,000 yards through the air. Again, this was mostly in the C-USA, but a good chunk of this came in Tennessee and Mississippi State- both times on their home fields.

What They Will Do: Aside from their QB Ellis, and equally underrated receiver Patrick Shed, they don’t have lots of talent. But this is a scrappy, shin kicking and feisty team. They fight and fight and fight until the end. The problem with that is, you’re still facing the Florida Gators. So you need to be careful with your scheming.

The Blazers have a decent running game, though it took a big hit with the loss of Frantrell Forest. Patrick Hearn will be their lead guy this year, but running against the Gators is probably a bad idea unless you’ve got Mike Dyer, Trent Richardson or Marcus Lattimore.

UAB will likely run only when they have to, in obvious running situations- sometimes. But they’re going to want to test out the sophomore Patrick Shed against a great defense again. That’s not to mention Ellis, who has nothing to lose in his first big game of the new season. Expect UAB to pass, pass, and pass some more. When they’re done with that, they’ll likely settle for some passing action. Only then will they run- when Florida’s playing five cornerbacks and two safeties.

Whether or not their weak defense can hold us to 40 or not will be the key. Likely they will not. Even if Florida just ran Wildcat on every play they wouldn’t hold us to 40. They will send blitzes from every angle possible to try to fluster a clearly uneasy Brantley. But if Brantley can drop it off to Demps or Rainey or Debose, game over. And that’s what’s going to happen.

What Will Happen: There’s no way that we will see a repeat of last year’s opening act flop here, for at least 4736284648378302 reasons. But the most obvious one is our new head coach, with a new system. Do you think a guy who coached a game with blood running down his face would allow a debacle against UAB like the one we saw last year? He certainly wouldn’t be taking a nap if it happens.

UAB is a scrappy team, they will fight. They will certainly not buckle under the pressure of being in the Swamp, not when they nearly won in Neyland and Davis Wade. And they will throw. But lots of throwing means more incomplete passes. Which means more possessions for both teams. Which means more UAB punts. Which means more Florida scoring drives. Which means a severe beating is coming.

Projection: Florida 59, UAB 24

Tennessee Volunteers

Coach: Derek Dooley, (2nd season: 6-7)

Who They Are: A team that’s given Florida a run for their money each of the last three times they played. They put some fear into Gator fans by putting together long drives only to hand the ball over at our doorstep in 2008. 2009 was the game we were supposed to maul the Vols, yet we could only squeak out a 23-13 “win” (thank you, Steve Addazio). And then there was last year, when Urban saved Addazio by calling for the fake punt to shake awake a sleeping Gators team.

This is also a team that many project will be a lot better and eventually contend for the SEC East crown. In 2012. Which is not this year. In other words, I respect what you’re doing over in Knoxville, Derek, but you’re still a year or two away from making some noise in the division.

What They Will Do: Good question. Do they rely heavily on Tauren Poole, one of the most underrated running backs in the country, or do they ride the hot hand in Tyler Bray? Now that Dooley is settled in, he’s got more players that fit his system (either freshmen or older guys that learned it for a year). Assuming Bray beats out Matt Sims, the Gators will need to keep multiple guys deep at all times.

Remember how the Gators were unceremoniously torched- TWICE- for 40+ yard touchdowns last year? Yeah, that’s kind of exactly what can’t happen if Florida wants win number 7 in a row over UT.

But that’s what Tennessee will try to do- throw over the top. The problem will be getting the time to get a throw off. You can bet Muschamp will be blitzing all day to try to thwart the youngster’s confidence (Bray is a sophomore). Justin Hunter will likely be covered by Jeremy Brown, and will be the matchup to watch.

This may be the first and only game of the year where we see somebody try to beat us by punching it up the gut. Yeah, we know our defense is TALENTED. All that is to Derek Dooley is confetti. He’s going to want to find out for himself how tough and nasty we really are. But perhaps the key of the game for Tennessee will be how well their offensive line plays. They were thin a year ago, and they played well toward the end of the year- against Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Five of those teams suck. It’s not impressive.

As fo defensively, my guess will be the same as it is for every team- harrass Brantley, and try to confuse/rush him by throwing in safety blitzes on third and longs. But this isn’t a very good idea. Their pass defense is horrible. When your secondary sucks, the answer isn’t to ignore it and hope it goes away. It’s to put more guys back there. Because whatever else they say about Brantley, he does have a strong arm.

What Will Happen: I know reading lopsided predictions is fun, but it ends here. Tennessee, like UAB, is a knee kicking, fight til I’m dead team that will scrap until the clock hits zero. Unlike UAB, the Vols are an SEC team. They play 8 SEC teams a year, not 2 every five years. They face talented teams every week, not twice a year.

I think Tennessee will back off on blitzes a little bit too much, which is when Brantley will find a streaking Frankie Hammond for a long TD. Then they’ll come back with more rushes, and Brantley will simply dump it off to Chris Rainey for a big gainer. This will all amount to a second half avalanche of points, maybe even a comeback. I say after a solid first half, everything falls apart for a young Tennessee team in the twilight of the Swamp.

