Florida Gators: Kurt Roper

For the most part, surprises usually annoy me, but every once in a while, we find some things we like to call "pleasant surprises" that can actually generate smiles and or applause. For example, Auburn and Missouri were pleasant surprises in the SEC last season. The spider that fell from the ceiling and onto my shoulder the other day was not.

Follow me?

Well, resident college football expert Phil Steele has come up with his list of college football's 10 surprise teams Insider for the 2014 season. At the top of his list is Georgia, and Ole Miss and LSU also made the cut.

All three are excellent choices. Georgia has the offense to score close to 100 each week, but its defense has the ability to surrender that as well. Imagine if the defense caught up to a third of what the offense could do.

Ole Miss has playmakers on both sides of the ball, and I have the Rebels pegged as a dark horse to take the West this year. Can quarterback Bo Wallace finally put a consistent season together?

Then there's LSU, which has a load of talent sprinkled about, but we don't know who the quarterback is or who will catch the majority of passes at receiver. Also, is that defensive line going to step up this fall and generate a more intimidating pass rush?

So which other SEC teams could surprise us this fall? I figured I'd take a stab at it:

FLORIDA

If the Gators' offense can get it together under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, this will be a dangerous team when it comes to the East and the SEC as a whole. Florida already has the defense -- arguably the most talented in the SEC East -- but just has to find a pulse on offense. Will Muschamp thinks he'll have more than just a pulse with quarterback Jeff Driskel running a more comfortable spread attack.
  • Why Florida will surprise: Driskel will be a much more threatening quarterback using his legs more in the zone-read. It will open up the running game and will help take a lot of pressure off of what could be a more athletic Gators defense.
  • Why Florida won't: Have you seen that schedule? The Gators go to Alabama and Tennessee before home games against LSU and South Carolina and the annual trip to Jacksonville to play Georgia. Florida gets South Carolina at home, too, but has to travel to Florida State to end the season.
MISSOURI

Wait, the team that won 12 games and the East is in this category? Well, the Tigers aren't getting much love heading into the fall because of some key losses from last year's team. But some of those key spots are getting more than qualified replacements. The confident and experienced Maty Mauk takes over for James Franklin at quarterback, while potential stars Markus Golden and Shane Ray take over for Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Also, watch out for running back Russell Hansbrough.
  • Why Missouri will surprise: Mauk won't have any jitters taking over after starting for the month (and losing just one game) when Franklin was hurt last year. That defensive line could be really fun to watch with good experience and quality ability to keep up the harassment it displayed last season.
  • Why Missouri won't: Mauk is good, but who is he going to throw to? None of Mizzou's returning pass-catchers made more than 26 receptions last year. The loss of Dorial Green-Beckham won't be easy to get over. Two starters are gone at linebacker and the secondary is incredibly inexperienced.
MISSISSIPPI STATE

This team returns 18 starters, including a potential dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott. The defense is experienced, but vastly underrated. The attitude is different and the confidence is soaring in Starkville. This is the most talented team Dan Mullen has had during his tenure with the Bulldogs, and seven wins would be a considered a disappointment.
  • Why Mississippi State will surprise: Prescott did so much in so little time last season and is the ideal quarterback for this offense. Also, his top-five pass catchers from last year are back. The schedule also isn't too daunting, especially with Auburn and Texas A&M at home.
  • Why Mississippi State won't: With the way the schedule sets up, the Bulldogs could have seven wins by mid-November. We've seen this before. In 2012, Mississippi State started 7-0 before dropping three straight and five of its last six. For the most part, the better teams have had their way with the Bulldogs.
TENNESSEE

This team has to completely rebuild its offensive line and defensive line, but there's no doubt that this team has talent at all around and could be sneaky good. The quarterback position has to be figured out, but with receivers such as Marquez North and Josh Malone on the field, any quarterback should be happy.
  • Why Tennessee will surprise: The Vols have playmakers at receiver, running back, linebacker and in the secondary. While there are questions up front on both sides, Tennessee has a pretty good supporting cast around it. Running back Jalen Hurd could be a major player for the Vols.
  • Why Tennessee won't: Quarterback is a major issue, and that's before you look at a line with five new starters. The defensive line lost six seniors and four starters. There are no gimmes on the schedule in September, and road trips to Georgia, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and South Carolina won't help.

