The preseason college football magazines are out. That’s good news for college football fanatics, many of whom consider the Florida Gators as the center of their universe.

Now for the bad news: For the first time in it what seems eons — well at least since Ron Zook roamed the sidelines — the Gators aren’t favored to win the SEC East and factor in the national championship conversation. Now no one is predicting a total collapse in Gainesville, but 9-3 and no SEC Championship Game is viewed in Gator Nation as getting stuck with Rosie O’Donnell on a blind date.

This clearly calls for another Q&A column with myself because, as you necessarily saw in my last post, I’m convinced I not only ask the best questions but have the most insightful and candid answers.  So, without further ado…

Q. How bad will it be for the Gators in 2011?

A. Bad is such a subjective word. Vandy fans would kill for 6-6. The way things are going in Knoxville, Volunteers probably would be thrilled with 7-5. But, as I said, in Gator Nation fans are spoiled and any loss is reason enough to start talk about firing the coach and changing quarterbacks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I can’t imagine fewer than eight victories. I can see double digit victories. And because the SEC East isn’t exactly loaded, I can see an early December trip to Atlanta and – dare I say it? – an SEC title.

Q. What about the hiring of Will Muschamp who is a rookie head coach?

A. Certainly it was a surprise hiring. You wouldn’t think Florida’s would be a place for on-the-job training. But every great coach has to start somewhere. Of course, so does every lousy coach. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley says Muschamp was his first and only choice. He denies reports he looked elsewhere before settling on Muschamp, then the head -coach- in- waiting and defensive coordinator at Texas. Muschamp has been involved with elite football programs most of his adult life. He was a classic overachiever as a player at Georgia. He was the defensive coordinator at Auburn. And he helped Texas win a national championship.

But the list is long on top assistants who failed as head coaches and vice versa. Steve Spurrier was a horrible assistant coach at Florida, but his college head coaching record sparkles. Muschamp will have to make some changes in his personality. As an assistant he was the wacko who head butted with players and went psycho on the sidelines during games. He doesn’t have to become as stoic as the late Tom Landry, but he’ll probably have tone it down some to be an effective leader of the entire team. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Q. What about the hiring of Charlie Weis, the ex-Notre Dame head coach and longtime NFL offensive quiz, as the offensive coordinator?

A. It really depends on Weis. So far Weis has said all of the right things. He’s content to be a coordinator . . . he’s at Florida to help Muschamp, not use the Gators as a stepping stone to another head coaching gig . . . he’s excited to be back coaching in college . . . he won’t have a problem relating to college players . . . he understands the limitations put on by the NCAA (20-hour “work week”) and won’t overload his quarterbacks and wide receivers . . . yada, yada, yada. The biggest question is whether or not Weis has the pieces to make his pro-style attack work.

Q. Ah, speaking of the pieces, what about quarterback John Brantley?

A. It’s well documented how badly Brantley failed as Tim Tebow’s replacement. The pressure was enormous. And then there was the whole thing about how Brantley didn’t fit in with Coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. Brantley’s physical and mental skills as a passing quarterbacks were not debated coming out of high school. Johnny B. cocking the gunFormer Gator QB great Shane Matthews called Brantley’s skills better than any Gator QB ever. Another former Gator QB great, Kerwin Bell, coached Brantley in high school and labeled him as a future star. Bell does worry about if Brantley’s skills have eroded and/or whether or not he developed too many bad habits trying to fit in with the spread. Brantley, too, has said all of the right things: his confidence is high in spite of his miserable spring game performance . . . he loves working with Weis, etc. I think Brantley do well if . . .

Q. If what?

A. First, if his wide receivers can be coached to excel in a precision pro-style attack. Meyer recruited athletes first, wide receivers second. Deonte Thompson, Frank Hammonds Jr., Andre DeBose, Quinton Dunbar and Omarius Hines can run and jump. Can they run good routes? Can they catch a football? We haven’t seen them do those things yet. Second, the Gators need a tailback who can pick up the tough third-and-2 yards. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps can score on any play. Mike Gillisee has shown promise. Mack Brown, though, has seldom been on the field. The Gators’ only tailback recruit, Mike Blakely, already has left school. Don’t be surprised if Trey Burton turns out to be the guy asked to get the tough yards. As a freshman last season he played quarterback, tailback, fullback, tight end and slot receiver. He’s now listed as a fullback, but he won’t be the conventional blocking fullback. Bet on it. Third, the Gators must replace most of its offensive line. They’ve only signed four offensive linemen in the last two classes. Injuries at this position could be crippling.

Q. You have any good news?

A. Absolutely. The defense is loaded with super athletes, particularly on the defensive line. The Gators only had 20 sacks last season. They’ll hit that number by midseason this fall. Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley have been so impressive that veterans Jaye Howard and Omar Hunter are listed as second teamers. Ronald Powell could be a dominating force off the edge. He’ll put his hand on the ground in some situations. William Green can help the rush as well.

The Gators aren’t deep at linebacker, but both Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins can be stars. Watch out for Gerald Christian. Jenkins lacks great football instincts but he can run like a wide receiver. The secondary lost Jarnoris Jenkins because he couldn’t leave alone the wacky weed, but Muschamp’s decision to kick him off the team may turn out to be a good move. You have the think the coach got the attention of his players when he kicked the team’s best defender off the team. Let’s hope that leads to fewer players getting their names on police dockets.

Q. What’s your biggest worry about the defense?

A. It’s another Muschamp hire. Dan Quinn is the new defensive coordinator. His last college job was running the defense at Hofstra in 2000. Trust me on this: pro football and college football are different games. We see examples all the time of coaches not making the proper adjustments going from one to the other. Quinn knows what defensive linemen need to do to play in the NFL. We’ll find out if he knows how to coordinate a defense to win college games against the likes of Alabama. Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State.

Q. Any other major concerns?

A. College football titles often come down to the schedules, and the Gators face a juggernaut, particularly in October with games against Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn and Georgia in Jacksonville. No one has a tougher October schedule. The Gators could play well and lose all four.

Q. Any hidden pluses?

A. The Gators lost All-America punter Chaz Henry but may not miss a beat. Freshman Kyle Christie may be better than Henry. I can’t believe I’m talking about a punter when hyping the Gators. Punters being key players happen at Vandy and Duke, not Florida.

Q. Okay, cut to the chase. What will be the Gators’ record and where we they going bowling?

A. I see 9-3 and a trip to Atlanta (for the Chick-Fil-A bowl).

  1. David says:

    It’s Andre DEBOSE not DuBose

  2. Denirogator says:

    Thanks for the Gator Q&A, though I don’t think Muschamp helped Texas to a National Title. I don’t think he was with them in 2005. I think he might have been with the Dolphins in the NFL. Before that he was with LSU and helped them to a National Title. He did help Texas get to the BCS title game though.

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