Florida Gators Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an SEC Championship
There are probably 100 reasons why the Florida Gators won’t be playing for an SEC title this season. After last year, fans would probably just be happy to participate in a bowl game. But if Auburn can win the SEC last season after winning just three games in 2012, the Gators have hope after last season’s 4-8 record.
Truthfully, Florida can be in the SEC hunt if it makes just a few tweaks from a year ago. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but there’s always a most improved team in college football.
Why not the Gators?
Besides an offense that can score and a team that doesn’t lose to FCS opponents, here is a shortened list that is keeping the Gators out of the conference championship at the moment.
A Productive Kicker
How many times do you see a football game come down to a field goal?
Heck, it cost Alabama a chance for an SEC title and national championship last year.
While the Gators didn’t have many games come down to a last-second kick, four of their games last season were decided by one possession. Meaning a made field goal here or there could have made the difference in qualifying for a bowl game. The Gators were 12-of-22 last season in field-goal attempts, which was ranked 13th in the SEC.
The good news is that Austin Hardin was 4-of-4 during the spring game, as he kicked for both teams and even drilled a 43-yard kick.
However, one good performance in a game that didn’t matter isn’t going to win anybody over just yet. The sophomore will have to prove he can make a kick in a hostile environment with more than 50,000 fans begging him to miss.
Like a great basketball team makes its free throws, a great football team makes its field goals.
An Elite Pass Rush
On paper, the defensive line may end up being the best unit for the Gators on either side of the ball this season. Too bad games aren’t played on paper, huh?
Numbers don’t tell the entire story, but the Gators finished last year with only 19 sacks. That sack total was tied with Mississippi State for 12th in the SEC. It’s no secret that the elite defensive lines are what separate the SEC from any other conference, and it’s usually the teams with the nastiest defensive fronts that make their way to Atlanta.
Missouri and Auburn played in the big game last year and finished with 41 and 32 sacks, respectively, which was good for first and third in the conference. Alabama racked up a combined 65 sacks during its back-to-back national championships, and Auburn averaged 2.5 sacks per game during its title run in 2010.
It’s been two years since a Florida player has had five or more sacks. The Gators must return to the days when guys would relentlessly put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force them into mistakes.
The potential is certainly there with Leon Orr, Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard on the front line.
With no more daily Tim Tebow updates, I’m sure you’ve had time to glance at the Gators' schedule once or twice.
Brutal. Yikes. Dreadful.
The Gators start off easy with a few cupcake opponents, but then make their way to Tuscaloosa to play the Crimson Tide, and then follow that up with another road game to Tennessee. It doesn’t get any easier with LSU, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina finishing up the meat of their schedule.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Gators of course finish their regular season with a road game against the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles.
The good news is that this strength of schedule guarantees Florida a spot in the playoffs if the Gators can make it out alive with one, maybe two losses. The bad news is that this schedule would be tough for any team in the country, let alone a squad loaded with question marks such as Florida.
The Gators will have to drastically improve from a year ago to survive this unfair group of games.
Forget the missed field goals for a moment and never mind an offense that couldn’t score on a middle school. The Gators have turned the ball over a combined 35 times in their last two seasons, which includes 20 times last season.
Under head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators have had eight games with two or more turnovers and are 2-6 in those ball games. Of course, the six turnovers in a game against Georgia in 2012 made the difference in reaching the SEC championship and possible national championship.
Alabama hasn’t had 20 turnovers since 2007, and the Tide’s 17 turnovers last season were their most since 2008. When the Gators won the national title in 2008, they turned the ball over only 13 times and finished six games without coughing it up once.
It’s impossible to win games when the turnovers begin to pile up. The Gators must take better care of the football this season.
A Consistent Quarterback
The quarterback has been the story of the offseason for Florida. It’s just impossible to compete at the highest level in today’s game when the offense is averaging 170.9 passing yards per game. Auburn was able to do it last season by averaging 173 passing yards, but the Tigers had the nation’s best running game to make up for it.
Jeff Driskel doesn’t need to become Peyton Manning, and to be honest, he isn’t going to be. However, Driskel can do a better job of playing within himself and managing the offense successfully. Avoiding turnovers, getting the ball out quickly and accurately and knowing when to make plays with his legs are all key starting points for the veteran quarterback.
Driskel will be better off in Kurt Roper’s system, but it still comes down to him executing the game plan and making the right decisions. The SEC is yet another conference that has been driven by quarterbacks recently, and Florida has struggled in this department since some Tebow guy left four years ago.
Among other things, quarterback is the biggest issue holding the Gators back from an SEC crown.