5 biggest offseason questions for Florida
The season ended acrimoniously with three consecutive losses, but Florida fans had a lot for which to be grateful in 2015.
First-year coach Jim McElwain’s reformation project in Gainesville moved with more speed than anybody could have envisioned as the Gators won their division and reached the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2009.
But the team’s weaknesses were exposed by season’s end and the SEC East figures to be vastly improved next season, meaning McElwain and his staff have plenty of work ahead.
Here’s a look at the biggest offseason questions for Florida.
5. Can the Gators defend their SEC East crown and contend for the SEC Championship? It won’t be easy because the SEC East will be much improved with Tennessee returning the bulk of this year’s team, which pushed Florida and closed with six consecutive wins. Georgia also figures to be considerably better offensively with the return of injured tailback Nick Chubb. Florida will still have major questions at quarterback by the time it travels to Knoxville on Sept. 24 and meets the Bulldogs in Jacksonville roughly a month later. Both games will be critical.
4. Will the kicking game improve? Let’s just say that it can only improve after this year’s disaster. The addition of junior college stud Eddy Pineiro should help immediately. Pineiro, who turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama among others, has booted field goals of more than 70 yards, but never during a live game. Doing so in the crucible of the SEC will be altogether new to him.
3. Can the offensive line improve? The Gators entered this season with major questions up front, but did a great job of keeping things together despite their inexperience and suspect talent level at spots for most of the season. Things went south, however, as the season progressed, and injuries took their toll. An added year of experience and the addition of several blue-chip recruits should help immediately.
2. Can the defense continue playing at a high level despite the losses of Vernon Hargreaves III and Jonathan Bullard? There’s no way you lose transcendent talents like Hargreaves, Bullard and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison and not suffer some kind of drop. But the Gators are loaded in talent on defense and have just added more to their growing stable with another excellent recruiting class. Look for more big things from a pair of big-time playmakers in rising senior linebacker Jarrad Davis and rising junior cornerback Jalen Tabor, a first-team All-SEC pick in 2015.
1. Who will be Florida’s quarterback next year? This is the preeminent question because the offensive struggles fueled the three-game losing skid to close the season.
Poor quarterback play was hardly the only reason behind the late-season struggles, but it was the most significant one.
Treon Harris, who assumed the starting job following Will Grier’s suspension in October, doesn’t appear a good fit for McElwain’s offense. Harris, who signed with Florida when Will Muschamp was still the coach and the Gators were running a spread offense, will compete with transfers Luke Del Rio, true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask and Austin Appleby, a recent graduate transfer addition from Purdue.
Whoever emerges will need to fare better at consistently getting rid of the football quickly and finding targets downfield so the Gators might better sustain drives.