- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our "One good reason" series looking at the Florida Gators.
Let's see what the Gators could have in store for 2012:
Florida will win the SEC Eastern Division: The Gators' defense is stacked.
We all know that defense wins championships, and Will Muschamp has a group that could be one of the country's elite defensive units this fall. Led by All-SEC safety Matt Elam, the Gators return 10 starters from last year's squad. Buck Ronald Powell, who had an exceptional spring, could miss most of the season after suffering an ACL injury during the spring game, but the staff is confident that senior Lerentee McCray will fill in nicely in Powell's absence. Even without Powell, Florida's front seven is stacked. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley should be healthy after his ACL injury in last year's season finale, and Sharrif Floyd will be at his more natural position of tackle much more this fall. Veteran tackle Omar Hunter is back and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs had a solid spring at tackle.
The linebackers are experienced, starting with All-SEC candidates Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and rookie Antonio Morrison was a real spark for the defense this spring. The secondary should be decent as well, with sophomore Marcus Roberson back after a solid freshman season. Fellow sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy could be a budding star.
This unit finished the season ranked eighth in total defense and still didn't play up to its full potential. Muschamp came out of spring more excited and happier with his defense, which wasn't even at full strength. If the Gators can cut down on the mental mistakes and play with more attitude, this defense will be even better in 2012 and will be tough for East's top offenses to beat.
Why it won't: The offense is just too unproven.
While the defense is equipped with plenty of star power, the offense is lacking ... considerably. The players seem to be pretty excited about new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and not much will change from Charlie Weis' offensive scheme, but the pieces in place are very unproven. Florida will throw out two sophomore quarterbacks -- Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel -- who struggled in relief last year. At this point, neither has separated himself from the other in the race for the starting spot. Chance are that both will play this fall, but finding consistent throwing targets is concerning. The Gators have talent at wide receiver, but it's either unproven or inconsistent. Andre Debose has shown flashes of being a solid playmaker, but he's had a tendency to fade away during games. Quinton Dunbar was supposed to break out last year, but caught just 14 passes. And Frankie Hammond Jr. just hasn't turned the corner like the coaches have wanted. Tight end Jordan Reed could be the answer, but he has to stay more focused on the field.
At running back, Mike Gillislee gives the Gators their first true downhill threat since Tim Tebow, but he's been inconsistent when given his chances. Redshirt sophomore Mack Brown has barely done anything and Omarius Hines is moving from tight end. The offensive line has struggled mightily for the past two seasons, but the staff feels it made considerable strides this spring.
Florida was 105th in total offense last year, 89th in passing, 73rd in rushing and lacked toughness across the board. Most of the components from that unit return, so a lot of pressure is on this group to improve in Muschamp's second year.
1hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough