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Championship Positions? A Florida Gators Season Preview

College Football

Hey College Football fans! We need to be talking about the Florida Gator 2020 football season and how they are going to react to being one of possibly only three conferences that are going to be challenging for the national championship. I think what allows them to be a top contender this season is the decision they made three seasons ago to hire Coach Dan Mullin. He had been an offensive coordinator at Florida under Coach Urban Meyer and then left to become head coach at Mississippi State. He was in the process of shocking some people and turning around the Mississippi State program when Florida came calling. People knew that Florida had fallen on hard times. Many sportswriters and some fans thought that it was going to take him a while to get them back to their normal upper echelon status in the SEC.

Being a conference championship winner is automatically going to get you into the playoffs this year, but there may be one spot for someone who loses in a championship game. Well, this year I believe that spot might belong to Florida.

But how are they going to obtain this? Let’s take a look over the team and see where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

Quarterbacks Have To Step Up To Win A Championship

Let’s start breaking down some key positions that Florida has and some that they have to get better at before they can contend. Obviously, we want to start with the quarterback, which is going to be the fifth senior Kyle Trask. He was a two-star recruit and was not supposed to be the star of this QB class, but he certainly is. He threw for 2,941 yards and got 25 touchdowns last year as he stepped up his game magnificently. This season, he will be the top returning passer for the SEC. LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are gone this year to the NFL. The Gators are looking for big things from him. However, with this season (and this entire year), you just never know.

So, let’s look at the backup: redshirt sophomore QB Emory Jones. He played in 11 games last season as a reserve, but Coach Mullin made sure to get him into different environments and experience. He is extremely athletic and has had two seasons under his belt to learn the system. Jones was a top rated recruit and is ready to take the helm should an injury or a Covid quarantine happen. However, it is obvious that Kyle Trask is running this team.

Running Backs

Now, let’s look at the backfield which was an issue for Florida last season. The question is…is it going to be a better year this year for the running backs and offensive line? We want to look first at junior running back, Dameon Pierce. Now, I know you are going to look up the stats and say, ‘Sam what are you thinking? He only had 305 yards with four touchdowns last season. You really think that they’re going to run the ball? WHAT?’ Well, yes I do, and yes they will.

Coach Mullins has made it very clear that they have to be more balanced this year. In 2018, they were pretty much balanced. The Gators were at 213.5 passing yards per game, and they were at 213.2 rushing yards per game. However, last year, with Kyle Trask coming on to the scene, they got really unbalanced, with 300.8 passing yards per game to only 129.8 rushing yards per game.

So, when you see that, then you know that Mullins is wanting to get back into the running game. Dameon Pierce is going to be a strong part of the running game coming back. However, they’re going to be rotating their running backs. Florida got a Miami transfer, sophomore running back, Lorenzo Lingard. Again, if Covid or an injury hits the Gators then they are set with a contingency plan. With running two backs, they can show different speeds and different looks as and when needed.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

If there’s anything the Gators are known for in the NFL in recent years, it has been their wide receivers and tight ends. They suffered some losses by losing Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain. However, probably the best player on the team this year and last is Kyle Pitts. He was ALL-SEC last year with 54 catches and 5 touchdowns. With his size and athleticism, there are numerous NFL scouts that are going to be watching him and looking forward to drafting him, probably in the first round. Plan on him being the massive target for Kyle Trask to hit.

The Gators also have two senior wide receivers who have been in the program with Coach Mullin and know his schemes. That is Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney. Both of them have worked in the slot and on the edge. They don’t care to go over the middle or go up the field. I think they’re going to be a staple of how Florida is actually going to stretch the field this year. With that, I believe that Florida fans are going to have something to really look forward to.

Offensive Line Must Step Up For A Chance At A Championship

Ultimately, I think that the whole Gators season is going to come down to how the offensive line do. Can they hold protection and opening holes? They have to be able to run the ball against the different defenses that they are going to face in the SEC. I think we all agree that the SEC has the best defenses in the country. In order to succeed, and even remotely think that you have a chance at the SEC championship, you have to be able to run the ball.

The problem here is that the Gator’s offensive line does have three starters returning, however, they are not deep. They have a senior, Brett Heggie, that they’re going to be moving over to center. They also have a Mississippi State transfer in Stewart Reese. However, the key for this season comes down to the left tackle senior, Stone Forsythe Sr. He’s 6 foot 7 and 329 lbs. and really should be a terror. He should be able to totally control QB Kyle Trask’s blind side.

Hopefully he can push up the field and create a hole for a running back to slash through. However, if he can’t do this then they have to move him over to the right tackle, and from there it becomes a try-out to see who can handle the left side, which is such an important position. Then you may see Trask get antsy in the pocket during big games. I just feel like he is going to be the key to their offensive line and the running game.

