- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- This is it. The end of the road.
Over the course of 29 weekdays, GatorNation gave you 29 things you needed to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. Today is the final installment -- and it’s personal.
Here are my five predictions for Florida’s 2012 season:
The QB battle will continue throughout the season
The competition between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett has been close throughout spring and into fall practice. It seems highly unlikely that either will gain a significant advantage over the other -- barring injury, of course -- during preseason practice. Coach Will Muschhamp would love for one player to emerge as the clear-cut starter but likely will end up having a weekly competition to determine the starter.
Mike Gillislee will surpass 1,000 yards
The senior running back finally gets his chance, in an offense that’s a much better fit for his talents, and he will deliver. The Gators want to play power football and run the ball between the tackles and they’ll get that done with an improved offensive line and a healthy Gillislee, who has averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his career. Only seven players have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season at Florida, and nobody has done it since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.
The Gators will start the season 4-0 again
UF has a pair of tough road trips in its first four games -- at Texas A&M and at Tennessee -- but the Gators will be able to win those games and not just because of a defense that is expected to be among the best in the nation. Texas A&M has a new coach in Kevin Sumlin and he brings his wide-open, run-and-shoot attack to College Station. It’s not going to be a smooth transition, especially since Case Keenum isn’t pulling the trigger. It’ll be a fantastic environment in the Aggies’ first SEC game, but the offense will be a work in progress, and that gives the Gators the edge. Tennessee has one of the league’s best passing attacks with QB Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, but the Vols just can’t run the football. Plus, the coaching staff is in transition after a lot of turnover -- which many view as rats deserting a sinking ship. How will the Vols handle the tiniest bit of adversity? Will they fold or fight?
It’ll be another rough October
But it won’t be a winless one. The Gators play LSU and South Carolina at home, are on the road at Vanderbilt, and play Georgia in Jacksonville. LSU is one of the nation’s top teams and has a defense stocked with NFL talent (again), especially on the defensive front. UF hasn’t beaten a Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina team without Tim Tebow (0-3). Georgia is the favorite in the Eastern Division and has made the series competitive again. The easiest game in the month is at Vanderbilt, which hasn’t beaten Florida since 1988. All four games are winnable, but the Gators will split the month (wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt) and remain in the hunt for the division title heading into the Missouri game on Nov. 3.
The Gators won’t win the Eastern Division, but they’ll be close
Georgia’s schedule is considerably easier than Florida’s. The Bulldogs get Auburn and Ole Miss from the Western Division -- UF gets Texas A&M and LSU. Georgia will win the Eastern Division. Even without RB Isaiah Crowell, Georgia’s offense will be able to score plenty of points, and the defense has steadily improved under coordinator Todd Grantham. The Gators will finish one game behind the Bulldogs and will enter the 2013 season as the favorite in the division, especially if Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray leaves early for the NFL.