SEC recruiting scorecard

June, 6, 2014
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College football doesn't have an early signing period, yet, but that doesn't mean we can't get an early start on some recruiting news.

As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:

ALABAMA

2015 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.

ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)

ARKANSAS

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)

AUBURN

2015 verbal commitments: 15

Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.

ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)

FLORIDA

2015 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)

GEORGIA

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)

KENTUCKY

2015 verbal commitments: 9

Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)

LSU

2015 verbal commitments: 12

Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

2015 verbal commitments: 16

Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)

MISSOURI

2015 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)


OLE MISS

2015 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.

ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)

SOUTH CAROLINA

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.

ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)

TENNESSEE

2015 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.

ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)

TEXAS A&M

2015 verbal commitments: 13

Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.

ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)

VANDERBILT

2015 verbal commitments: 3

Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.

ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
By now we should have our legs about us. No more early season mistakes. Make sure the cooler is stocked, the oil has been changed and the GPS is fully updated.

If you’re just now getting on board, we at the SEC blog have been getting ready for the season by plotting out the top destinations every week. So far we’ve been to Houston, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma. Three weeks down, 11 more to go.

Let’s take a look at the best options for Week 4:

Sept. 20
Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)
Florida at Alabama
Northern Illinois at Arkansas
Troy at Georgia
Mississippi State at LSU
Indiana at Missouri
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Texas A&M at SMU

Alex Scarborough’s pick: Mississippi State at LSU

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDak Prescott and the Bulldogs will get their first tough test of the season when they visit LSU on Sept. 20.
Expect the hype for this game to be considerable. Mississippi State, barring a considerable collapse, should enter Baton Rouge, La., undefeated and ranked in the Top 25. If LSU survives its season opener against Wisconsin, it will be in the same boat.

With a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers on offense and a deep, veteran defense, the Bulldogs are a team worth keeping an eye on. The momentum Mississippi State gained from beating Ole Miss and Rice to end last season was huge. In a wide-open West, Mississippi State is in as good a position as any to make it to Atlanta, especially with its schedule. Early season games against Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama should be a breeze. In fact, I’d be concerned about playing down to the level of competition.

LSU will be a considerable obstacle, however.

Against LSU, we’ll see if Mississippi State is for real. Against a John Chavis-Les Miles defense, we’ll see just how good Dak Prescott is and how far Dan Mullen’s offense has come.

Along those same lines, we'll learn a lot about LSU's retooled defense and its overhauled offense, which features exactly zero returning starters at quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

This game should be a good one. And the fact that it will be played in the renovated Tiger Stadium only makes it that much more appealing. If it’s not a night game, and I don’t get to hear the P.A. announcer say, “It’s Saturday night in Death Valley,” I’ll be thoroughly disappointed. There’s not a better environment in all of college football, for my money.

Sam Khan’s pick: Florida at Alabama

After Florida's rough 2013 season, this game at first glance might not have much appeal. That's fair, but both teams are likely to head into this one unbeaten. It will be the Crimson Tide's conference opener after nonconference tilts against West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Mississippi, while Florida has dates with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky before heading to Tuscaloosa.

Florida's offense can't be as inept as it was last season, right? Kurt Roper's arrival as offensive coordinator should help the Gators improve vastly in that area and help quarterback Jeff Driskel make significant progress. The defense should be fine. Overall, as long as the Gators can avoid the rash of injuries they encountered last season, things are looking up for a sizeable leap in the wide-open SEC East standings.

