SEC's Super Sophomores in 2014

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
Everybody’s talking about the top players, top quarterbacks, even the top newcomers as we count down the days to the start of the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsAfter rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, what does Arkansas' Alex Collins have in store for his sophomore season?
 What about the top true sophomores?

The SEC is absolutely loaded in the department. Below, we list the 10 best. We’ll call them the Super Sophomores, and these are true second-year players out of high school, meaning junior college transfers, sophomores who redshirted their first season or sophomores who went to prep school for a year after leaving high school aren’t eligible.

Here goes, and they’re listed alphabetically:

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Bret Bielema’s track record for producing marquee running backs speaks for itself, and the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins has the tools to be the next great one. He became the 10th true freshman in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards last season (1,026) and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press. Even as a freshman, Collins proved to be a pounder and did some of his best work in the fourth quarter.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: If there’s a better all-around cornerback in college football, good luck finding him. The 5-11, 194-pound Hargreaves started the final 10 games last season for the Gators and earned third-team All-American honors by The Associated Press. He ranked second in the SEC in passes defended (1.17 per game) and had three interceptions as a freshman. Beware if you throw the ball in his direction.

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: When have the Crimson Tide not had two premier running backs under Nick Saban? This season, it will be T.J. Yeldon and Henry sharing most of the carries. And as good as Yeldon is, the 6-3, 241-pound Henry is the more physically imposing of the two. He has a better feel now for everything a back is responsible for in Alabama’s offense, and as we saw in the Sugar Bowl last season, he is a lightning-fast locomotive with the ball in his hands.

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Saban hasn’t had a tight end at Alabama as talented as the 6-6, 240-pound Howard, who showed only flashes of how good he could be a year ago. But this season, it’s on. He has improved as a blocker, and with so many talented skill players around him, he will be a prime target in Alabama’s offense. He has the speed to get down the middle and make plays and will be a real weapon in both the play-action game and in the red zone.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner/Icon SMIExpect Chris Jones to be a force in the middle of Mississippi State's defense this season.
 Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State: There are talented young defensive linemen just about everywhere you look in the SEC, and the 6-5, 308-pound Jones doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. He says he’s still an end at heart, and the scary thing is that he’s athletic enough to still move out there and be effective. But where he’ll wreak the most havoc is from a tackle position. He’s slimmed down from the 315 pounds he played at last season and will be an absolute beast in the middle of that Mississippi State defense.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss: The No. 1 overall prospect in the country when he signed with the Rebels, Nkemdiche started in 10 games last season, six at end and four at tackle. He’s now settled in at tackle and is down to 285 pounds after arriving closer to 300. He’s powerful enough to overwhelm blockers and has the explosiveness to blow by them. He finished with eight tackles for loss a year ago, and his big-play numbers are only going to go up as a sophomore.

A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s most disruptive defensive lineman last season, and one of the SEC’s most disruptive defensive linemen, was just a freshman. The 6-4, 320-pound Robinson is poised for a huge sophomore season after leading Alabama with 5.5 sacks a year ago. He started in only two games last season, but can play end or nose in the Tide’s base 3-4 set and move inside to tackle when they go to four down linemen.

Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Even with a late start, Robinson developed into one of the top young cornerbacks in the SEC last season. He didn’t become eligible until the week of the opener, but it was obvious to everybody that the 6-3, 177-pound Pompano Beach, Florida, product had the range, wingspan and instincts to be a lockdown corner. He shut down Texas A&M’s Mike Evans in the win over the Aggies, and his best football is yet to come.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Now pushing 230 pounds, the 6-2 Treadwell is even more physically imposing for his second tour through the SEC, and all he did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches, the second most in school history. He’ll move from the slot to the outside receiver position this season, and his combination of size, hands and speed makes him one of the most difficult matchups in the league.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze says very matter of factly that the 6-5, 305-pound Tunsil was as gifted an offensive tackle as he’s ever seen coming out of high school, and Tunsil has certainly lived up to that billing. He returns as the Rebels’ left tackle after starting nine games there a year ago and earning second-team All-SEC honors by the coaches. He allowed just one sack all last season.

