The current contract between the rivals expires after the 2014 season, but there was never a doubt the series would be renewed. Their matchup has become a fixture as the regular-season finale for both schools.
Florida State and Florida have played every year since 1958 and have grown their rivalry into one of the fiercest in college football. From 1990-2000 both schools were ranked in the AP Top 10 when they played each other.
Florida leads the overall series 34-22-2 but the Seminoles have won three of the last four matchups.
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This weeklong series continues with a look at a fresh face at an important position that got lost in the 2013 offense's epic struggles.
6-foot-4, 240 pounds
Credentials: Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. He was rated a three-star prospect coming out of high school and was the No. 9 tight end/H-back prospect in the nation. On signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp called Goolsby "a really good athlete at the tight end position" and noted that he's already put on about 15 pounds.
How he fits: He's not an elite talent, but Goolsby has enough burst and athleticism to be a playmaker. He has good hands, can set up defenders in coverage and has enough speed and wiggle to make them miss. "DeAndre Goolsby is a guy we targeted early on," Muschamp said on signing day. "[Tight ends coach] Derek Lewis went out and evaluated him in the last spring evaluation, really liked his movement skills, his growth potential, his toughness, his point of attack and those things. Excited to have him on campus, and [as] a guy [who] can do some different things for you." The biggest reason Goolsby made this list is because he enrolled in January, which gives him much-needed extra time to learn the playbook and work with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. If Goolsby proves to be a quick study who's coachable, he'll earn loads of opportunity.
Who he's competing with: After a couple of transfers in recent years, the Gators don't have a lot of talent at the tight end position. In some regards, Goolsby won't have much competition this spring. Florida's three incumbent tight ends -- Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Colin Thompson -- just aren't natural pass-catchers. Westbrook had three catches last season to lead all Gators tight ends, Burton had one catch, and Thompson was injured for the second straight season. Goolsby will need a lot of work on his in-line blocking technique, but Florida won't bring in any additional receiving tight ends until signees Moral Stephens and C'yontai Lewis arrive this summer.
What needs to happen this spring: It's not easy for true freshmen to make an immediate impact at offensive skill positions, but Muschamp said it best -- "We need some help at the tight end position. [Goolsby] is a guy that’s going to come in here and certainly get his opportunities." To take advantage of the chance to play early, Goolsby needs to keep it simple and worry about learning the plays, running precise routes and catching everything he can. If he can just distinguish himself as the top pass-catcher among UF tight ends this spring, the Gators would call that a success and move forward with plans to involve Goolsby in the offense this fall.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt were among the SEC schools that saw changes in coordinators on at least one side of the ball this offseason, and there's no doubt those changes will have an effect on their new programs. But which new coordinators will make the biggest impact? Here's four that catch our eye:
Lane Kiffin, Alabama: Much maligned as a head coach, Kiffin has taken his fair share of criticism, which was often justified, during his head coaching stops at Tennessee and USC. But he's not being hired to run the program, just the offense, so most of the pressures that come with being "the man" won't exist for Kiffin as the offensive coordinator. At Alabama, coordinators rarely meet with the media, so there won't be a lot of Kiffin soundbites or quotes out there, allowing him to focus on the task at hand. Nick Saban thinks highly of Kiffin's play-calling ability and offensive mind, and that's an area Kiffin has a strong reputation. The Crimson Tide ranked sixth in the SEC in yards per game (454.1), sixth in red zone efficiency (66 percent) and fourth in points scored per game (38.2). Those are all areas Kiffin can help improve, though he'll have to develop a new quarterback, the successor to Heisman Trophy finalist AJ McCarron. Kiffin was offensive coordinator of a national championship team at USC, which certainly doesn't hurt as he returns to the coordinator role.
Kurt Roper, Florida: Florida's offense has nowhere to go but up after finishing last in the league in points scored per game (18.8), yards per game (316.7), red zone efficiency (44.2 percent) and goal-to-go efficiency (43.5 percent). That's where Roper comes in. He helped Duke set a school-record for touchdowns as its offensive coordinator. He has worked with three quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season, including Eli Manning. He has SEC experience, making stops at Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky, and this league is where he has spent the bulk of his assistant coaching career. The Gators will spread it out, and Roper will be charged with developing Jeff Driskel, who hasn't yet lived up to the potential some hoped he would when he signed in the 2011 recruiting class. Expect Roper to have an impact on Driskel and the offense as a whole, and the Gators should be much strong on that side of the ball this fall.