Alabama is Alabama and will be one of the favorites to take the SEC title once again. But Florida -- if the Gators are playing well defensively -- will provide a good test for the new Crimson Tide quarterback, whether it be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker or someone else. The Tide have a new offensive coordinator, too -- Lane Kiffin -- and there will be plenty of eyes watching to see how the offense develops under Kiffin.

If the Crimson Tide roll to an easy victory, it will probably come as no surprise. But as we saw last season with the Gators' fall and Auburn and Missouri's rise, things can change quickly, even in the span of one year. Alabama is likely to be a heavy favorite, but if the Gators get off to a good start and show signs of life during their early season slate, it should provide some intrigue in the buildup to this early season conference clash.
It's May, so we might as well look to the future while we take one last look at the past in order to figure out the present.

Illustrious colleague Mark Schlabach already helped us out with the future portion by posting his Post-Spring Way-Too-Early Top 25. In it, he has seven SEC teams ranked:

2. Alabama

4. Auburn

8. Georgia

10. South Carolina

13. LSU

14. Texas A&M

19. Florida

It's interesting to see Florida ranked inside the top 20, especially after last year's 4-8 season, but there's no way the offense will be that bad again or the injury bug will strike so hard again, right?

With Schlabach having fun with another set of rankings, we thought we'd have a little fun of our own and put together some post-spring SEC Power Rankings! Nothing like starting a little debate right after spring practice.

Let's see how perfect these are:

1. Auburn: Quarterback Nick Marshall is throwing the ball better, meaning the offense could be even more potent in 2014. The defense was much better this spring, with players reacting more than learning. You have to beat the best before you can pass them in the rankings.

2. Alabama: This team is motivated by last season's disappointing final two games. The defense lost valuable leadership and talent, but a hungry bunch lurks on that side. Alabama could be waiting on its starting quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- and if the spring game was any indication, the Crimson Tide certainly need him. The good news is that a wealth of offensive talent returns.

3. South Carolina: It was a quiet spring for the Gamecocks, who should yet again own an exciting offense, headed by Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and a deep offensive line. There are questions on defense, but the Gamecocks could have budding stars in defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and linebacker Skai Moore. There could be more stars lurking, too.

4. Missouri: The loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hurts an inexperienced receiving corps, but there is some young talent there and no questions at quarterback or running back. The defense should be solid up front, but the secondary has plenty of questions.

5. Georgia: The defense as a whole has a lot to work on, but the offense shouldn't miss a beat. Aaron Murray might be gone, but Hutson Mason looked comfortable this spring and has a ton to work with, starting with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley at running back and good depth at receiver.

6. Ole Miss: Coach Hugh Freeze didn't even think he'd be talking about bowl games until his third year. Well, he's entering his third year and has a team that could seriously contend for the SEC West title. Bo Wallace's shoulder is finally healthy and the defense has a lot of potential, especially along the line.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return 18 starters from last year's team and could be dangerous this fall. If quarterback Dak Prescott can be a more complete quarterback, this offense could explode. Mississippi State owns possibly the SEC's most underrated defense.

8. LSU: We really don't know what we'll get out of this group. There's plenty of athleticism to go around, but once again the Tigers lost a lot of talent to the NFL. There's excitement about the secondary, and freshman Brandon Harris could be a special player at quarterback.

9. Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all gone. The offense has a bit of rebuilding to do, but there are young stars in the making on that side of the ball. The defense didn't take many hits from graduation, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there.

10. Florida: The Gators were healthier this spring, and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought excitement and consistency to the offense. Will any of that translate to the season? Not sure at this point. The good news is that the defense shouldn't drop off too much after losing some valuable pieces to the NFL.

11. Tennessee: The excitement level has certainly increased in Knoxville, and it looks like Butch Jones is building a strong foundation. The defense still has a lot of unknowns, and while it appears the offensive talent has increased, play at quarterback is key and that position is still a little unstable.