Five who just missed the cut:

Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn

Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss

Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

Florida Gators season preview

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Florida Gators:

2013 record: 4-8 (3-5 SEC)

Final grade for 2013 season: Pardon the pun, but there's just no way to give a passing grade to a team that could hardly complete a forward pass. An incomplete grade might be warranted by the Gators' ridiculous number of injuries, but the final judgement for these Gators is inescapable. The team that lost home games to FCS Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt, lost seven games in a row and broke its 22-year bowl streak gets a well-deserved F.

Key losses: DT Dominique Easley, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Solomon Patton, DB Jaylen Watkins, LB Ronald Powell, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, QB Tyler Murphy, DB Cody Riggs

Key returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Kelvin Taylor, RB Matt Jones, WR Quinton Dunbar, WR/KR Andre Debose, RT Chaz Green, LT D.J. Humphries, C Max Garcia, DE Dante Fowler Jr., DL Jonathan Bullard, LB Antonio Morrison, CB Vernon Hargreaves III

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDante Fowler Jr., a preseason All-SEC first-team player, hopes to lead the Gators back to respectability.
Projected starters: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Kelvin Taylor, WR Quinton Dunbar, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Latroy Pittman, TE Jake McGee, LT D.J. Humphries, LG Tyler Moore, C Max Garcia, RG Trenton Brown, RT Chaz Green, DE Dante Fowler Jr., DT Leon Orr, DT Darious Cummings, DE Jonathan Bullard, LB Neiron Ball, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Jarrad Davis, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Jalen Tabor, S Jabari Gorman, S Marcus Maye

Instant impact newcomers: TE Jake McGee (senior transfer from Virginia), CB Jalen Tabor, CB Duke Dawson, DL Gerald Willis III, OT David Sharpe

Breakout player: Florida expects its offense to be improved, but the Gators, under coach Will Muschamp, are still all about defense. Sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis has drawn raves from coaches and teammates for being a high-motor playmaker with a nose for the ball. One of the quickest learners on the team, Davis surprised everyone when he worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman. Big things are expected for his follow-up performance.

Most important game: For a head coach on a very hot seat and a team champing at the bit to erase the memory of a 4-8 season, every game will be important in 2014. Muschamp and Florida can't afford many losses, but one foe looms above the rest -- Georgia. The Gators dominated this series for years, but Muschamp has lost three in a row to his alma mater. These games are always closely contested, full of emotion and extremely important in the SEC East race. But this year Muschamp and his players ought to have a little something extra: desperation.

Biggest question mark: There are holes and concerns on defense, but addressing them should be a piece of cake compared to the monumental task of resurrecting Florida's offense, which ranked No. 113 out of 123 FBS teams last season. New coordinator Kurt Roper brought a no-huddle, shotgun, spread offense from Duke with the promise of a better fit for Driskel and several underutilized receivers. Will they find success right away?

Upset special: Florida visits Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a showcase game against the Crimson Tide in Week 4, but the Gators' best chance for an upset will be a couple of weeks later in the Swamp. LSU, ranked No. 13 in the preseason coaches' poll, is Florida's permanent SEC West opponent. The teams have played every year since 1971, and the rivalry has become hotly contested with both winning seven times in the last 14 meetings. In that span, the road team has won six times, so anything goes when these talent-rich programs clash.

Key stat: When he was hired, Roper said, "Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game. It's not yards, it's not going up and down the field, it's how many points we can get." Last year, Roper's Duke Blue Devils ranked 41st in the FBS with 32.8 points per game. Florida, by contrast, ranked 112th with 18.8 PPG.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 7.55 wins

Bovada over-under: 7.5 wins

Our take: Florida's schedule is as brutal as ever with visits to Florida State and Alabama, the top two teams in the preseason coaches' poll. The SEC East promises to be a minefield as well. But the Gators get to play nine out of 12 games in their home state. As tough as this slate looks, the bye weeks are positioned perfectly. Florida looks to be 3-0 heading into the game against Bama. Then the first bye week offers a chance to recover, reevaluate and prepare for a big test at Tennessee. The Gators return home for two critical games against LSU and Missouri before the second bye precedes the all-important Georgia game. If Florida can make the most of those byes, defeating the Vols and Dawgs might be the difference between seven and eight wins. Beat both East rivals, and the Gators could have a solid chance at nine.
One of the fringe benefits of growing up as a coach's kid is having a front-row seat to the inner workings of a team.