Jake Spavital, Texas A&M: Texas A&M's offense was pretty good, which is understandable with Johnny Manziel at quarterback. But Spavital has the challenging task of steering the Aggies' offense post-Johnny Football, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. That's three probable first-round picks leaving the offense, not to mention losing three starting receivers and the team's top running back from last season, Ben Malena. Spavital, who was the Aggies' quarterbacks coach last season, was given the play-calling and offensive coordinator reigns for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and oversaw a unit that produced 52 points in a victory, but this will be his first fall as a full-time college playcaller. Just 28 years old, the up-and-coming Spavital must choose and develop Manziel's successor (either sophomore Kenny Hill, senior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kyle Allen) and figure out who the go-to receiver will be in 2014. The young assistant does have a history of working with or being around great college quarterbacks though, having been at Houston when Case Keenum was there, at Oklahoma State with Brandon Weeden, and at West Virginia with Geno Smith.
- Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is at the NFL combine, isn't the biggest cornerback, but he believes it's more about the plays he makes than the stature of the player.
- Former All-SEC linebacker Travis Williams will return to Auburn to join Gus Malzahn's staff as a defensive analyst.
- If you haven't had enough Jadeveon Clowney talk, here's some more: The potential top overall pick discusses the impact assistant coach Brad Lawing -- who spent two seasons at South Carolina, but is now at Florida -- had on his development.
- Arkansas center Travis Swanson didn't concern himself with what other players at his position were doing at the combine or making proclamations. He focused on his performance in hopes of impressing scouts.
- The "Dream Team" recruiting pitch has been successful in the past for Georgia and Mark Richt said the Bulldogs have thought about using it more.
- Renovations of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium have begun. The 41-year-old stadium is getting a $110 million facelift.
- Ranking the talent level of the SEC rosters heading into 2014.
- What is the first term that pops up from Google's autocomplete function when you type a head coach's name into the search box? A fun look at results from SEC coaches and beyond.
- Recent off-the-field issues involving two defensive players and suspensions dating to last season are somewhat of concern for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Watkins ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash and also did 22 reps on the bench press. He played both cornerback and safety for the Gators and also worked some as their nickelback. He doesn't have ideal size to play safety in the NFL (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) but certainly helped himself with his impressive 40 time. When you take into account that he's moved around and played different positions in the secondary, his draft stock coming out of the combine is probably a lot better than anybody would have expected.
On the flip side, his two more heralded cornerback colleagues at Florida -- Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson -- didn't fare as well at the combine. They both ran surprisingly slow 4.61 times in the 40-yard dash. The 5-11, 190-pound Purifoy only did six reps on the bench press, although he did have a vertical jump of 35.5 inches. At one point, Purifoy was thought to be a potential first-round selection. But with a shaky combine performance, he will likely slip into the middle rounds.
Roberson's stock took a hit as well. He did just eight reps on the bench and posted a 37.5-inch vertical leap. The other big question with Roberson is injuries. He missed four games last season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Somehow, Florida coach Will Muschamp has done a good job blocking out the Gator Nation seemingly tumbling down around him.
Only a couple months removed from an embarrassing 4-8 campaign that delivered the Gators' first losing season since 1979 and no bowl appearance for the first time in more than 20 years, Muschamp has stayed steady. He's a prideful man who breathes football and removed himself from last year's tumult almost immediately.
His job is very much on the line in 2014, but as Muschamp walks through Florida's football offices toward his own lavish hideaway, Muschamp's stride is steady, his head up. He greets an assistant with a massive smile before delivering a brawny handshake to a reporter. He's calm, yet still possesses an edge about him -- a certain endearing intensity. His office remains as tidy as any coach would allow, but there's no unnecessary clutter.
That's just the way he wants his coaching life as he enters a critical fourth season and spring in Gainesville. A year ago, he eyed a national championship after an 11-win season and a BCS bowl berth. Now, he's stitching together a squad mangled by injuries and self-doubt.
