In 2012 the Florida Gators football program achieved a level of success even head coach Will Muschamp was not expecting. With an 11-2 record, including the disappointing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, there was a rejuvenated feeling within the program and among the fan base that the Gators were on their way back to national title contention. Now with much of Urban Meyer`s 2010 recruiting class moving on we can now see the type of recruiting power Muschamp has in SEC country. 2013 will be full of new faces, and revamped offensive and defensive units built to play the New Gator Football. Be prepared for an aggressive defense, ground and pound style offense, and high energy play from the new starters. Among these new starters let`s take a look at four players who will be crucial in the success of the 2013 season:
Matt Jones. RB. Soph. 6`2 226
Matt Jones was an under the radar talent as a freshman in the backfield that was primarily handled by Mike Gillislee in 2012. Jones brings the Power element to the Gators backfield which will be a key component in the new heavy run offense Will Muschamp brings to the program. As a freshman, Jones ran 52 times for 275 and 3 touch downs. Most of his yardage came late in the year when he emerged as a reliable number two back especially against Florida State where he has 8 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown against one of the best scoring defenses in the nation. Look for the ground and pound game to be led by Jones, and completed with highly touted freshman Kelvin Taylor as a compliment back to give the gators their second consecutive 1,000 yard rusher.
Dante Fowler Jr. Soph. 6`3 280
The Gators will be a young defensive unit spearheaded by a battle tested secondary, physical line backing core, and a raw but talented defensive line led by Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler Jr. As a freshman in 2012, Fowler played in every game and started once, and was named to the All-SEC freshman team. In 13 games Fowler tallied 30 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and 8.0 tackles for loss. after coming in as a top recruit he was expected to make an impact early, and ended up showing promise by seasons end. With Powell back in the lineup it should be a breakout year for the sophomore who should see plenty of one on one match ups from the end position. Look for his sack totals to double by mid season if the Gator defense plays to the level of its talent.
Loucheiz Purifoy. Jr. 6`1 189
The most dynamic player going into the last part of the season not named Matt Elam, was Purifoy. Defensive and special teams X-Factor that helped put the Gator defense back in the elite status of the SEC. While he has yet to record an interception he proved to without a doubt be one of the most physical players in the roster, similar to Matt Elam`s sophomore campaign. Look for Purifoy to slide into one of the starting defensive back spots week 1, and possibly record his first interception as a Gator not too far after. In 2012, Purifoy saw action in all 13 games and finshed fourth on the team in tackles, broke up five passes, and blocked two kicks including the game winning blocked punt against Louisiana-Lafayette. Look for him to step into the role Elam shared his final year and be the signal caller on the back end of a very young, but talented secondary.
Antonio Morrison. Soph. 6`1 229
The departure of Jon Bostic has left a void at middle linebacker that will see a deep group fighting for the spot. Incoming freshman Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, and Matt Rolin will have thier chance to move into the week one roster. Juniors Michael Taylor, and Neiron Ball will also have in the running for the Mike postion, but based on his play last year Morrison has earned the starting nod. As a freshman in the SEC it can be a daunting challenge to take on seasoned veterans week in week out. His agressive, hard hitting, and athleticism allowed him to adapt quickly in 2012. Coming out of the gate against Texas A&M with six tackles, and proving to be a reliable substitute linebacker for Bostic will give Muschamp confidence in Morrison going into the 2013 season. Finishing on the SEC Coaches All-Freshman team, eighth in team tackles and seeing more game action than any other linebacker on the depth chart makes him the clear favorite to surplant Bostic this season.
I know leaving players like Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Trey Burton, and Andre Debose off this list will cause many people to think I left off the players most likely to contribute, but in this case the four players above will have the biggest improvement from 2012 to 2013. Any one of these four players can just as easily fail, and turn out to be just another one year wonder, but with the new system Will Muschamp has installed I see growth from these particular players unlike the others. While I expect Driskel, Easley, Burton, and even Debose to put up good if not great numbers; I see their ceilings not much higher than they are right now.
In truth the Gators will rely on 25 particular players to have major improvement if they want to repeat or progress from last season. Quarterback play must be solid, a running game has to be consistent, wide receivers have to find a way to EXIST in Gainesville, The offensive line must be reliable, defensive line must create pressure and stop the run, linebackers have to tackle, secondary must cover, and special teams MUST be clutch.