In the case of Vernon Hargreaves III, his father’s occupation provided him the chance to witness greatness at an early age. And it had a lasting impact that influences him to this day, one contributing factor, among several, to Hargreaves' quick rise to elite status in college football.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsVernon Hargreaves III used his strong coverage skills to earn first-team All-SEC honors as a freshman.
His father, Vernon Hargreaves Jr., was the linebackers coach at Miami from 1998 to 2005, so young Vernon had the chance to see a national championship team and pipeline of first-round NFL draft picks.

"Just seeing those great players play -- Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Ken Dorsey -- seeing them work at practice, seeing how competitive they were [was great]," Hargreaves III said. "There were fights at practice, but they were like fights that, 'I'm going to be better than you.' I can just remember sitting there thinking, 'I want to be where they are.'"

Hargreaves III is well on his way to being there.

As a true freshman cornerback at Florida, Hargreaves quickly excelled. He has already established a reputation as the best player at his position in the SEC and could soon assume that title nationally, already being considered one of the nation’s best as a sophomore. In the ranking of 2014 players, Hargreaves ranked 13th overall, the highest-ranked true sophomore and one of only two in the top 15 (Myles Jack of UCLA being the other).

A first-team All-SEC selection last season, Hargreaves ranked second in the league in passes defended per game (1.17, with 11 total) and had three interceptions to go with 38 tackles. Ask his teammates and coaches about him, and glowing reviews follow.

"What makes Vernon Hargreaves so special is that he's just a well-polished football player," Florida defensive lineman Dante Fowler said. "He has the tools, he has the athletic ability and he's a great student on and off the field, with film. Also, just being a leader, being a coach, being able to teach guys, he's helping himself become a better player. He's in the right direction, and he's going to stay in the right direction. The sky is the limit for him."

Florida coach Will Muschamp joked that Hargreaves' parents don’t take any grief from him, intimating that the values they instilled in him have helped mold him into a player Muschamp said is quite coachable.

"He is a very quick learner," Muschamp said. "He is very coachable. He is very difficult on himself as a guy who really takes a lot of pride in his performance. But he's a guy you can coach hard. You can get after him and he handles it and he moves to the next play. He's got a lot of confidence, the type of confidence you're going to need with the way we play."

And while Hargreaves experienced much personal success last season, the Gators’ 4-8 record didn’t sit well with him.

"I like to win," he said. "And we didn't win, so it's not hard for me to push [the individual success] aside. But you can't focus on the future if you're so worried about the past. We have to let it go. It already happened. There's nothing we can do about it. We can talk about it as much as we want and nothing's going to change. We were still 4-8, and it's still unacceptable. As a team, we've moved on from it, and that's that."

Winning is what he saw those early-2000s Miami teams do. His father said the Hurricanes' practices in those days were intense.

"Every day was a war," Hargreaves Jr. said. "You can't go out there and not perform at a high level. That's just the way it was. When you think about the guys we had, it was a who's who of guys."

Hargreaves III took a liking to the late Sean Taylor, who was an All-American safety with the Hurricanes. Though Taylor was much bigger physically (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) in college than Hargreaves (5-11, 192), the way Taylor played was something Hargreaves admired, and he tries to adopt those qualities now.

"The way he played, you're going to feel him on the field," Hargreaves said. "Receivers didn't want to catch balls because he was on the middle of the field. I want to have an impact like that.

"Maybe not the same impact he had because, I'm not as big a hitter as he was, but when I'm on the field, I want people to say, 'We've got to watch out for Vernon on that side.'"

It appears he is already accomplishing that goal.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Consider Dante Fowler Jr., Florida's preseason All-SEC defensive end, an authority on the Gators' offensive tackles.