The hard-nosed, robustly built Muschamp, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Gainesville, insists that isn't occurring. Players are going through the process of improving, shutting out last season to get faster, stronger and turn their attention to 2014.
He knows that outside his program, negativity is pounding at the gates of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, demanding change. Some wanted him fired and everyone wants this storied program fixed. Muschamp, who has gone 22-16 during his three seasons at Florida, knows he must prevent that toxicity from touching his players.
"They understand what's out there," he said. "The biggest thing is to stay process-oriented in what we do and our approach.
"To me, more than anything, is focus in the now, not in the what if. We can't get into the what-ifs of life. Let's just get into the now, and that's going to help us as we move forward."
That's why workout intensity has surged and offensive players and coaches are learning a new scheme under a new coordinator. That's why the mentality is about getting better, not winning anything. Victories won't come without vast improvement, both physically and mentally.
"I think we're coming around as a team," said starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed most of the 2013 season with a broken leg. "I don't think we're coming around an individual or a new coach. I see a lot of guys who are embarrassed about last year and are ready to get back on track and win some games because we all know that the Florida Gators aren't supposed to be a 4-8 program."
Muschamp can see leaders forming. Adversity, including a historically humiliating home loss to FCS Georgia Southern and a seven-game losing streak to end 2013, pummeled this program last year. Through any sort of adversity this team has faced during his tenure, Muschamp said he's found guys he could really depend on. Last season might muddle the vision, but Muschamp sees the right pieces for a turnaround.
"It's kind of like when there's water in a boat," he said. "When the water starts leaking in the bottom of the boat, those rats float to the top and you start to see those rats. And those rats are not here anymore, so we need to move forward.
"When you start questioning their effort, that's when you start questioning the buy in. I never saw that [last season]. I see a lot of guys who have lot of pride about playing at the University of Florida and understand about competing and moving forward. We have a bunch of guys committed to this program."
That commitment stretches beyond players. Coaches are held accountable, too. For all the injuries Florida suffered, the absolute necessity for the Gators in 2014 is enhancing every aspect of the offense. That's why Brent Pease was replaced by Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator. The former Duke coach is installing more of a spread approach with more shotgun, tempo and zone-read in hopes of rectifying an offense that has ranked in the 100s nationally in each of Muschamp's three seasons.
Roper's scheme won't get away from Florida's rugged rushing approach, but it should help Driskel, who will be 100 percent for spring practice, be more comfortable, see the field better and be an actual throwing threat. It'll also help him use his legs more, an element that has always made Florida's offense more potent.
"Moving forward, we're in a better situation for them," Muschamp said of his offense.
Really, Muschamp feels that way about his entire team. The Monday following Florida's season-ending 37-7 loss to Florida State, Muschamp called a team meeting to discuss Florida's present and future and said he immediately felt his team's resolve and sensed the woe-is-me attitude disintegrating after delivering a "very to-the-point and matter-of-fact" message about the state of the program.
There's still too much to fix in Gainesville for one meeting and one offseason training regimen to handle, but the chemistry is evolving. Players are responding and appear to be quietly rallying inside the Swamp.
"We're going to bounce back from it," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Sometimes you need things like that just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody's humble, everybody's ready, everybody's a team guy. I'm really looking forward to it. It should be fun."
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This weeklong series continues with a look at one of the most talented wide receivers on the team.
6-foot-2, 201 pounds
Credentials: Robinson arrived at Florida a little more than a year ago as a much-anticipated early entry freshman. He was the No. 7 wideout in the nation and the No. 53 overall player in the ESPN 300. He got a head-start by going through spring practice and playing in the spring game, but expectations for his freshman season went through the roof after Robinson was a standout in fall practice.
How he fits: The tools Robinson brings are obvious. He has great athleticism to go along with good size, two much-needed traits in a wide receiver corps that has fallen far short of expectations since 2009. That's a long time that the Gators and their fans have been waiting for a big-time talent to emerge. Robinson has that kind of talent, but he couldn't get on the field consistently as a freshman and had just five catches for 23 yards. His work ethic and maturity were called into question, and he was suspended twice. Not a good start, but Robinson is clearly worth whatever extra attention the coaching staff is giving him.
