It’s never too early to start thinking about football, even when most people reading this are fans of the Florida Gators, which I still believe is the best school to be a fan of- even coming off the worst season since my parents were in college. I’ll say that again, just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding: even though this team drove me nothing short of completely insane last year, it’s still great to be a Gator, and I am still incredibly excited for the upcoming season.
I’m sure many of you who read me on here are aware of my game by game preview series last season when I was working over at Alligator Army. Yes, I did project the Florida Gators to go 13-1, beat FSU by two touchdowns and win a national championship. That didn’t go very well with FSU fans, or even most Florida fans, and they were all right: FSU smashed Florida 37-7 (though to be fair to myself, I did revise that preview several days before the games, and projected FSU to win 41-7, and coming just four points off, not to mention correctly predicting that the Gators would give FSU fits early, wasn’t a bad silver lining). Rest assured, though, I plan on doing much better with my projections this year.
Good or bad, these are just projections. I hope from the bottom of my heart that the Gators will win a national championship this year, but… well, how about you just read my projections each week and wait to see how they all unfold.
It all starts with Game One… so let’s get to it!
2013: 1-11 (independent)
Coach: Paul Petrino (1-11)
Who Are You?
The Idaho Vandals, a football only member of the Sun Belt (yeah, that’s not geographically off or anything) that happens to be banned from the postseason this upcoming season because their football team has failed to meet the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate every year under Rob Akey since 2009. So think, the last time they actually met the APR standards before Paul Petrino took over last year was the same year the Gators won their last national championship. Alright, so that comparison was designed to make the problem seem inherent with the program’s inception, because it does seem like forever since Florida has last been good, even with the 11-2 record in 2012… well, you get the point.
Anyway, aside from being stocked with geniuses, this team sticks out in another way. Without the possibility of a bowl game to cap the season, and without other marquee programs on their 2014 schedule (and if you’re a Georgia or FSU fan reading this, don’t you dare make some brilliant comment about how Idaho plays Georgia Southern in October), the Vandals are going to make the Gators their personal bowl game. And while I don’t think Idaho has anywhere near the talent to match up with Florida’s scout team for more than a drive or two, I didn’t think Georgia Southern could either… and look how that turned out. Remember, Georgia Southern, like Idaho, was ineligible for the postseason when they played Florida, giving them that extra motivation to make the perfect send off into the offseason.
Having said all that.. all of it… Idaho was 1-11 last year. Florida may have been bad, really bad, at 4-8, but 1-11 is a record that not even Rodney Dangerfield could respect. They promise to be little better this year with several holes to fill on defense.
Returning Starters: 6
Paul Petrino appears to building from the ground up here, and it all starts with the Vandals’ QB position. Chad Chalich (16-of-27 for 306 yards) and Matt Linehan (30-of-46 for 373 yards) each drew praise from Petrino in their last scrimmage of the spring. It appears as if the job belongs to Chalich right now. Whoever wins the job will have a couple of decent weapons to work with. 2013 first team FBS Independent receiver Dezmon Epps and tailback Richard Mongtomery both impressed in that same scrimmage, and together were responsible for 287 yards.
But let’s keep things in perspective. That was a scrimmage, against their defensive teammates- many of who were responsible for Florida State dropping 80 on them a year ago. Those numbers mean nothing. Read on.
In their 12 games last year, the Gators put up a 18.8 points per game. That’s bad, certainly, but I’ve seen worse. Like Idaho. The Vandals had virtually no injuries compared to the mini Shands Hospital installed in the Gators’ locker room last year, and yet they only managed 18.2 points a game last year against a schedule that included Temple, Texas State, Wyoming, North Texas, Old Dominion and New Mexico State. That’s not even horrible, that’s just hilarious.
So Petrino can compliment anybody he wants, whether that’s his QB tandem, or his offensive line that returns four of five starters from a year ago. I’m not scared of this offense.
Offensive Grade: D+
And that’s being generous, though I am a bit wary of Epps or Montgomery breaking off a big gain if the Gators fall asleep on defense.
Returning starters: 8
Idaho is going to have to replace a healthy percentage of its defensive production (term used very loosely) from last year. Strong safety Trey Williams and defensive end Quayshawn Buckley are gone, and they led the Vandals’ defense in picks and sacks, respectively. In the front seven, Idaho will return linebacker Marc Millan and defensive end Maxx Forde, who combined for 9.5 sacks last year. In the secondary, the Vandals will get their two safeties back (Bradley Njoku and Tom Hennessy), and Jayshawn Jordan, who had 77 tackles last year (which isn’t necessarily a good thing- remember, he’s a corner) will likely secure one of the corner positions that’s been left vacant. That’s not nearly enough production to merit calling this defense anything good. And again, when I say production, that term is used very, very loosely.