Fowler emerged as a sophomore in 2013 and rode a wave of offseason momentum into a dominating spring. Much of the credit, he says, goes to left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Chaz Green, whom he calls two of the best linemen in the SEC.

"This spring, me, D.J. and Chaz, we really got each other better," he said. "We went at it. We just competed the whole spring. I feel like I’m a better player. I can feel it because of them helping me, and I know they can feel it the same way."

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIChaz Green, who missed all of last season after having labrum surgery, has stood out as a leader this spring.
Confidence abounds as Florida heads into its preseason camp, which opened on Monday. And while the entire team is bolstered by a general return to good health after injuries devastated the roster last fall, the offensive line might be the unit most likely to rebound.

Three of the Gators' starters -- including both tackles -- missed significant time in 2013, and Fowler says it cost the team dearly.

"Chaz was having a great camp [in 2013]," Fowler said. "He just had that setback, and it was like a freakish accident, too.

"That happened, and then we had D.J. -- he’s kind of like the anchorman who leads everybody -- so when he went down, things kind of went down the drain from there."

Green missed the entire season with a torn labrum suffered in late August, while Humphries missed the final five games with a sprained MCL. Both positions were revolving doors, with Tyler Moore, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown and Kyle Koehne also seeing time at left or right tackle.

Florida tried seven starting combinations on the offensive line last season, and the effects were startling.

Never a great pass-blocking team in recent years, the Gators regressed in their bread-and-butter running game, too. After averaging 188 yards a game on the ground in 2012 to rank 39th in the nation, Florida fell to 87th last season with an average of 145.8 yards rushing.

Head coach Will Muschamp won't change his run-heavy philosophy on offense, so the return of his two best tackles is welcome news. During SEC media days, Muschamp noted that Humphries was maintaining his weight at 295 pounds after playing last season at 285.

With Green standing 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has a pair of upperclassmen bookend tackles to rely upon on the field and off. Green, in particular, stood out to Roper as a team leader in the offseason.

"He's every day," Roper said. "He's really impressive to me."

Despite missing all of the 2013 season, Green has shown improvement according to his teammates.

"He’s physical, he’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger," senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings said. "It doesn’t seem like he had a year off because it doesn’t feel like he missed a step."

Green and Humphries were 100 percent for spring practice and proved to be among Florida's standout performers. Now Florida is hoping the two will carry over their improvement, confidence and good health into the fall.

"That’s a big deal, man," Humphries said. "Me and Chaz being back, that’s good. When we’re on the field together, it works well. We're going to try and keep it up. If both of us stay healthy, we can make some things happen."

Center(s) of attention in the SEC

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
There are always debates this time of year as we anticipate the start of another college football season.

Who’s the favorite to win the national championship?

Which is the strongest conference?

Who’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner?

[+] EnlargeReese Dismukes
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIReese Dismukes was a finalist for the Rimington Award last season and is joined by 10 other SEC centers in this year's Rimington watch list.
What’s not up for debate, at least with regard to the SEC, is that the league has never been this talented or this deep at the center position entering a season.

Eleven of the 14 starting centers in the SEC were among the 66 players on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the top center in the country.

Talk about being the center of attention.

And while it’s true that we all get caught up in the skill players -- the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers -- it all starts right there in the middle of the offensive line.

If you’re good at center, everything else usually has a way of falling into place up front offensively.

“The thing I like best about it is that you’re in control of five guys, and really, the success of those five guys is sort of on your shoulders,” said Auburn senior center Reese Dismukes, who was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy a year ago.

“You hear a lot of people say the center is the quarterback of the offensive line. That appeals to me. I like being in control, making the calls and making sure everybody’s on the same page. If you’re not making the right calls, somebody’s going to be on the wrong page, and it only takes one person being on the wrong page for it all to go bad. I like having that pressure on me.”

Dismukes’ SEC cohorts on the Rimington Trophy watch list include Georgia’s David Andrews, Missouri’s Evan Boehm, Mississippi State’s Dillon Day, Florida’s Max Garcia, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, Texas A&M’s Mike Matthews, LSU’s Elliott Porter, Kentucky’s Jon Toth, Vanderbilt’s Joe Townsend and South Carolina’s Cody Waldrop.