Defense Does Win Championships

When you talk about Florida’s defense, I think you have to start with their defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham. He has been both a college coach and an NFL coach. He loves running the 3–4 scheme where he can create mismatches and bring pressure from different areas to make sure that the offense is always kept guessing. Even with Joe Burrows, Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm in SEC last year, Florida had no 300 yard passing games on them and it all starts with the defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham.

Now, not saying that Florida didn’t take some losses last year through graduation. But those loses surely did include their sack leader, Jonathan Grenard, and their leading tackler, David Reese III. Their huge loss was their top cornerback CJ Henderson, who was taken ninth in the NFL Draft by Jacksonville. He became a huge hole that the Gators definitely need to make sure that they fill if they are going to come close to winning a championship.

Cornerbacks and Safeties

When you hear either Coach Mullin or Coach Grantham speak about the defense, you know they are looking for some players to really grow into key roles and become leaders. So, let’s talk first about the back end of the defense. It was definitely the Achilles heel of the Florida Gators in 2019.

Starting with the safeties and then the cornerbacks, they are looking to depend on senior safety Shawn Davis to really control this defense and lead that secondary. He is the safety valve that is going to contain everything and make sure that it is stopped. Senior safety Brad Stewart Jr. will be on the other side.

Looking at the cornerbacks, there is a potential ALL-SEC top corner in junior Marco Wilson. They are going to be putting a lot of pressure on him to take on the main receivers of every team and lock them down. But we all know that when you do that then the other side is available and can be readily taken advantage of. So, Florida is really counting on their rising star sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam. Florida is going to need him to step up to, not necessarily to be a lockdown corner, but to be able to handle himself and anything that is coming his way.

Linebackers

The linebacking core for the Florida Gators doesn’t seem to be an issue. I didn’t hear a lot through the spring and the summer about the Gators being really concerned about this area. You can’t be concerned when you have junior linebacker Ventrell Miller, someone that had 55 stops last year. He will be the leader of this core, and his partner in crime will be the Georgia transfer linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. He’s a 6 foot 4 and 247lbs. player that should be a top pass rusher for the Gators coming from the weak side. Then you are going to see junior Amari Burney getting into the picture to form a solid linebacking core.

Kickers and Punters

Let’s look at the security blanket of Florida Gators: kicker Evan McPherson. He was on fire last year, making 34 out of 38 field goals. It was the one thing that the Gators could count on when they got near the red zone, since they had problems running the ball meant that at least McPherson would give them some points.

However, the punter side is looking shaky. The Gators will be relying on Australian freshman Jeremy Crenshaw to be able to control his nerves and be able to step up in big game situations. He has to be able to hit the coffin corner kicks to flip the field. Since Florida was 13th out of 14 SEC teams in fielding punts last season, that is one thing they are concentrating on in the offseason. They’re going to be looking at trying to find someone that can actually make a difference back there and get some yardage.

Key Point: Dealing With Covid-19 and Injuries To Win A Championship

We need to talk a little bit about the COVID-19 situation and how I think Florida will deal with that. Coach Mullin was an assistant coach under Coach Urban Meyer and they have continued to be friends. Coach Mullin has bought into the Focus 3 system that Tim Kight has developed. It relies on E + R = O which is Event + Response = Outcome. He has been teaching this to the Gators for the last two years and this season it will definitely be put into practice in order to win a championship.

So, when COVID-19 hit, The Gators were prepared. They were taught that this is an event and how we respond to it will create the outcome of our season. The Gators know there are going to be many events disruptions that will come up this season, whether it be an injury, or whether it be someone coming down with COVID. They know they may have to be in quarantine for 7–14 days and then miss two games. This is going to be an event that they are going to have to have a positive response to by stepping up as a team or a unit or a player.

I really think that, with them putting this system into place two years ago and it being constantly preached, it really show many fans out there what the Gators are made of. We saw last year how players and units stepped up when players got hurt, which is a crucial aspect of a championship team. How are they going to deal with a COVID-positive player? I think the same way. I think Florida may be more prepared for this situation than some other teams.

Big Games to Look For If They Are To Win a Championship

Of course, the big game that is always circled on Florida’s calendar has to be the Georgia game. I think the Georgia game this year basically will be the SEC East championship game. Georgia has always given Florida issues and has certainly been a back-and-forth encounter in recent years. Florida doesn’t have to play Alabama or Auburn this year unless they meet them at the SEC Championship game.

I’m totally looking forward to this season and keeping up with everything that goes on from week to week. Can the Gators win a championship this year? This is going to be FUN! I can’t wait. As I’m sure we all agree, I’m just glad we have some sports to look forward to.

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Written by Samantha Sayre

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