If such a thing as “a part of the Idaho Vandals football program worse than their offense” exists, it’s their defense. In all but two of Idaho’s twelve games last year, they surrendered 37 or more points, and in four of those games, gave up 59 or more. It all comes out to 47 points per game, which is more than Florida scored in their final three games of last season combined, and an equally embarrassing 528 yards per game, including 80 and 645, respectively to Florida State.
So yeah, this is going to be a pretty rough year for Idaho on defense.
F. Really, F- if such a grade was available. Idaho’s going to give up enough ground to form a new continent in this game alone.
Florida Key: Offense
It sounds generic, but: don’t do anything stupid. Should the Gators heed this piece of advice given by every Pop Warner coach, this game is over by halftime. Kurt Roper just has to establish Kelvin Taylor in the run game early to give this offensive line some confidence, get Jeff Driskel warmed up with some early swing passes, and the rest will work itself out naturally. Idaho turned it over 27 times last year, and three of those were taken back for touchdowns. Translation: they’re going to help Florida’s point total plenty.
Florida Key: Defense
Initiate Operation Kill Chalich the first time he takes a snap. Any good offense will crumble if the defense is able to consistently harass the quarterback. The only way to beat consistent pressure, other than having a good offensive line, is with quick passes to speedy receivers in space. But Florida’s defense is filled with sure tacklers, and if the Vandals want to try to pick up a guaranteed yard every play, Florida’s defense will happily give it to them. You need ten of them on four plays to be able to keep the ball, you know.
Key Matchup: Idaho Offensive Line vs. Florida front seven
If Idaho’s going to have a chance, they have to block for their QB. Have to. Florida’s defense is loaded with talented, hungry players who would kill for a highlight reel sack. Dante Fowler in particular will be looking to step into a leadership role, and all leaders must do so by example. If Chalich consistently gets three seconds to throw, Idaho’s got an ever so slight chance to win.
What Does This Game Mean?
Don’t worry, the tone of this section is going to change drastically when I start to preview the good teams.
As recently as a few weeks ago, I did not believe that Will Muschamp deserved to be Florida’s head coach (and yes, there’s still some lingering doubts). But now that the new season is here, I say it’s time to support the team- which means the coach- regardless of whether we wanted him fired last year or not, because it’s a new year. He may or may not find success in his fourth season in Gainesville, and he may or may not get fired this year. I am not going to state my prediction now, because there are eleven more games I have to preview.
But in any case, I know what’s coming right after this game, and I’m having none of it. Florida’s going to obliterate this Idaho team, and while Florida does have a generally smart fan base, there’s undoubtedly going to be a small percentage of the fan base who sees it as the rebirth of the program. Florida’s back. They crushed Idaho. Look at the new offense. This is the year Florida breaks through and gets to Atlanta. Etc.
Let me remind those of you who are going to say that… FOUR MONTHS IN ADVANCE… that this is IDAHO. You think 2013 Florida was bad? 2013 Idaho was exponentially worse. Picture last year’s Florida team, but with a defense that was even worse than its offense. This is essentially the exact same team, except now, what little production they did get on defense last year is gone.
To summarize all that: Florida can beat Idaho by 30 points, and probably will, but it means absolutely nothing more than not topping last year’s Georgia Southern debacle for the worst loss in program history. It does not mean the Gators are a national title contender, and suggesting that they are based off this game is downright stupid. And while 99% of what I write in general is tailored to the more intelligent part of Gator Nation, I know some fans will be going crazy over what’s probably going to be the largest margin of victory since Urban Meyer prowled the sidelines. Here’s your warning: don’t do it. Save it for if we beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Because while we’re all starved for a win of any kind, this one’s about the size of a sandwich to a starving man. It’s a good start. But good starts don’t constitute success. Good starts can be built off of, and can lead to success, but let’s see Florida finally raise a trophy before we declare Will Muschamp’s job safe, and his status that of folk hero.
Want a prediction? Here: Florida’s going to have at least five different players account for a touchdown. Idaho’s offense is only slightly more competent than its defense, and lacks the firepower needed to give Florida’s strong defense much of a contest. Three or more different Gators will record a sack, and at least two more will pick off a pass. Oh, and I’m sure most of you thought you saw the last of Skylar Morninwheg? Well, no you haven’t. He’ll log some minutes in this game, and may even pick up a touchdown or two. That’s after Will Grier is done carving up this pitiful defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, which he’ll have plenty of chances to do since Driskel, Taylor, Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Ahmad Fulwood will be done by midway through the third quarter.
This is going to be a huge opportunity for (insert name of player here: ______) (and again: _______) (one more time: _______) and (sorry, last one: _______) to really break out. I structured that last sentence that way because trying to pick which Gator will break out is like picking a national championship winner in the preseason. You just don’t know. Will DeMarcus Robinson grow up and have a huge day? Maybe Bryan Cox is the one who wows the crowd? Or could it be Michael Taylor who has a monster game in his first game in a leadership position?
Point is, I don’t know. But I do know this. Florida’s going to win. Big.
Projection: Florida 45, Idaho 3