In the end, the Gators win. But not before we get a good look at the future of this mini rivalry. Tennessee isn’t going away- they’re coming straight at us. But Florida’s just too much. Too fast. Too powerful. Too smart. Too good.

Projection: Florida 34, Tennessee 13

Kentucky Wildcats

Coach: Joker Phillips (2nd season: 6-7)

Who They Are: Sorry, mothers and Puritans out there. They’re our bitch. Nothing short of it. This is a team who last beat us in 1986. This is a team we’ve beaten 24 straight times. This is a team that we’ve beaten by a combined 152-26 in the last three meetings. This is a team that twice surrendered 400+ yards to Steve Addazio- something no other team can claim.

Need I say more?

What They Will Do: Play defense and punt, of course. Danny Trevathan is an extremely underrated linebacker, and can shut down the good running back. Winston Guy is a heat seeking missile in the secondary and can break up a pass here and there. But right there, you have all the bright spots for Kentucky.

The Wildcats lost Derrick Locke, Randall Cobb and Mike Hartline. Therefore, UK has approximately no scoring threats. Morgan Newton was talked about as the possible starter a year ago, but lost out to Hartline. He’ll start this year in all likelihood. Too bad that he won’t have any explosive skill position teammates to dump it off to. His biggest help will probably be the Commonwealth Stadium fans. But don’t laugh- the Cats shocked LSU here a few years back. Upsets do happen.

Strategically, Kentucky is every bit as helpless as Furman and Vandy. Throwing without a good offensive line is a bad idea- either a sack, a pick, or a knockdown will happen. We’ve been here before, right? So if I say Florida will blow UK out because they’ll get 10 possessions per half, you won’t be shocked, right?

Running the ball isn’t any better of an option. When teams are huge underdogs, usually (but NOT always) they try to establish the run game to get momentum. I predict that the Cat will try to run with whoever winds up starting (between about six guys), get frustrated, and will try throwing. But that’s like aggressively pouring Kentucky Moonshine down your throat to try to drown away the sorrow. It doesn’t do any good, and leads to you doing stupid things. Like self destructing.¬†Which is what will happen.

As for defensively, it doesn’t even matter what they do. Florida is simply way too talented to NOT be able to burn this team if they were to pick names and positions out of a hat and randomly assign players to different positions. And that’s essentially what happened in 2010- Burton the tight end running for five TD’s- and Florida won by five scores.

What Will Happen: Combine Florida’s talent, Kentucky’s impatience and Florida’s momentum after 24 straight wins, and you’ve got the recipe for a blowout. I will say this- if UK is ever going to break the streak, Joker Phillips will be the guy that does it. But not this year and not in the near future. This one’s going to get ugly, fast.

Projection: Florida 62, Kentucky 13

Alabama Crimson Tide

Coach: Nick Saban (5th season: 38-12 (five wins from 2007 were vacated))

Who They Are: A team that’s not endeared themselves very well to Gator fans, but also one that’s taken a gigantic hit with the losses of four key players from a year ago. If the Gators want to avenge the last two years’ defeats, it’s now or never. Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and Greg McElroy, the dearly departed offense of the Alabama Crimson Tide, leave gigantic spots to fill. Marquize Maze and Darius Hanks should fill Jones’ spot. Trent Richardson and Eddy Lacy should fill Ingram’s spot. Either Philip Sims or AJ McCarron will fill McElroy’s spot.

The other major loss is Marcel Dareus, a dynamic defensive end. But that’s going to be an easy fix. Defensive losses are easy to replace when you’re Nick Saban. They’ve got loads of talent and should have the best defense in the land. This is a national championship contender despite not having a proven offense.

What They Will Do: Like Kentucky, play defense and punt. Unlike Kentucky, however, it’s not a last resort, it’s how they won the BCS Championship in 2009. All a Nick Saban offense has to do is put together one good drive a game in order to succeed- because their defense will bail you out every single time. Florida tried to do this in the SEC Championship in 2009, but lost because THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE TIM TEBOW, JEFF DEMPS, RILEY COOPER, AARON HERNANDEZ, CHRIS RAINEY, DEONTE THOMPSON… etc. Florida’s offense had 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times the talent on offense Alabama did, but played conservatively despite that… THANKS ADDAZIO.

More specifically, Alabama needs five things to succeed on offense: a QB that can call a smart game and can make one or two clutch plays per game, a good (not necessarily great, but above average) running back that above all else, does not fumble, a single explosive receiver, a single sure handed receiver, and a fantastic offensive line. Alabama has had this the last three years under Saban, and use this conservative, half court offense to eat large slices of time off the clock and steadily add to the point total.

