Jim McElwain has won two divisional titles in his first two seasons in Gainesville. That can be argued as both an accomplishment and an indictment on the SEC East. I lean more towards a tribute as the Gators have been one dimensional throughout his first two seasons. In 2016 it finished 116th nationally in total offense while ranking 5th in the same category defensively. 2017 presents an opportunity for a flip in roles as Florida returns nine offensive starters and six on defense.
After opening with Michigan in Arlington, Texas; UF’s home slate includes Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida State at home and a bye week prior to facing Georgia in Jacksonville. I learned my lesson picking against the Gators in the preseason. Won’t happen again.
Head Coach: Jim McElwain, 19-8 at Florida
2016 Record: 9-4, beat Iowa 30-3 in Outback Bowl.
Opener: Vs. Michigan at Arlington, TX.
Good news first; the Gators return 9 offensive starters. Now the bad news; it was rated dead last in the SEC’s total (344-ypg) and rushing (128.2-ypg) offensive categories in 2016. QB Luke Del Rio’s injury has muddied the quarterback race. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks was assumed to be penciled into the starter role with grad-transfer Malik Zaire also in the mix. McElwain said on Tuesday that he hasn’t made the call on his starter as of yet.
Top rusher Jordan Scarlett (889-yards, 6 TD’s) returns along with its top seven pass catchers from a year ago. Of those pass catchers, Florida sports a solid duo of tight ends in DeAndre Goolsby (38-receptions, 3 TD’s) and C’yontai Lewis (18-catches). WR’s Antonio Calloway (54-catches, 721-yards) and Brandon Powell (45-receptions, 2 TD’s) will provide explosive play capability. All SEC OT Martez Ivey will lead an experienced offensive line that also includes returning starters guard Tyler Jordan, tackle Jawaan Taylor, and guard Fred Johnson. Again, Florida will possess a veteran laden offense. But, it was ineffective for the most part a year ago.
Returning Statistical Leaders
-Returning Starters: 9
-Passing Luke Del Rio-114/201, 1358-yards, 8 TD’s, 8 INT’s
-Rushing: Jordan Scarlett-179 carries, 889-yards, 6 TD’s
-Receiving: Antonio Calloway-54 receptions, 721-yards, 3 TD’s
2016 Offensive Results
-Scoring 23.9 ppg (SEC-12th)
-Rushing 128.2 ypg (SEC-14th)
-Passing 215.8 ypg (SEC-6th)
-Total 344 ypg (SEC-14th)
A familiar name takes over defensive play calling duties as Randy Shannon was named as the Gator defensive coordinator. Shannon inherits a unit that returns six starters, but lost talented players to the National Football League. Defensive ends Jabari Zuniga and CeCe Jefferson along with cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner will assume on-field leadership of the SEC’s 2nd ranked defense of 2016. Safety Marcell Harris (73 tackles) led the Gators in tackles a year ago and will be joined by Nick Washington (45 tackles) to provide experience in the secondary. Here’s where the confusing term “returning starters” clouds the situation. Several linebackers and defensive linemen plays significant minutes as well as situational starts in 2016 but aren’t listed. LB David Reece (49 tackles) is the team’s second leading returning tackler but is not listed as a returning starter. Same with fellow LB Kylan Johnson who finished 2016 with 39 stops. The Gator defense may appear inexperienced on paper, but in reality it may produce similar results.
Returning Statistical Leaders
Returning Starters: 6
Tackles: Marcell Harris-73
QB Sacks: Jabari Zuniga-5
Interceptions: Chauncey Gardner-3
2016 Defensive Results
-Scoring 16.8 ppg (SEC-3rd)
-Rushing 144.5 ypg (SEC-5th)
-Passing 148.5 ypg (SEC-1st)
-Total 293 ypg (SEC-2nd)
IMPACT ON KENTUCKY
The Florida win streak now extends to an embarrassing 30-years. Kentucky should be 2-0 with a meeting with South Carolina the week prior to facing the Gators. Kroger Field could be an electric atmosphere if the Cats come into this game undefeated. Never underestimate Florida or Jim McElwain. UF will again be the favorites to reach Atlanta if it can muster a resemblance of a consistent offense. Will the streak grow to 31 or will Kroger Field be stormed? How Florida plays against Michigan and how UK fares against the Gamecocks will be telling.
On word that he’d named a starting quarterback
“ I don’t know how that came out. Who knows. I know we will start a quarterback, I guess, so…”
Thoughts on playing Michigan in opener
“So I’m a believer — we’re the University of Florida, and college football fans, I think Gator fans in general, they deserve us to go out and play whoever we can at the best of our ability no matter where they’re from. I think it’s really good for college football that two different conferences are playing each other on opening day. It’s something that I agreed to. I wanted to do. It’s something moving forward that we’re looking to do, you know, in these neutral-site games as well in the future. So, I just think it’s the way it should be. I don’t know. Maybe I’m screwed up, I guess.”