Who he's competing with: It's not like Florida's entire wide receiver corps is devoid of talent, but the unit is very unproven and it lost two starters from 2013 in Solomon Patton and Trey Burton. Patton was a speedy jitterbug and as much of a deep threat as there could be in Florida's dysfunctional offense. But Burton was a possession receiver, so there's definitely playing time available for a big guy like Robinson who is capable of making plays all over the field. The Gators return starter Quinton Dunbar, another possession guy. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose will also be in the mix coming off a torn ACL last year. But Robinson's biggest competition might come from Ahmad Fulwood, another rising sophomore who outplayed and passed Robinson on the depth chart last fall. By the end of the season, true freshman Chris Thompson was also garnering playing time. Redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins will go through their first spring practices. While two other holdovers, Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, typify UF's situation at receiver -- there's depth and talent but little in the way of a proven threat. There's clearly opportunity for someone -- anyone -- to step forward and grab.
What needs to happen this spring: The Gators desperately need an explosive threat at wide receiver, someone they can get the ball to in space and then sit back and watch the fireworks. It has been a long time since Percy Harvin did that for Florida, but the bar isn't necessarily that high. UF coaches will settle for reliable pass-catchers who understand the scheme and can get open consistently. Robinson has to win people over this spring. If he can show the maturity he was lacking last season, he'll have plenty of chances to shine on the field. So if he can stay focused and learn the playbook, Robinson could be that breakout wide receiver Florida so badly needs.
Spotlight: Quarterback Jeff Driskel, 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, redshirt junior
The skinny: Despite what many might think about Driskel's limited time on the field in 2013, he showed flashes of growth before his leg injury against the Vols. Coach Will Muschamp points to the Miami game as Driskel's best passing game yet because of his ability to throw the ball downfield. He passed for 291 yards in that game, but also had two costly interceptions. Driskel hasn't lived up to the hype of being the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2011 class, but he's also about to work with his third offensive coordinator in his time at Florida. The good news for Driskel is that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's spread attack will have him in the shotgun more, which is similar to what he did in high school. Running more zone-read plays should also help him see more of the field and use his legs more. But he has to show that he's still a top leader on this team, he has to develop even better chemistry with his receivers and he has to make better decisions in the pocket. Driskel has gotten into a habit of getting careless with where he puts the ball and taking too long in the pocket. That can't happen if the Gators are going to rebound from a 4-8 2013 season. There's a lot of pressure on Driskel, and home fans turned on him at times in 2013. He's shaken that off, but wants to prove himself. He'll also get some good competition from true freshman Will Grier, who is already on campus, and incoming freshman Treon Harris, who ran a similar offense in high school to what Roper ran while at Duke. This is easily Driskel's most important offseason with the Gators.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
Spring practice begins at Texas A&M on Friday and will open throughout the SEC in the weeks to come. And while it’s a tad premature to be asking the question, we’re doing it anyways: Who will be the top defensive linemen in the league next season?
Chris Low, my colleague on the SEC blog, gave his pick for the best offensive linemen last week, and we figured it best not to leave out their combatants in the trenches.
With that said, here's our early take on the SEC's top-four defensive linemen going into the 2014 season. They're listed alphabetically:
Trey Flowers, Arkansas
He’s been doing his thing for a while now so you should know his name. Flowers hasn’t won many games in his career at Arkansas, but that’s not his fault. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end has quietly become a premier lineman in the league, beginning with a rookie campaign that landed him on the SEC All-freshman team in 2011. Last season, he was second-team All-SEC after recording five sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss. He also forced three fumbles, hauled in an interception and had two pass breakups. Bret Bielema didn’t have a lot of wins his first season at Arkansas, but convincing Flowers to return for his senior season was one of them.
To be fair, he does play some standing up at linebacker. But Fowler, at 6-foot-3 and 277 pounds, is all pass-rusher in coach Will Muschamp’s defense. The All-SEC second team selection led Florida with 10.5 tackles-for-loss and finished with 3.5 sacks. He’ll be asked to do more in 2014, and the former four-star prospect has the tools to pull it off. The lightning-quick rising sophomore will need some help, though. If a second pass-rusher emerges to take away double-teams, look for Fowler to take off.