You will never see Alabama try to quick strike and gain big chunks of yardage. In fact, I believe Saban has done it exactly twice in his four years at Alabama- once on the first play from scrimmage in the 2008 SEC Championship and once against Auburn last year while they were on their little rampage. Nothing will change in this game aside from the names on the jerseys.

While on defense, it’s the same game plan that Florida will have- harass the QB and force bad throws. If Florida fails to do this, they’re in trouble. If Alabama fails to do this, they’re screwed. The difference in this game is that Florida is simply faster. Sure, Saban recruits monsters that can run, but let’s see them catch the NCAA 100m national champion, Jeff Demps. Or Chris Rainey. I’d love to shake the hand of any guy that weighs over 250 and can catch either.

What Will Happen: Alabama’s got far less margin for error than Florida. It’s in the Swamp, Bama is chasing a BCS title while Florida is rebuilding, and therefore can accept a few losses, Florida’s got more dangerous playmakers, and Saban has all the pressure of winning the teacher-student matchup. That’s not to mention that Alabama has an even more hellacious schedule than they did last year, and this game starts a particularly nasty swing.

If Alabama can get to John Brantley and force bad throws, they will win. But if Brantley is ordered to utilize his dump off routes, Alabama will get burned. That’s the key- Florida can afford to go all out after the QB and miss. They’ve got one guy, Richardson, to worry about. But Rainey can break tackles every bit as well as he can and Demps is faster. The pressure gets to Alabama as Florida pulls the Shocker in the Swamp- at least to the rest of the nation. To us Gators, it’s just the start.

Projection: Florida 20, Alabama 13

LSU Tigers

Coach: Les Miles (7th season: 62-17)

Who They Are: A combination of talent and luck. Jordan Jefferson may be the single biggest enigma in college football. What will he be like in 2011? Will he play like the guy that engineered the 38-3 beatdown of Georgia Tech in the Chick Fil A Bowl as a freshman under new OC Steve Kragthorpe? Or will he flop like the guy that was known to be a turnover machine and eventually lost his starting job in 2010?

But LSU isn’t an offensive team, although they do have electrifying running back Spencer Ware coming back. They also return Michael Ford, who is slightly more explosive than Ware but has a penchant (according to Miles) to fumble. LSU is a defense first team. They have heavy losses, including Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Shepard and Drake Nevis. Morris Claiborne should fit in nicely at CB, and watch out for freshman DT Anthony Johnson to have an immediate impact replacing Nevis. It’s the linebacker spot that will determine just how good LSU is.

Jordan Jefferson Jordan Jefferson #9 of the Louisiana State University Tigers looks to throw a pass during the game against the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Tiger Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   The Tigers defeated the Warhawks 51-0.What They Will Do: Kill clock, kick field goals, and, for the third straight team, play defense and punt. LSU has the best offense that Florida will have faced to this point, however, so they’ll put some points on the board. If nothing else, Jefferson is a good runner. Overpursuing him leads to touchdowns- as we saw twice last year. Terrence Toliver is gone, which is a big hit to the offense.

But there are these two guys that were so hyped two years ago, and LSU fans are just waiting for him to break out the way we’re waiting for Deonte Thompson to break out. Their names: Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard. These guys are electrifying in space, and you can bet that with Kragthorpe calling the shots, they will touch the football plenty. Jordan Jefferson does not need to do much, other than run for an occasional big gain and dump it off to either of these guys or hand it off.

When Florida has the ball, expect LSU to come with heavy blitzes. I know, you’ve seen this before. But every team is going to try to throw Brantley off of his comfort zone. The big difference between LSU and everybody else (except maybe Alabama) is that their defense is FAST. Maybe not Jeff Demps fast, but as close to it as possible. If you miss tackles, Les Miles will not play you. So don’t expect a lot of youtube runs from this game. It should be a nasty slugfest- much like the one we saw in Death Valley two years ago.

What Will Happen: Florida’s offense will finally have met its match. This defense is still loaded, despite losses in every section. This is UF’s first big road game of the year, to a stadium as big as its own (maybe even bigger). This is right in the middle of a particularly evil stretch for Florida, after Alabama and before a road trip to Auburn, so it’ll be very tough to pull it out.

Unlike previous teams, LSU will have success blitzing against Brantley. They have the speed to get to him and to catch guys on screen plays if he escapes. Of course, this will lead to a busted coverage or two, but in the end it will work out for LSU. Their offense can just kick field goals after killing 6 or 7 minutes per drive. The Tigers get it done at home and hand the Gators their first defeat of the year.

Projection: LSU 26, Florida 14

Auburn Tigers

Coach: Gene Chizik (3rd season: 22-5)

Who They Are: A thorn in the Gators’ side. A team that somehow has an uncanny knack for kicking game winning field goals against UF, more often than not ruining Florida’s season. Of course, we do it back to them plenty, such as the time we crushed them in the SEC Championship Game, but as SEC fans, you have to be angry about the losses, (unless of course when in an argument with a Barner).