12. Vanderbilt: After three great years under James Franklin, Derek Mason is now responsible for continuing the momentum in Nashville. Like Franklin, Mason arrived with no head-coaching experience, but he has a great base to work with. It could take a while for the offense to get going, but there's promise in the defensive front seven.

13. Arkansas: Slowly, Bret Bielema is getting guys to adapt more to his system. Brandon Allen separated himself at quarterback but will have to groom someone into being his go-to receiving target. There is still a lot that has to improve on a team that had one of the SEC's worst offensive and defensive combinations last season.

14. Kentucky: Coach Mark Stoops is certainly more excited about Year 2 in Lexington with some players emerging on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats still have to find more consistency in the playmaker department, and they have a quarterback battle on their hands. The secondary is a total unknown at this point, and leaders have to emerge at linebacker and defensive tackle.

As always, no guarantees in the SEC

April, 30, 2014
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Answers rarely come in abundance in the spring. Football answers anyway.

In the SEC, spring practice has come and gone again this year. And as usual, there are things we think we know and really don’t. There are things we’re sweating and probably shouldn’t be. And then there are those things that sort of have a way of burying themselves until the real lights come on in the fall.

“I don’t know of many championships that have been won in the spring,” said Steve Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida and is still pushing to win one at South Carolina. “You find out some things about your team, but there’s a lot you don’t know.”

What is known, at least in the realm of SEC football, is that this is the first time since 2006 that the league has exited a spring without one of its schools being the defending national champion.

Florida went on to win it all during the 2006 season, igniting a streak of seven straight national championships for the SEC -- a streak that was broken in January when Florida State rallied to beat Auburn in the final seconds at the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesNick Marshall wasn't even on Auburn's campus last spring. Now he might be the best quarterback in the SEC.
Auburn is as good a pick as any from the SEC to rejoin the national championship equation this fall, and a big reason why is a quarterback nobody knew much about this time a year ago on the Plains.

Nick Marshall wasn’t even on campus for spring practice last year; he was finishing up junior college. But he was easily one of the most improved players in college football last season with his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making the big play.

Now, with a spring practice under his belt and an entire season in Gus Malzahn’s offense, Marshall figures to be much more in 2014 than simply a dynamic athlete and adequate passer.

He might be the best quarterback in this league.

“I think the big thing is just being more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “You can see him in the pocket. He’s just more under control. His balance is good. His eyes and his progression are good, so you can tell he’s really improved.”

So whereas there are zero questions surrounding who will play quarterback at Auburn, the Tigers’ Iron Bowl rival, Alabama, went the entire first half of its spring game without scoring a touchdown.

Granted, sometimes the real mission in a spring game is not to show too much or get anybody hurt. But there was no hiding the Alabama quarterbacks’ struggles in that game, nor the fact that the guy who’s probably the favorite to win the job -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker -- was a spectator at the game. Coker will be on campus next month.

The quarterback position, period, was loaded in the SEC last season, and several coaches agree that some of the defensive numbers that skyrocketed a year ago may come back down to normalcy next season.

At least six schools -- Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- head into the summer with their quarterback situations not completely settled.

And at five of those schools, there’s a decent chance a true freshman or redshirt freshman could end up winning the job or at least sharing the duties in the fall.

At Kentucky, true freshman Drew Barker is making a bid for the job. True freshman Brandon Harris had a big spring at LSU, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is right in the mix at Tennessee, as is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary at Vanderbilt.

At Texas A&M, true freshman Kyle Allen is competing with sophomore Kenny Hill for the starting job, although Hill ended the spring indefinitely suspended per athletic department policy after being arrested and charged with public intoxication.

So talk about the great unknown.

Then again, wasn’t it just two springs ago that some guy named Johnny Manziel was coming off an arrest of his own and was nothing more than one of the four candidates to replace Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies’ starter?

Things can obviously change pretty dramatically come fall.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp and Jeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jeff Driskel and coach Will Muschamp have a lot of pressure to prove Florida's 2013 season was not a sign of things to come.
For Florida and Will Muschamp, they need to change. The Gators, coming off their worst season since 1979, are determined to show that last season’s 4-8 finish was nothing more than an embarrassing hiccup and not a sign that the program is spiraling downward.