Chris Jones, Mississippi State
You might not have known his name as a recruit, but Jones has worked his way into the conversation as one of the most talented young defensive players in the SEC. Dan Mullen and his coaching staff found themselves a gem at Mississippi State. Jones was a late bloomer in high school but came on quickly in college, developing into an SEC All-freshman team selection with the size (6-5, 305 pounds) to play on the interior of the line and the speed and burst to play outside at end. His seven tackles-for-loss and three sacks only serve to underscore his team-leading 10 quarterback hurries. For perspectives sake, the former No. 1 recruit in the country at the “School Up North” had just three quarterback hurries.
Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Yes, that player was Nkemdiche, the former No. 1 overall prospect in the ESPN 300. And while his numbers weren’t quite as impressive as his counterpart at Mississippi State (isn’t that rivalry going to be fun?) Nkemdiche did nothing to disappoint in his first season at Ole Miss. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound athlete showed why he was so highly thought of coming out of high school. He not only played both end and tackle for the Rebels, he also carried the ball at running back a few times. Eight tackles-for-loss and two sacks should just be the tip of the iceberg in his career under coach Hugh Freeze.
Four more to watch
Last fall featured a collection of some of the most productive SEC players who ever lined up under center -- led by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, 2013 Heisman runner-up AJ McCarron and the league's all-time leading passer Aaron Murray. Throw in South Carolina's Connor Shaw, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Missouri's James Franklin and Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels, and you have veterans who posted eye-popping numbers or who helped their teams ascend to rarely-seen heights in their respective programs' histories.
That has to help the league's defensive coaching staffs feel a bit more confident despite the thrashings their units absorbed over the last year or two, but I've got some bad news for them. Their problems are far from solved.
The last couple of seasons only continued a trend toward more explosive offense and away from the suffocating defense that was the SEC's trademark for many years. Just a few seasons ago, nearly every SEC defense ranked among the nation's top half in terms of yards allowed. That's no longer the case, as about half of the league's defenses trended toward the bottom in 2013 -- with Arkansas (76th), Missouri (81st), Tennessee (83rd), Auburn (86th), Kentucky (91st) and Texas A&M (109th) all ranking 75th or worse nationally in total defense.
Getting rid of some great quarterbacks will certainly help improve those numbers, but this is no longer the smashmouth, pound-the-run league that it once was. It's not as simple to defend what today's offenses throw at you as it was during the I-formation days of yore, and several SEC defenses have a long way to go before anyone would consider them competent at containing such attacks.
You have Gus Malzahn's ground-based spread at Auburn, which led the nation with 328.3 rushing yards per game and nearly carried the Tigers to a BCS crown. There's Missouri's version that featured one of the league's top rushing attacks and some dangerous (and huge) weapons at wideout. Kevin Sumlin's spread at Texas A&M obviously benefited from having Manziel as the triggerman, but the Aggies are still going to post big numbers even without Johnny Football.
And you've still got versatile offensive schemes such as those at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia -- all of which will start senior quarterbacks -- that will almost certainly continue to produce on the ground and through the air. Wild cards LSU, Florida and Mississippi State also have the potential to be impressive on offense depending on how their quarterbacks and young skill players develop.
Add it all up and it still looks like 2014 will still be a promising year for SEC offenses, even if it might not match the production from a period that featured some of the league's best quarterback talent in at least a generation.
That said, the league will still have its share of defensive stalwarts, and that group might even grow a bit larger this fall.
Alabama's defense is always one of the best, and a talented Florida team should take a step forward after injuries crippled it a season ago. South Carolina, LSU and Mississippi State all look to be impressive, while Georgia returns most of its starters and scored points in convincing Jeremy Pruitt to defect from Florida State to become its new defensive coordinator.
Those groups should be fine. If the league is to recover some of its defensive reputation, however, it will be a matter of the league's worst defenses suddenly getting their acts together -- and that will be a tall order since some of them were truly awful last season.
So to answer the original question, will SEC defenses improve this season? Sure, but don't expect a defensive renaissance to occur anytime soon. As long as the league features this many innovative offensive minds and explosive playmakers, the days where most SEC teams dominated the national defensive rankings are not coming back.
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This weeklong series continues with a look at an early enrollee expected to compete for a starting job at cornerback.