This is, to be blunt, the shell of the team that won it all last year. Their QB, Cam Newton, is gone. Their top receiver, Darvin Adams, is gone. Their rock left tackle, Lee Ziemba, is gone. Their mammoth DT, Nick Fairley, is gone. Their most dependable tackler, Josh Bynes, is gone. Their best cover corner, Zac Etheridge, is gone. Hell, even their Mr. Clutch Field Goal Kicker, Wes Byrum, is gone. It’s not pretty.

What They Will Do: Auburn is an SEC school not named Vanderbilt. They will find replacements. The question is how well do they fit in? Kiehl Frazier is my bet to win the starting job. I’ll also bet that he won’t be nearly as effective as Newton. This team is going to have more issues than Jurgensen at a prom because they don’t even know what they’re going to be this year. If Barrett Trotter wins the job, the offense will be different.

The only huge part of last year’s Auburn team that returns is a great running game. Mike Dyer, who, call me crazy, but may actually be better than Marcus Lattimore, and Onterio McCalebb return, and you can bet that they will carry Auburn as far as they go. But now let’s remember what the strength of our defense is. Yep, it’s our run defense. But Auburn has no choice. They have no proven QB and a lone proven receiver (Emery Blake), who will be matched up with Jeremy Brown- our lone proven cornerback.

The rest of the game will be the Unproven Bowl, at least for Auburn. Defensively, your guess is as good as mine- I’m not even sure if I know half their defense has been set. I do know Neiko Thorpe is extremely underrated as a cover corner. He will likely be matched with Deonte Thompson. This is probably going to be the team that attacks Brantley the least- they cannot afford to miss. If they do, then Demps/Rainey/Debose/Gillislee goes bye bye, and the next thing we hear is Orange and Blue coming through our TV’s. Their front 7 is especially thin, and without Fairley they simply won’t be trusted to do much until they prove worthy of higher duty.

What Will Happen: The Gators are PISSED. At Auburn, at Wes Byrum, at Cam Newton, at both sets of Tigers, and at themselves for letting the LSU game the previous week get away. They’ll play better because of it, because Will Muschamp is that kind of guy. He’s also the kind of guy that will throw a relationship with a former school in the garbage to stomp on them and show that they need him more than he needs them. Then he’ll be nice and shake hands, after the damage has been done.

The only chance Auburn has is that Florida always loses interdivision games that they shouldn’t. It happens to the best Florida teams ever to step on the field. In fact, the last time the Gators won in the state of Alabama? 1999. No longer. That ends here, as the Curse of the Gator Chomp comes back to bit Auburn and hand over their little Eagle for a nice dinner.

Projection: Florida 37, Auburn 9

Georgia Bulldogs**** RIVALRY GAME

Coach: Mark Richt (11th season: 96-34)

Why This Rivalry is So Intense: If these two teams were 0-7 heading into the game, the fan base of the winner would be ecstatic. A win here could even make you temporarily forget the shortcomings of your own team, such as last year with Stevio running the (circus) show. Lose this game, and you’re in for a frustrating year’s worth of garbage from the opposing fans.

Aside from that, though, this game is huge in other ways. There’s the fact that the winner of this game usually goes on to play for the SEC Championship, or least a much higher bowl game. Even last year, Florida knocked Georgia out of the East race in this very game. Because it’s late in the season, a loss here can be crippling.

Then there’s the recruiting effect. UF and UGA are two of the top 10 schools in the southeast, and the best players come from the southeast. Winning this game has sealed recruits dozens of times in the last few years alone. Most notably, had Florida won the 2007 game, AJ Green might have become a Gator.

Who They Are: Put a big fat star next to the 34 losses above, and as a footnote, simply type in “one of those losses was by a score of 49-10!!! That should count as ten losses right there!!!” It would get he point across that we hate them, right? Cool! So you all know the mutual hatred between UF and UGA. Hate. That’s right, hate. You want clarification? Kidnap and rape your neighbor’s beautiful 12 year old daughter, abuse her, and then kill her. That pretty much sums it all up, up to and including retaliatory measures that could wind your victim’s parents in jail.

Kidding, hate, and biases aside, Georgia loses a lot. Not a lot of players, mind you; but a lot of talent. The aforementioned AJ Green is gone, along with Justin Houston. Maybe even more so than Green, losing Houston is a big hit. In order for Todd Grantham’s new scheme to work, they needed the same guys back for one more year. Aaron Murray remains fearsome, sorry, that’s not going to change. They also lose Washaun Ealey, probably for no reason other than he was afraid to get his eye poked. Not really. He left because he got into some trouble (surprised?)

What They Will Do: Take deep shots alllllllllllll dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy longgggggggggg. Murray’s got a gun, and Orson Charles has the hands to catch his bullets. The two were teammates and touchdownmates back in high school, so don’t be surprised if Charles is Murray’s favorite target. As much as I like to taunt Georgia, Richt isn’t stupid. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. Caleb King might get a few carries just to keep Muschamp on his toes, but no more. The running game will probably fall into the hands of Isaiah Crowell. How well he does in his inaugural Cocktail Party will go a long way in determining Georgia’s fate.