Muschamp, with the pressure squarely on, feels much better about his offense coming out of the spring. He hired Kurt Roper away from Duke to run the offense, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy again and back to his comfort zone under Roper.

Driskel’s supporting cast, including the offensive line, needs to be better, but there’s no question Roper will play to Driskel’s strengths next season.

“We’re going to bounce back,” Driskel said. “Sometimes, you need things like [the 2013 season] just to realize where you need to be. You can tell that everybody’s humble, everybody’s ready, everybody’s a team guy, everybody’s a team player.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be fun.”

Unpredictable, too.

Sort of like how everybody had Missouri winning the East and Auburn winning the West leaving the spring a year ago -- a pair of teams that won two league games between them the season before.

“The more you’re around this league, the more you realize how small that margin is between being a team that’s pretty good and a team that wins a championship,” said Dylan Thompson, South Carolina’s fifth-year senior quarterback.

“You have to approach every game with the same amount of focus, which is easier said than done. It’s a constant battle, but you have to stay focused the whole ride.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Will Muschamp a simple question and most often you'll get a simple answer.

Like, what are you looking for in the early days of spring practice?

"Just effort," the head coach said last week as Florida held its first three practices.

Trying to turn the page from a nightmarish 2013 season, it's especially important to keep things as simple as possible this spring. Like all teams getting back onto the field, they're putting a lot of work into fundamentals, but Florida also has the complicated task of introducing a new offense.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxWith a new offensive line coach, D.J. Humphries and the Gators linemen are changing lineups.
"That's the balance," Muschamp said. "If you have priorities 1 and 1A, it would be the installation and the confidence of our offense, and then field goal kicking. Right now, those are priorities for me."

With Week 1 in the books, it’s clear that the coaching staff will take its time and gradually unveil the new offense. For now, practice is much more about the basics of technique, tempo and lining up properly.

"I wouldn't get too involved with where people are," Muschamp said. "We're trying to install the offense. I've been through it defensively. You don't want to get too dialed in personnel-wise right now. You're really kind of just trying to teach the offense. As we move through it then we will start narrowing down positionally what we're trying to do with certain guys at certain positions and what fits them best.

"I think the best coaches I've been around, they put their guys in situations to be successful. Don't ask a guy to do something he can't do or he's not as accomplished maybe that somebody else can do. …"

The fact of the matter is that Florida still has to do a lot of evaluations. This is the first opportunity for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to see what he's got, see players' strengths and weaknesses and see which players have been able to translate their work from offseason meetings into something positive on the field.

For instance, in the early days of spring practice Florida quarterbacks have thrown a lot of passes to the tight ends. But with one true freshman seeing his first action and two seniors who combined for four catches last season, it's likely that Roper is trying to figure out how much they can handle. It's not necessarily a true indication of what fans can expect in the finished product this fall.

The same goes for new offensive line coach Mike Summers, who watched film to assess his players before practice began and is now trying various combinations to find out what works best. Florida's first team has most often been junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, junior left guard Trip Thurman, senior center Max Garcia, junior right guard Tyler Moore and senior right tackle Chaz Green. But senior right tackle Trenton Brown, who started the last five games in 2013, has gotten his chances with that unit as well.

It's a work in progress, and on both sides of the ball there are constant evaluations being made by the coaching staff.

"You've got to take it from the meeting room to the field," Muschamp said. "That's part of our evaluation. And then we're going to have to make game day adjustments. We have to make practice adjustments. If you can't make the adjustment out there, you're not going to make it in front of 90,000 people. That's part of the evaluation, and I tell our coaches all the time to make some adjustments. I'll walk up to [defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin] and say, 'Let's switch how we're doing this' in the middle of practice. And if kids can't handle it, that's part of our evaluation."