CB Jalen Tabor
6-foot-1, 188 pounds
How he fits: Florida desperately needed to sign an elite prospect at cornerback after two junior starters -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy -- decided to leave for the NFL. Two more veteran upperclassmen with experience at the position, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs, are also gone. The Gators got their man in Tabor, and early impressions have calmed UF coaches. "That's what they're supposed to look like," Muschamp said on signing day. "He's got really good movement skills, and ... watching him move around has been exciting."
Who he's competing with: With so many players departing, the competition at cornerback will be wide open and intense. Starter Vernon Hargreaves III became a star as a true freshman last season, so the bar has been set high (perhaps unrealistically so) for Tabor to follow suit. And while Hargreaves might prove to be a generational talent, the rest of the competition for Tabor could be a bit easier to surpass. Redshirt freshman Nick Washington returns from a shoulder injury and joins Tabor and fellow true freshman early enrollee Duke Dawson in the cornerback battle this spring. Rising junior Brian Poole took over as Florida's starting nickel back last season and could either stay there or contend for the open cornerback job. Washington, Dawson and Poole could also see time at safety. In fall practice the Gators will add three more signees, J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson and Deiondre Porter.
What needs to happen this spring: Tabor has already inspired confidence in offseason drills, but he'll need to show off his natural instincts at cornerback in spring practice in order to truly put those coaches at ease. With so many openings on UF's two-deep roster in the defensive backfield, it is essential that Tabor prove to be a quick study. It seems certain he'll play this fall, maybe even a lot if he nails down that starting job.
- AJ McCarron threw the ball well, Kevin Norwood ran better than expected and Cyrus Kouandjio failed to impress while also leaving with medical concerns. Alabama sent the most representatives to the combine and, as always, there were mixed returns from the top stars.
- Auburn sent a small contingent of players to the combine, but they made an impression. Tre Mason put up a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and Dee Ford made waves by declaring he's better than Jadeveon Clowney.
- Bret Bielema said in a released statement that his remarks on a recently deceased Cal football player, as it relates to the hurry-up no-huddle debate, were "unintentionally hurtful."
- Mark Richt went all of 2013 without a recruiting coordinator on staff. In speaking with the AJC, Richt explained why now is the right time for the Bulldogs to bring back someone for the coveted position.
- Former LSU wideout Jarvis Landry didn't do himself any favors when he clocked the slowest 40-yard dash time of any receiver at the combine. Given his highlight reel tape in college and the chance to improve his time at LSU's pro day, Landry might not be in too deep a hole, though.
- Former South Carolina cornerback Vic Hampton can't figure out why the NFL is sleeping on his quarterback, Connor Shaw. Asked why people are doubting Shaw's ability to translate to the pros, Hampton shot back, "Why?" and then explained that Shaw was "the toughest quarterback in the SEC" and a "winner."
- With spring football right around the corner, David Morrison ranked the size of each SEC program's rebuilding job for this coming season.
- Johnny Manziel's throwing coach George Whitfield has a bit of advice for NFL franchises concerning his client: "Don't lose sight of what and who he is. The dude's a world-beater."
- Student attendance has become a concern for Florida. Losing, obviously, could have contributed to the empty seats inside The Swamp, but that doesn't mean the Gators administration isn't looking into it.
- The plans for a stadium expansion at Ole Miss could come into view soon as the school has hired an architect to devise a plan that should culminate in a face lift and more seats at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
- Anyone who watched Missouri last season knew that Henry Josey could fly. The former Tigers' running back proved it at the NFL combine, running the third-best time in the 40-yard dash at 4.43 seconds, greatly helping himself in the process.
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This weeklong series kicks off with the player who always seems to start every discussion -- Florida's starting quarterback.
6-foot-4, 237 pounds
Credentials: Driskel has started 15 of his 20 career games at UF. Even though coach Will Muschamp has declared open competition at every position, Driskel's experience is why he is expected to quickly and easily win the starting job once again.
How he fits: Driskel is an excellent athlete for his size and has enough speed to outrun most defenders. His biggest question marks are in the passing game, where Driskel has completed 62.9 percent of his career passes for 2,271 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has promised to shape the offense around what Driskel does best. If that is indeed the case, look for Driskel to run a lot of zone-read option. It's something that he executed very well in 2012 with running back Mike Gillislee. Combine that with a traditional downhill running attack, and Roper appears likely to design a simplified passing game to complement that diverse rushing attack.