On the defensive side, I refuse to believe that their defense can be any worse against Florida than it was last year (450+ yards of total offense surrendered!!! TO ADDAZIO!!!) So I will have some respect for them until they prove to be unworthy of it. In their defense, it was a completely new scheme and it can take time to learn it. So what I predict will happen is a barrage of blitzes at Brantley all day. The problem with that is, their rush won’t be all that good unless somebody really steps up. John Jenkins and Jarvis Jones scare me, but that’s two good players against five or six. As of now, nobody else has really proven to be much of a threat.

They also might try to deliver a few cheap shots on Florida to set the tone. They have a history of doing that. Unfortunately, Florida has a history of doing it right back, sometimes worse. Biases aside, both teams really need to cut it out. BOTH TEAMS DO IT. Anyway, this could be cause for a penalty, which could lead to playing a little passively… which could lead to a big gainer.

What Will Happen: I don’t care if Herschel Walker, AJ Green, Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford all come back to play in the 2011 game. Round up a roster of college all stars and put them in Bulldogs uniforms. It won’t matter. Florida will still win. The curse on Georgia is so strong, it will take at least three consecutive Georgia wins in this series for the hex to be lifted. Florida’s won 18 out of the past 21, and even when Georgia appeared to be the better team, Florida won (see 2002, 2005 and 2010). The fate lords gave the Dogs a bone in 1997, 2004 and 2007, but when will they again?

Specifically, Georgia is cursed in regard to holding onto the football. It’s like Gator jerseys are huge magnets that just rips the ball away from them and into our arms. They turned it over 13 times in the last three years, and I say more are coming this year. Maybe it’s the curse, but it’s probably got more to do with the fact that Florida’s front 7 will be evil and ready to maul anybody carrying a football. The offense will do what it has to do and Florida will get the W.

Projection: Florida 37, Georgia 14

Vanderbilt Commodores

Coach: James Franklin (1st year: 0-0)

Who They Are: A walk in the park on the way to South Carolina. A year ago, Florida ran wild against the Dores in a 55-14 win (and it was worse than the score implies). This is probably all you need to know, that an Addazio led bunch could put up such a number. Florida has won 22 straight.

What They Will Do: Lose. Big. Going into strategy here is pointless: they have no talent. They’ve got plenty of intelligence, but no way in hell can they match up with Florida in football. Basketball and baseball are different stories. Their lone legitimate player is linebacker Chris Marve, a highly underrated pass rusher and tackler. But you can’t run a defense with one guy. My guess would be to try to blitz and force Brantley to make mistakes, but by this time of the year, Florida will have seen that too much to NOT be prepared for it.

On offense, your guess is as good as mine. They’ll probably run Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, two pretty good running backs, by Vandy standards, anyway. But they are good enough to hurt you if you turn your back completely. QB Larry Smith has no weapons, so he’ll probably just hand it off most of the day. If you’ve read previous parts of this post, you know what will happen if you run too much against the Gators. I guess it’s possible that Vandy tries the air route but they have no proven receivers, so unless one steps up, it won’t help them.

What Will Happen: Florida has won 22 straight, many by huge margins. That’s what’s going to happen this year, though probably not in a fashion quite as ridiculous as last year, where it was 55-7 after three quarters. No matter who the coach is of Vanderbilt, or of Florida, this is a game that the Gators should control until the next Ice Age. Make it 23 in a row.

Projection: Florida 45, Vanderbilt 6

South Carolina Gamecocks**** RIVALRY GAME

Coach: Steve Spurrier (7th season: 44-33)

Why This Rivalry Is So Intense: I know, you’re probably wondering why this game is a rivalry and Tennessee isn’t. It’s simple. Tennessee is no threat to us, and they’ve taken their whippings like Pavlovian dogs. Since Spurrier us, this game has meant nothing. Of course, it was live or die then, but that was 10 years ago.

Now, Tennessee is rebuilding, and South Carolina has actually had a lot more to do with Florida’s success/lack of success in the last decade. In 2005 and 2010, the Gamecocks directly cost Florida trips to the SEC Championship game. In 2006, it took a pair of late blocked kicks to beat them and to keep our BCS Championship hopes alive. True, we went down to the wire against Tennessee, but the Carolina game was more of a “Thank god we survived” game. The 2009 game was extremely nerve wracking until the tipped pass led to a pick and a Tebow touchdown to clinch it, while UT just played not to get blown out.

And then, of course, this is the game we’re going to have to win if we want to get back to Atlanta. The Gamecocks get home field here, and have won some big games on their turf. They are looking like the co-favorite, along with Florida, to win the East.