They’re all a little different, some more experienced than others, and some bigger than others. But they’ve all perfected the rarest of crafts, which is being able to successfully snap a football (usually a shotgun snap in this day and age) with a 300-pound plus defensive tackle itching to step on their throat as soon as the ball is snapped.

“You’re doing a lot of different things at once and processing a lot of information very quickly,” said Boehm, who started all 14 games last season at center after starting all 12 at left guard as a true freshman. “It’s a big responsibility as an offensive lineman to touch the ball every play. Everything starts with you, and you have to be vocal up there.”

Dismukes, a preseason All-American, is part of an Auburn offensive line that should again be one of the best in the SEC. The 6-3, 295-pound senior has been a fixture up front for the Tigers from the day he walked onto campus and has started in 37 of his 39 games.

Ask him how much he’s grown up during that time, and he offers a hearty chuckle.

“Light years,” he said. “This game makes you grow up fast, or it will shove you right out of it.”

Whereas Dismukes has been a center ever since he can remember, Boehm didn’t start playing the position until last season. He actually went to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and requested the move after playing left guard as a freshman.

“I felt like it was the best thing for the team and best thing for me, and I appreciate Coach Pinkel for having enough trust in me to make the move,” said Boehm, who was actually a fullback when he first started playing football in the seventh grade.

Boehm isn’t the only SEC center who’s relatively new to the position. Garcia is making the transition as a fifth-year senior at Florida after splitting his time last season between guard and tackle. He began his career at Maryland and started all 12 games at left tackle in 2011 before transferring to Florida.

But regardless of the path a player takes to the center position, there’s a fraternity of sorts, a pride thing that transcends size, speed, and even looks.

Boehm and Dismukes know each other from the recruiting process, as Dismukes was Boehm’s host when Boehm visited Auburn.

Dismukes and Georgia's Andrews also stay in touch and will occasionally share tips on upcoming opponents. Between them, they have 64 career starts. Mississippi State’s Day has 34 career starts. So if you throw Day into the mix, that’s a combined 98 starts among the SEC’s three most grizzled center veterans.

“We’re not the strongest or most athletic or any of that stuff,” Dismukes said of his center brethren. “Maybe we’re a little weird, but we just love the game.”

They love their hair, too.

Boehm and Day are running a tight race for the “locks” award. Both are known for their trademark hair as much as they are for locking down opposing defensive linemen. Boehm has the bushy look going -- beard and all -- while Day is sporting the long, blond-rocker look.

Of course, it’s not like either is overly concerned with style. Technique, maybe, but certainly not style, not with some of the monsters they have to block in the SEC.

“With the defensive line culture in the SEC, you better also create that same culture in the offensive line, and that starts in the middle,” Boehm said. “The great thing about this league is you’ve got guys like Reese and David and all the other guys, and you can study their moves and why they’ve been so successful and try to incorporate it into your game.

“It’s an honor to be among them.”

And even better to be front and center.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
With training camps in full swing now across the conference, there are plenty of interesting stories around the SEC. From talk about quarterbacks to injuries and more, here's a sampling via Wednesday's lunch links:

Top 5 SEC teams of BCS era

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6

As a final farewell to the BCS era, I used my opponent-adjusted FEI ratings to identify the five best individual team seasons in each of the Power Five conferences. The ratings reward dominant victories combined with strong competition, which are key elements that we expect the College Football Playoff committee to take into account as well.

(Note: Due to the lack of available play-by-play and drive data, FEI ratings have been calculated only since 2003. For the 1998-2002 seasons, we produced an alternate set of ratings based on opponent-adjusted final scores. The alternate ratings have a 0.95 correlation with FEI.)

Here are the five best SEC teams from the BCS era:

1. 2008 Florida Gators (13-1)

The SEC claimed nine of the 16 championships during the BCS era, including one each by undefeated Alabama and Auburn teams in 2009 and 2010, respectively. So what pushes this one-loss team to the top over all others? The Gators lost 31-30 in late September to Ole Miss, then ripped off a dominant run down the stretch -- eight victories by at least 28 points apiece and three straight wins to end the season over teams ranked among the FEI top-10 by an average score of 33-16. Four opponents were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game -- Florida whipped them by an average margin of 23 points.