A machine will never work unless all the parts are working in unison
. Football is a game of consistencies. Lack of consistency loses` games, makes fans angry, and gets coaches fire. Having consistency means winning ball games, making fans happy, and giving coaches nice long contract extensions. For Will Muschamp it`s crucial for his players to develop, and if these four players progress they way I expected It can lead to a long coaching career in Gainesville for Muschamp.
Anyone who watches ESPN knows there is an ongoing argument on how good certain SEC quarterbacks really are. Last April ESPN Analyst Brock Huard wrote an article that dubbed USC "Quarterback U". While at the time I am sure he was riding the Matt Barkley for the Heisman train, it still raised attention to the ongoing debate on if there even is a Quarterback U, and if USC deserved it at all. Debates come and go from sporting news, articles, radio shows, and hundreds of blogs lobbying for one or two schools in particular. Even the so called "experts" can't help but raise the question throughout the fall. Not even bringing up the Stephen A. Smith vs. Skip Bayless tirades about SEC vs. The World, it is clear to see there is constant debate over which conference produces the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL.
Since USC has been the popular candidate in recent years we can use their quarterbacks to compare with the rest of the pool of colleges and conferences. For the sake of argument let`s compare USC, and the SEC.
Every year when the Heisman trophy is presented to the top player in college football we expect to see a signal caller in the final three. With the SEC being as dominate as it has been the last two decades you would expect at least one quarterback to be in contention by December. Johnny Manziel won in 2012, Cam Newton in 2010, and Tim Tebow in 2007(in 2008 he received the most first place votes and still lost). What do these three quarterbacks have in common? All are from the SEC. Even winning the most prestigious individual award in college football doesn't seem to quell the argument about the true value of SEC signal callers. TV, Radio, Writers, and bloggers all have their own opinion, but it seems to be that the lack of SEC star quarterbacks translating to the NFL, and dominating as they did in college creates a void in the sports world about how the talent level is overrated, or in some cases(Tim Tebow) not even there. So let`s explore the issue on what it seems to give the impression quarterbacks from USC are leaps and bounds better than those in the SEC.
Take the argument over how USC has been QB U over the past decade because of how many drafts have had a USC quarterback taken in the early rounds. Are we really going to say Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer are elite level quarterbacks like the apparently were in college? The answer is no. Palmer may have the best argument to say he has had the most success, since he won the Heisman and was drafted by the Bengals his career has been up and down in the regular and post season. Mark Sanchez, and Matt Leinart are perfect examples of hype, over hope. Both were Prima Donnas from day one at USC, and took the same attitude to the NFL. You could even say they considered themselves entitled because of their college background. In the end, Sanchez rode a talented team that overachieved, and Leinart proved to be a head case with a weak arm. Andrew Luck is a blessing to those who say the PAC 10 is still a dominate quarterback conference, but time will tell if he can truly pull ahead of the rest.
So now that we have an idea as to what others consider an elite quarterback from a conference that produces them year in and year out. Let's take a look at the SEC crop:
The obvious starting point is Peyton Manning. Granted he never beat Florida in all four years, but still drafted number one overall, Heisman Candidate, and is in contention to breaking all the records Brett Favre set just a few years ago. Just ask the NFL players who just recently put him number two on their Top 100 list of 2013(a year after his supposedly career ending neck injury). Oh yea, and let's not forget he has won a Super Bowl. Something no USC quarterback has done....ever.
Next we can look to Peyton`s brother Eli. At Ole Miss he never got the same hype as Peyton because of the lack of talent around him, but still managed to be drafted number one overall. The fact that shocks people the most is his two Super Bowl titles compared to his more revered sibling's one. While Eli`s talent level is not as dominate as Peyton, his game managing skills and playoff performance has clearly put him in the elite status. Just between the two Manning`s they have won more playoff games (Peyton=9, Eli=8) than all other USC quarterbacks (USC QB`s=9) combined. If stats are what define a career I think its pretty clear where domination comes from.
The bottom line is Elite Level quarterbacks come from programs that grow, develop, enhance, and showcase their talents. USC has produced Elite NFL prospects, but for people to dub them as Quarterback U when they have yet to produce a winner is just absurd.
One day the next great quarterback might be from USC, and break every record in the book, but until they can produce someone that can lead them to the promise land for the first time; Let`s let the facts speak for themselves.