Who They Are: The team that accepted Addazio’s idiocy as a gift, and rode it to the SEC Championship game. This is a group that’s seen the big stage before, and done well there. But this is also a group that’s been known to choke late. Even last year, when they beat Florida to wrap up the East, they got annihilated by Auburn in Atlanta, lost to FSU in Atlanta as well, and this was all following a blowout from Arkansas.

But this team is extremely talented. Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey form maybe the best QB-RB-WR trio the SEC has seen since Tebow/Harvin/Murphy in 2008 (McElroy/Ingram/Jones from Alabama has to be given consideration, though). And once again, this team will be solid up front defensively. The addition of Jadeveon Clowney should be an immediate upgrade to this front 7. But even without Clowney, this pass rush is fearsome. Melvin Ingram is a one man wrecking crew, and must be stopped if Florida wants to win.

It’s the pass defense that will make or break Carolina. Stephon Gilmore is good overall, but has a tendency to bite on fakes and get beaten long. DeVonte Holloman likes to make big hits- sometimes too much and miss completely. This secondary will certainly have their hands full with Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond and Omarious Hines, and if Florida runs a lot of fun n’ gun type pass plays, Carolina could be in trouble.

What They Will Do: Try to disrupt Brantley’s rhythm by coming at him all out. Failure to get to him will be fatal, so they will be bringing the blitz all day. They’ll use their crowd, and their front 7 to give him as little time as possible and to aggravate him as much as possible. The offense only has to score 20, maybe 30 to win if they can successfully shut down the passing game.

When Carolina has the ball, it’ll be the same balanced attack that they’ll probably use all year- lots of balls to Jeffrey and a little Lattimore action to complement it. Or vice versa, depending on the opponent. There’s no way Lattimore can duplicate his 200+ yard game from last season. He probably won’t even get the ball half as much, since the Gators’ defensive strength has switched from pass defense to run defense.

What Will Happen: An angry Florida team will come in here ready for war. South Carolina will happily accept the challenge, and a high scoring slugfest will be on. The Gators have all the pieces in place to play along, including the right play caller.

But the Chicken Curse is still on. South Carolina will choke once again late in the season. Florida will be more than happy to take advantage and claim the SEC East Crown- but not before getting a taste of how good this team could be without a curse riding them.

Projection: Florida 42, South Carolina 31

Furman Paladins

Coach: Bruce Fowler (1st season: 0-0)

Who They Are: A cupcake. Plain and simple. Florida has as much of a chance to lose this game as I do of being elected President. Do you really think Jeremy Foley would schedule a decent team right before Florida State? Ever since the regular season went to 12 games, Florida has played Appalachian State, Florida International, the Citadel, Florida Atlantic, and Western Carolina.

Of course, you can insert your “better be careful and not take them lightly” comment here. The truth is, I’ve only seen parts of one game from Furman ever- last year against South Carolina. I don’t really know a whole lot about them, and when that happens, it’s an unconscionable blemish on the weak scheduling of Jeremy Foley. Oh, and did I mention Florida should wash Furman away?

What They Will Do: Your guess is as good as mine. Probably try not to get blown out, but that never works. You know, run a lot, play the deep pass, etc. Problem is, Florida manhandled Appalachian State last year when they did that- with Steve Addazio. Obviously, the Paladins would like to pressure Brantley, but that’s probably going to have to go on the wish list for Santa Claus. By the time he gets back to them, the Gators will be prepping for a bowl game.

What Will Happen: The loss of QB Cody Worley is not what Furman needs. But it’s what they have to deal with. This is a team that’s going to have way too many problems of its own to even dream about causing any for Florida. If the Gators lose this game, then you shouldn’t believe anything you ever read about Gators sports again.

Projection: Florida 69, Furman 7

Florida State Seminoles**** RIVALRY GAME

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (2nd season: 10-4)

Why This Rivalry Is So Intense: To be blunt, 31-7. That was the score of the first game in this series that a retarded chimpanzee “directed” our “offense” since 2003 that we paid the price for. This rivalry lost its luster throughout the past decade because Florida so regularly whomped on FSU that Bobby Bowden had to open a separate checking account just to be able to pay for new mailboxes because his old ones were overloaded with hate mail from peeved FSU fans wondering why FSU couldn’t even compete.

OK, that was funny. Now this is not: FSU is back. Yes, a Gator fan just admitted that the Noles are definitely on their way back. Which makes this rivalry fun again. Sure, the last year was pretty painful when dealing with FSU fans, but now it’s a legitimate series again. Not only that, two friends get to test their skills out on each other. Wait, did I say friends? Oh yeah I did. But make no mistake, Jimbo and Muschamp will put that aside.

The recruiting is fierce, too. Many times, the outcome of this game has swayed recruits the other way, most notably the Pouncey twins to Florida, and Tim Jernigan to FSU. A loss in this game is devastating mostly for that reason, if you put aside the wars between fan bases.