The Gators' defense and special teams contributed 149.5 points of field position value over the course of the year, more than 10 points per game. And the offense, led by Heisman finalist Tim Tebow (30 touchdowns, four interceptions), ranked third nationally in yards per play (7.1) and fourth in scoring.


The College Football Live crew takes a look at the top 16 individual season performances of all time in college football.

Playoff won't change CFB loyalty

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4

DICKY MAEGLE WAS fast that day, his legs still fresh in the second quarter of the '54 Cotton Bowl.

Maegle, the Rice halfback and future College Football Hall of Famer, took the handoff near his own goal line, turned the corner and blazed along the Alabama bench, on his way to a sure 95-yard touchdown.

From the sideline, Tide fullback Tommy Lewis, who'd scored his team's only points in the first quarter, turned to see Maegle racing across the midfield chalk. In one second, one never-ending second, he launched himself bareheaded and laid Maegle out in one of the most memorable tackles in college football history. The refs gave Maegle his touchdown, and Rice would eventually win 28-6, while Lewis was left to wonder forever about what he had done. He lost his composure, he would later say as a guest with Maegle on The Ed Sullivan Show, because he was so full of love for the colors on his chest that he had to come off the sideline and knock that man down.

The tackle lives on and on, as close as Google, or your granddaddy's memories. It is one of my favorite college football stories, not for its strangeness but because it proves something I've always believed: that no matter how much you dress it up or poke at it, college football is, at its core, a kind of beautiful chaos, something science, and certainly not people, can neither manage nor explain.

THE PAST IS dead, despite what Faulkner said. Or so I've been told. An editor at this magazine, figuring he might get yet another story from me in which I evoke snapping turtles, thunderstorms, my grandma and the revered bones of Paul "Bear" Bryant, did his best to steer me away from Southern antiquity and into the 21st century, into the brave new era of the College Football Playoff -- into the future. "I need you," he told me, not unkindly, "to look beyond the kudzu."

(Read full post)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coming off an ignominious 4-8 season that lit a fire under his seat, Florida coach Will Muschamp has reassessed every aspect of his program. Even himself.

"Based on the record last year, I haven't [improved as a coach]," he said on Sunday in addressing the media just hours before the Gators were to open preseason camp. "That's the way you look at it. You are what your record is."

Muschamp has not dodged nor shrunk from talk of the hot seat and the accompanying speculation about his job security. Instead he has steadfastly insisted the Gators will rebound in 2014.

"I think all of the components are there," he said. "... We need to go do it now."

[+] EnlargeFlorida's Will Muschamp
Jeff Barlis/ESPN.comWill Muschamp addresses the media on Sunday before his Gators report for preseason camp.
The first tests take place in camp. Here are five things to watch as the Gators take the field on Monday.

1. The injury bug has been squashed: What difference does a year make? In 2013, Florida started camp without its starting quarterback and starting running back, among several others. QB Jeff Driskel had an emergency appendectomy, while RB Matt Jones came down with a serious viral infection. Those fluky ailments set an ominous tone for a season littered with key injuries.

On Sunday, Muschamp announced no new injuries. In fact, only one scholarship player is out -- true freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher, who had back surgery in the spring and will redshirt.

Muschamp also said the Gators will dramatically cut down on mid-day practices and "go later at night and a little lighter than we had been doing before, so it won't be as taxing for the players."

2. Playmakers returning to offense: Jones, who missed most of the 2013 season with a torn meniscus, pronounced himself "110 percent" and ready to claim a significant role in the offense. He's added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame, which has Muschamp envisioning a role as a late-game battering ram.

"He's a 230-pound back that about midway through the third and fourth quarter you get tired of hitting," the coach said. "He's got extremely good hands, he's very good at protection, very smart player."

Another potential boon for the Gators' hopes of an offensive revival comes with the return of sixth-year senior wide receiver Andre Debose, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in preseason camp.

"I feel great," he said on Sunday after jumping over the interview table to get to his seat. "I'm feeling real good. ...

