SEC subplots: How thin will Florida’s margin of error be in 2013?

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SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Florida.

SEC Subplots

1. Paper thin

No, I’m not talking about the depth chart. I’m talking about the margin of error. The Gators had a revival in 2012, and we saw a team take on Will Muschamp’s persona and demeanor with some attitude, as toughness returned to Gainesville. Muschamp’s unheralded second-half heroes outscored opponents 128-33 in the last 30 minutes, a miraculous turnaround from being outscored -50 in 2011. Likewise, the turnover margin was night and day different, too, as Florida was +27 from 2011 to 2012. Should we expect more of the same in 2013? Florida won with a running game, ball-controlled offense and a nasty, opportunistic defense. But, primarily, the Gators’ vertical passing game must kick into gear.

2. Vertical passing game

Florida finished last in the SEC and 118th in the country in passing offense. But that’s just the type of ball control that Muschamp wanted; that was his plan to win, knowing he had arguably the best defense in the country. Florida’s lack of a passing game can be attributed to Jeff Driskel, a Jekyll and Hyde offensive line and no receivers who could create any separation past five yards. Knowing the offensive line should improve, along with a small splurge of receiving talent, Driskel should develop more this year, too. That’s a big assumption, because Driskel looked lost at times, while at other times he looked like the fearless leader everyone thought he would be. Driskel is one of the most of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the SEC. He’s big, strong and talented, and he has great footwork and an arm, but my biggest concern is whether he will be at his best when the lights come on. Is he a gamer? He hopes to answer that question this year.

Related: Where does Driskel rank among the SEC QBs?

3. Strong front and secondary

Muschamp has the most talent and depth along the defensive line in 2013 as he’s had at Florida. Tackles Dominique Easley, Darious Cummings, Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivey are just a few of the many. Talented defensive ends Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard welcome back Ronald Powell, who missed last season with a knee injury. This defensive line is loaded, but it’s not even the best unit of the defense. That belongs in the secondary. The Gators have the best corner tandem in the country in Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, along with two converted corners at safety Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins, although Marcus Maye will start. But freshman Vernon Hargreaves could have a Janoris Jenkins-type freshman season, freeing up Purifoy to play more offense. This secondary is locked, loaded and ready for an encore.

4. Prepare for ugly

Florida fans will tell you 2012 was the most frustrating 11 wins in the history of college football. The Gators are used to winning with the Fun ‘N Gun or spread attack with a dominant quarterback, and last year’s 11 boring wins were ugly. But Florida learned how to be ugly. They leaned on special teams more than offense. They learned they could physically wear down teams in the second half. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Knowing that, expect the same type of outlook in 2013.

SDS takeaway: Much like last year, Florida could win 11 games, or they could win eight. With such a tough schedule, the over/under is set at 9.5 and nine wins is a safe bet, especially for a defense that lost two first-round picks. The offense needs to get kicking, while the defense must remain status quo. Florida’s loaded with talent, but it all revolves back to the one question in 2013: the vertical passing game. If the Gators develop that part of the offense, book your tickets to Atlanta.

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

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  • True for every program, just a few very slight mis-calculations and you lose 3 games in the SEC east OR MORE. Who is safe and why, nobody, just pull up the scores of last year’s games. These results are made of real personnel and real coaching plans and real executions. Shake that up in a can and roll the dice again with an average of 25% new starters. In the West you can make a stronger case for repeating order of finish but I think this is an more illusion than probability as well.