Who They Are: A team that ended the illusion to even the dumbest and most ignorant fans. The charade was over at halftime of this game: even the least informed UF alumni knew that something was seriously wrong in Gator land after this debacle. They are also arguably our biggest rival (some, including me, say Georgia, but make no mistake, I’m not especially fond of FSU either).

This is Jimbo’s second year at FSU, and 2nd years are almost always going to tell you the most about who the coach is and how good the team will be. In year 2, you’ve got your scheme down, your players know you better, they’ve been through a run with you, etc. Look at Nick Saban, Chip Kelly and Gene Chizik’s second years. All notably more successful than their maiden voyages. Yes, Gator fans, I do believe Fisher will join that list, as I do with Muschamp.

Talent wise, it’s scary. Xavier Rhodes is quietly a top 5 cornerback in the country, and Nigel Bradham is a highly underrated linebacker. Brandon Jenkins anchors what should be a nasty defensive line, and Greg Reid is a pretty good punt returner and not a bad cornerback to boot (although matching him up with Deonte Thompson is a bad idea). Those four players all made Phil Steele’s All-American preseason team, too.

The offense is what will make or break FSU’s season. We know in theory that EJ Manuel can be good, but in his two biggest starts- the ACC Championship game and in 2009 in the Swamp against top ranked Florida- he did more to hurt his team then help it. He is very mobile and can throw well, and will have a dizzying array of weapons to throw to. Willie Haulstead and Taiwan Easterling will be his two top targets, and both had more than a hand in the beating that Florida took last November. Chris Thompson will anchor the ground game and can catch some passes if he needs to as well.

What They Will Do: Do what all teams equipped with enough talent will do: try to beat Florida with the pass and try to force Florida to pass. Though Thompson is a very good running back, he probably won’t be the focal point of the FSU offense in this game. Jimbo’s going to want to air it out all day against a talented but likely battle weary secondary that has one player with a full season of starting experience: Jeremy Brown. All other returners either came in for certain plays or became starters later in the year. And FSU’s receiving corps has plenty of starting experience.

As all other teams do, Florida State will likely come after Brantley in waves. However, by this point, Florida will have either established themselves under Brantley, or will have decided to drop him for Jeff Driskel or Tyler Murphy. Plus, I’m pretty sure Charlie Weis will have gotten his blitz pickup packages all sorted out, and the players will be comfortable. And then there’s the surprise I hope that Weis has been working on, too.

What Will Happen: Charlie Weis is smart. Maybe he won’t have an entire new playbook ready for FSU, but he’ll definitely have something new. Maybe it’s a single play. I don’t know. I do know that he’ll have something ready, and FSU will not be expecting it. And it will be costly. And then the sky will fall in for FSU.

Make no mistake, FSU. You guys are back. But I just don’t think that you’re quite up to the task of winning a game in a stadium that holds 90,000+ that hates your guts. Or a stadium where you lost your last three games by a combined 116-29. The Gators have owned you in the Swamp historically, though probably not in a fashion quite as lopsided or as humiliating as 45-12, 37-10 or 34-7. FSU will get plenty more wins over Florida under Fisher. This will not be one of them. The Gators deal the fatal blow to FSU’s national championship hopes- deja vu, 1997.

Projection: Florida 24, FSU 10

SEC Championship Game: Arkansas Razorbacks

Coach: Bobby Petrino (4th season: 23-15)

Who They Are: A team that will take the West by storm and will defeat LSU in the SEC West Championship in the Battle of the Golden Boot. This will be a battle weary team, as Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State will all give them tough tasks. But they’ve got the depth for fight it off, on both offense and defense.

Tyler Wilson takes the reins from Ryan Mallet, and as impressive as he was against Auburn, people have made too much out of that one performance. He is a good quarterback, but good is all you need in order to succeed when you’ve got Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs to catch your passes. The three receivers are all fantastic route runners and make nasty cuts, so it only takes one missed step to hear the Arkansas fight song and a group of red helmeted players celebrating.

Having Knile Davis doesn’t hurt either. He is the real key to this offense- can he take pressure off of the passing game? If so, it will be a long day for Florida’s defense. He possesses the scary trio of talents: power, agility, and doesn’t fumble. He can also block very well when asked to.

The defense should be very good once again. For the fourth straight year, Jerry Franklin will anchor the defense. Jake Bequette really stepped up and had a great season last year. Elton Ford will probably draw the crucial task of shutting down the big play, which Florida will try to live by, and Rudell Crim will help. This is the key matchup, if Florida can beat Crim and Ford deep.

What They Will Do: Score. A lot. For once, Florida will be facing an offense that can light it up against the best. Arkansas’s defense doesn’t even have to do a whole lot. They just have to make one or two stops in the first half before they get a chance to blow it open. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the Gators aren’t going away. UF’s offense will be pretty good this year, and Charlie Weis would sooner eat his house keys than watch his offense get shut down.

