- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Hey, it's game week, which means our countdown is nearing its completion. The 2013 season begins in just three days.
One of the things that will shape the SEC championship race this season is how much Florida improves on offense, particularly in the passing game. The Gators finished last in the league a year ago in passing offense and threw just 13 touchdown passes. They should again be outstanding on defense, which will give them a chance in every game. But if they're going to win their first SEC title since 2008, they will need to rev up that passing game considerably.
The number on the docket today: 19.
Naturally, much of the focus on whether the Gators will take a step forward in the passing game has centered around junior quarterback Jeff Driskel. It didn't help that he was slowed this preseason after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Timing and practice reps are a huge part of generating a consistent passing game, but Driskel demonstrated this spring and summer that he was ready to make a big jump and should be fine. Several coaches around the SEC have indicated that they expect Driskel to be one of the more improved players in the league. The key will be how well the people around him play, specifically the Gators' receivers. They made very few plays down the field last season in the deep passing game. In fact, the longest scoring pass play last season in an SEC game by a returning player was Quinton Dunbar's 19-yard touchdown catch against Kentucky. The Gators return just two players who caught more than four passes last season -- Dunbar (36) and Trey Burton (18). Burton has lined up just about everywhere during his Florida career and will mostly play in the slot this season. The longest pass play, period, a year ago by a returning player was a 32-yard catch by Burton. So, again, it's crucial that the Gators find more big-play ability in their passing game, which is where freshman Demarcus Robinson comes in. He separates well from defenders and makes plays down the field. Another true freshman, 6-4, 200-pound Ahmad Fulwood, has also shown that he should be able to help, and Dunbar has played well enough this preseason to think that he could be in for a breakout season. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease wants to get the wide receivers and running backs more involved in the passing game this season. Tight end Jordan Reed (now in the NFL) was the go-to guy a year ago. The X-factor is Loucheiz Purifoy, who spent most of his time this preseason at cornerback. He's one of the most dynamic athletes in the SEC and could get a chance to catch a few passes on offense as well as intercept a few on defense. The feeling coming out of camp, though, is that the Florida receivers have made enough strides that Purifoy won't have to pull as much double duty as originally expected back in the spring.