Who he's competing with: Once Tyler Murphy graduated and transferred after his junior season, Driskel had no true competition on the roster. Skyler Mornhinweg, who started the final three games of the 2013 season, is entering his third year at UF but is more of a pro-style QB and lacks arm strength. The real competition at quarterback is for the No. 2 spot. Mornhinweg will battle this spring with true freshman early enrollee Will Grier, who was the No. 4-rated dual-threat QB prospect in the country. Like Driskel, Grier has a strong arm and great athleticism. Another recruit, Treon Harris, will join the competition in fall practice. Harris gives the Gators another excellent athlete to fit Roper's offense.
What needs to happen this spring: Driskel needs to stay healthy; he has missed at least one game due to injury in all three of his seasons at Florida. Last year was the big one, a broken bone in his lower right leg that cost Driskel the majority of the season. Muschamp pushed the start of spring practice back 10 days in order to give Driskel extra time to get ready. His presence is extremely important as the Gators seek to turn around the bad vibes that came with a 4-8 record in 2013. Driskel also takes over as one of the team's unquestioned leaders. At this point, how he goes, so goes the team. For all of those reasons, he is the most important player to watch. As usual.
The driving force behind the rule is player safety, yet there has been no real evidence that up-tempo, hurry-up offenses lead to more injuries. Still, Bielema isn't backing down from his stance on the proposal and wants to make sure something catastrophic doesn't happen.
"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?
"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"
Shortly after news of the rule proposal broke, it was discovered that Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban voiced their concerns about the effects up-tempo, no-huddle offenses have on player safety to the NCAA committee.
Having one of the sport's most powerful figures backing such a proposal certainly gives it stronger legs, but it isn't winning over current coaches, who find the rule silly and want more evidence of it actually being a true concern for player health.
Even defensive-minded Florida coach Will Muschamp told ESPN.com on Thursday that he isn't in favor of the rule. While he ran more of a run-first, traditional pro-style offense during his first three years with the Gators, the addition of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has the Gators shifting to more of a spread, up-tempo look in 2014.
Muschamp said he did a study two years ago and learned that on average, four to six snaps a game come before 10 seconds tick off the game clock.
"You're talking four to six plays, come on," Muschamp said. "It's not that big of a deal. It's not about player safety. To me, it's funny that everybody wants to argue whatever their point is. It's not really about what's good for the game, it's about what's good for me, at the end of the day. All these hurry-up guys want to snap as fast as they can snap it, and the guys who don't hurry-up want the game slowed down."
To Muschamp, it's more about the administration of the game by the referees in games, who sometimes can't get set in time before a ball is snapped. That's the concern Muschamp has when it comes to evolution of offenses.
“"That's the issue," he said. "[Officials] have a hard time administering the game when it's moving that fast. There's times that they don't even have the chains set and the ball is being snapped. Is that good for the game? I don't think so, but I'm not making the decision. But it's comical to me to hear all these people come out and say their point of view and say it's what's best for the game. No, it's what's best for them; let's make that clear.
I feel like if you can train offensive players to play five or six plays in a row, you can train defensive players to play that many plays in a row, too.” -- Georgia coach Mark Richt
"As much as anything, it's the administration of the game that we need to help the officials. I'm not saying slow the game down, I'm just saying it's ridiculous that we can't even get the chains set and we're snapping the ball. Is that good for the game? We don't even know where the first down was? Where's the next first down? It's stupid, but that's just the way it goes."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier went as far as to call the new proposal the "Saban Rule" and hopes that "it's dead now." He even left a voicemail for Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who is the chairman of the rules committee, stating his disapproval for the rule.
"I just told him I was against it," Spurrier told USA Today. "It's ridiculous. Let's let everybody keep playing the way they've been playing."
Georgia coach Mark Richt stood by Spurrier, saying defensive players should be able to adapt to staying on the field longer, just like offensive players.
"I feel like if you can train offensive players to play five or six plays in a row, you can train defensive players to play that many plays in a row, too," Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald.
The Early Offer: March 12
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35