But Arkansas has a balanced attack that has no weaknesses, and they’re facing a team that’s strong against the run and fair against the pass. So they’ll throw. A lot. They’ll run Knile Davis plenty, but the passing game is what will win it.

If Arkansas wants to win, however, they will need to stop Brantley & co. They’ll do that by blitzing wide, and forcing him to step up in the pocket and beat them deep while he’s hearing footsteps. That’s not easy for Tom Brady, let alone John Brantley, to do.

What Will Happen: This may very well be Arkansas’ best team under Petrino. I don’t think Florida’s defense will see an offense like this one the whole regular season. The converse is not true. Arkansas will have seen Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU’s defenses, all of which should be very good. But, I don’t think any of those teams have the offense that the Gators have- maybe LSU. This makes for an offensive fireworks show for the Southeastern Conference Championship that may top Florida-Alabama 2008, except this time with heartbreaking results.

Projection: Arkansas 55, Florida 49

Capital One Bowl: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Coach: Bo Pelini (4th season: 30-12)

Who They Are: A team that just joined the Big 10 for this season, but a powerful historical program. Florida would like a little payback from the 1995 Fiasco Bowl, a 62-24 humiliation in Arizona. I don’t think either team will score 62- I’m wouldn’t be surprised if both teams combine for 24. This promises to be a nasty slugfest between one of the best quiet defenses in the country, and a good defense with a good offense to match it in Florida.

Taylor Martinez (and all his scrambling), will return for his sophomore season at Nebraska, and he’ll have Rex Burkhead to hand the ball off to. Burkhead isn’t fantastic in any measure, but just does lots of things well. He can give you 30 carries, not fumble and average three and a half yards a touch. That’s not bad by any means. Martinez will have respectable targets to throw to, including Brandon Kinnie and Quincey Enunwa. The offensive line will be the key. It loses both of its starting guards, and the only solid starter returning is center Michael Caputo.

The defense will be very good once again. My NFL team, the New York Giants, did take CB Prince Amukamara, (a very good pick, in my opinion, could be the co-steal of the draft along with Ingram to New Orleans at 28) but Alfonzo Dennard may be just as good, if not better (yeah, you heard this before, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson) and will probably draw the matchup with Thompson. The front 7 returns most of its starters, including Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler, but they do have one major hole to fill: Pierre Allen, who left his end position.

What They Will Do: Control the clock, manage the game, and unleash a ferocious defense on Florida. Not just blitzing, I mean they can drop back and dare Brantley to beat them in double coverage, because they will be confident that they can win that battle. And they probably can. Their offense will probably only score ~20 points, and that should be enough to win them games all year. If their defense can keep up with Florida’s speed, then this game will be included.

I would also expect Nebraska to run a good deal of Wildcat- something Florida probably won’t see much of throughout the year aside from LSU and maybe Alabama. Arkansas doesn’t need it to succeed. I wonder if Florida would be properly prepared to stop it, as Rex Burkhead does lots of damage with Wildcat, and I hope they would be.

What Will Happen: An ugly game that will be won in the trenches either way will come down to the wire. But I just see too much power in Nebraska’s defense. They’re too fast for Florida to blindside with quick strikes. They’re too strong to slam Mack Brown up the gut and expect anything more than a yard and a half per carry. Unless UF’s offensive line significantly improves from what I see it at now, Nebraska will squeak out a win- but a far cry from the Fiasco Bowl.

Projection: Nebraska 17, Florida 13


Of course, there are a lot of variables in these predictions. The most obvious one is that I’m assuming that John Brantley beats out Jeff Driskel. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if Florida’s offensive line becomes the best in the nation within three games? And of course, this isn’t to mention injuries, although those are boilerplate variables for any predictions.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this preview, and kill many potentially productive hours over the summer reading this when you’re bored and cannot wait for Florida football to begin. You’re in good company- I’m counting down the minutes and sometimes even seconds.

I’ll see if I can get one more post in before I go- one final Steve Addazio to Gator Nation letter, to kind of send myself off with a bang. And again, I may be able to write some stuff over the summer, but if I do, it almost certainly would be at a rate lower than this.

If this is indeed my final post, then have a great summer, all of you (except Jurgensen. You can get syphilis from your troll buddies for all I care).

I’ll see you in mid August and GO GATORS!!!

4 thoughts on “Florida Gators 2011 Preview Guide

  1. So you have Oregon vs LSU as the National Championship game but have Arkansas winning the SEC? Besides that great article man, if we have that season next year it will be a huge moral victory!

  2. Yeah I thought about that but I changed my mind. Arkansas has a death grip on hat rivalry against LSU. Arkansas’ offense is just too good. The Hogs will get the SEC West and thus, the SEC and National Championship.

  3. Great article Neil. Although I think projecting our boys to put up 73 against FAU is a little high. I would’ve gone a little lower. Maybe 61 or 64.;)

  4. I don’t think Muschamp likes to run it up but I think he will just to start out with a BANG. Or more appropriately, a BOOM.

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