Gators' 2015 season visited both sides of spectrum, but 2016 still looks bright
A “rebuilding year” in the SEC doesn’t usually feature a 10-win season and a 6-0 division record while booking a trip to Atlanta after the first week of November.
However, that’s exactly what coach Jim McElwain was able to bring to Florida after only three years of head coaching experience at Colorado State.
With that said, the asymmetry of Coach Mac’s debut season was astounding.
Through Halloween, Florida was 7-1 with dominant victories over Ole Miss and Georgia, a hard-fought win over Tennessee and a narrow loss at LSU. From that point on, the Gators struggled against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and even Florida Atlantic before suffering three straight embarrassing losses.
Perhaps the state of the program was best described in his opening statement after the team’s 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Friday.
In one breath, McElwain stated “we’ve got a ways to go” before proclaiming in the next sentence that “we’re on our way to building something special.”
Just as Year 1 was an absolute mystery, so will Year 2.
While many in Gainesville will point to the suspension of quarterback Will Grier as the main culprit, another faction of Florida fans have a hard time giving the quarterback position enough weight to sink a ship in that way.
The reality is, McElwain has lots of gaping holes to fill on the Gators’ roster.
As far as quarterback goes, McElwain will only have one lettering quarterback returning for 2016 in Treon Harris. However, he does have a commitment from one of the nation’s top prospects in Feleipe Franks along with three-star prospect Kyle Trask, and both are early enrollees.
The offensive line struggled in pass protection and run blocking this season. The Gators allowed 3.2 sacks per game while averaging just 3.48 yards per rush. Both of those marks are dead last in the SEC and both are also 119th in the FBS.
So far, Florida’s 2016 recruiting class includes three offensive linemen, all of whom are three-star prospects: center Brett Heggie, guard Jawaan Taylor and tackle Stone Forsythe.
The receiving corps will also need help with WR Demarcus Robinson and TE Jake McGee gone. A couple four-star receivers in Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond along with three-star Dre Massey will be on campus this month, and the team also has a commitment from Rick Wells.
The linebacking corps needs serious depth as its only gotten one recruit at the position in each of the last two classes. Plus, senior Antonio Morrison, a third-team All-American according to Phil Steele, won’t be around.
If Jarrad Davis does, in fact, return for his senior season as he said after the SEC Championship Game, that would help tremendously. The group could get a lift from three current commitments, including four-star outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon.
As a whole, the Gators’ recruiting class for 2016 isn’t lacking bodies.
At this present time, Florida has 25 total commitments. That’s the most of any team among the top 37 classes based on 247Sports’ recruiting rankings, which also has UF’s class ranked No. 8 in the country.
Despite Florida’s dead end to 2015, it seems safe to say the Gators’ rebuilding process is ahead of the curve, especially on the recruiting trail.
It was almost exactly three months ago that the Gators seemingly announced their return to prominence with that 38-10 pasting of the Rebels in The Swamp along with plenty other flashes of potential.
Now, Florida has to overcome a late-season unraveling, punctuated by an undressing in the Citrus Bowl, to get back to showing us that team we saw over the first two months of 2015.