"Heading into this last year I just want to be productive. I want to help the team in any way I can. I'm just happy to be back, running around and being a part of the team."

Although Debose's production at UF has never quite matched his prodigious talent, the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster is one of the Gators' most experienced pass-catchers and is a proven weapon as a kickoff returner as well.

3. Depth charge on both lines: Starters on the offensive and defensive lines are well entrenched and well seasoned. Florida's first-team O-line has a combined 67 career starts. The D-line has 37. The problem, which Muschamp harped on throughout spring practice, is that there is a significant drop-off when the second units step in.

"Got to continue to build depth on both lines of scrimmage," he said. "I think the talent level is there."

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Rod Johnson has always been held in high regard by his coaches, but he missed the entire spring with head and knee injuries. Muschamp also singled out redshirt freshman guard Antonio Riles and true freshmen David Sharpe and Andrew Mike.

On defense, Muschamp listed a host of young players who will get opportunities in camp. The most advanced of them are ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister

4. Backup quarterbacks will battle: Because Driskel missed most of last season with a broken bone in his leg, there is a greater emphasis on quarterbacks.

"We need to find a backup quarterback," Muschamp said. "That's someone that will play in the first ballgame at some point. That's going to be important for us to develop at that position."

There is great anticipation for the long-term QB battle brewing between true freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris, two of the nation's top prospects in the recruiting Class of 2014. But third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg isn't about to concede the No. 2 job.

The son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg started the final three games of last season, gaining valuable experience on the road against South Carolina and in facing eventual national champion Florida State.

"I learned a lot last season," Skyler Mornhinweg said. "Being able to get in there and play at this level, in terms of developing, that's the best you can do right there. You can be in the film room, you can practice, but actually getting out there and playing is great experience."

Mornhinweg concedes that Grier and Harris are better at running the ball, which could give them an advantage in Florida's new spread offense. But Mornhinweg's starting experience gives him an air of authority.

"I expect to be the backup in my mind, yeah," he said. "I'm confident. I'm ready to have some fun with it."

5. Last season is history (sort of): Much has been made about Florida's 4-8 record in 2013. The fans, the media and especially opponents have issued reminders throughout the offseason. Eager to move forward and change the subject, the Gators say they've had enough of talking about last year.

But the painful memories do serve a purpose.

"We put that behind us, but we're not going to forget that," Jones said. "We've definitely got a chip on our shoulder that we've got something to prove, but we're not going to keep it over our head that we went 4-8. We just know that we've got to come back strong."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp has a Twitter problem and he's not afraid to admit it.

The Florida head coach made a couple of embarrassing missteps recently when he accidentally tweeted what were intended to be private messages to recruits. At the Gators' preseason camp media day on Sunday, he said he's still learning his way around this whole Twitter fad.

"It's a work in progress," he said. "My 9-year-old and 12-year-old have helped me."

On July 23, Muschamp sent a recruiting direct message to more than 56,000 followers. A few days later he made the same mistake with this tweet.


Both were quickly deleted, and Muschamp showed a sense of humor when he tweeted this plea for help the next day.


"It's really unfair," he said on Sunday. "When you get a message sent to you, it also goes to your text and then you respond to your text -- not that I violated any of the NCAA rules because you are not allowed to text -- then it goes out.

"It's not a direct message, it's a message for everybody. You learn the hard way in life sometimes."

Now that Muschamp has conquered DMs, he's ready for the next level -- how to properly use hashtags.

"The social media is interesting," he said. "I can tell you that."

Scout's Take: Thomas to Florida 

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
ESPN 300 OLB Adonis Thomas is a versatile athlete that has the potential to be a menace off of the edge for the Florida Gators.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


Travis Haney discusses the challenges facing Florida State, which is ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches' poll, and teams outside of the Top 25 to watch.

National recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss some of the top storylines to watch for the 2015 recruiting class during the 2014 college football season.


Surprise Programs In 2015 Recruiting
National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree broke down every 2015 college football recruiting class in the FBS. He joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to share the biggest surprise overall and which program could gain momentum down the stretch.


Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31