The Gators expect to have a whole new look on offense this fall, but there's a very different feel to this spring for UF's well-established defense. That gap between the two sides of the ball is one of the big challenges for Florida's coaching staff this spring.

"When you get into spring, you want to install together, which we do offensively and defensively," Muschamp said. "But there's a lot of give and take on what we can and can't do, because what we don't want to do is get too far ahead of the offense. We're in the third year of our [defensive] scheme, and our older kids have a very good understanding of what we are and who we're going to be. ...

"Our number one priority -- and [Durkin] understands that and our defensive players understand that -- is the installation of the offense. I've explained that to our entire football team. They understand that."

Ask Muschamp the simple question of what he's evaluating at this point, and his expectations are clearly much higher for the defense.

"Always from the guys that are back on the defensive side of the ball [it's] retention," he said. "The guys on the offensive side of the ball, with what we've been able to give them, did a good job of taking it to the field for the most part. But good enthusiasm, and guys are excited about what we're doing. We're pleased with that."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Florida coach Will Muschamp about rebounding from an atrocious 4-8 2013 season and he’ll nearly bowl you over with an almost immediate answer.

“We gotta get better on offense,” he said.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel, now healed from a broken fibula, is immersing himself in learning a new scheme.
Mushchamp’s straight to the point and doesn’t really have to add much else. The Gators lost seven straight games with the SEC’s worst offense and one that ranked as one of the worst in the entire country, averaging 316.7 yards per game, 4.8 yards per play and 18.8 points per game.

The Gators had the unfortunate task of trying to manage their way through the SEC with a rash of injuries that ended the seasons of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel during the third game of the season and starting running back Matt Jones a few weeks later. Before the season even began, starting right tackle Chaz Green was lost for the year with a torn labrum. Players dropped like flies, and Florida’s offense sputtered to an embarrassing finish.

Muschamp has to be realistic about his evaluation of the 2013 team –- specifically his offense -– but he refuses to lean too heavily on the injury crutch.

“We could have managed it better -- done something differently, changed more,” Muschamp said. “There are a lot of things that I look back and thought we could have done this, but at the end of the day, sometimes it was hard.”

This spring, Muschamp wants to see his offense trend upward with a new offensive coordinator and what should be a more spread attack with much more shotgun sets. And it has to. Florida can’t win any games this spring, but it can lose some if players don’t buy in and meticulously take to the offensive overhaul that spring practice has essentially become in Gainesville.

Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and former USC offensive line coach Mike Summers were hired for both a quick and long-term fix for Florida's offense. To Muschamp, the main objective this spring is to install Roper's new offense and immerse players in a new scheme that carries so much weight in terms of getting this program back on track.

Roper helped direct a Duke offense that averaged 100-plus more yards a game than Florida and nearly doubled the Gators in points per contest. The Blue Devils also set a school record for total touchdowns (54) and became the first team in program history to post 20-plus rushing and passing touchdowns in the same season.

“Just from watching Duke last year, they’re going to run inside-zone; that’s the play,” said Driskel, who has successfully returned from a broken fibula. “I don’t think we’re trying to hide that. We’re going to have a lot of quick pass plays to get the ball out of our hand.”

It isn’t exactly what Driskel ran in high school, but it suits him better because he’s a shotgun quarterback. He can see the field better and he can utilize his legs better when he’s farther away from the line of scrimmage to start a play.

During their 11-win 2012 season, the Gators were more successful on offense when Driskel used his feet more on zone-read plays. Driskel hopes that continues under his third offensive coordinator in four springs.

“I’m real excited about going into the no-huddle-type offense,” he said. “It’s really easy to get into a groove as a quarterback when you’re in the no-huddle offense, and we have the players to be successful [with it].

“When you’re under center, you’re not a run threat. When you’re in the gun, the defense has to account for the running back and the quarterback as run threats.”

But Driskel has to have someone -- or two -- to catch his throws. As Driskel continues to develop as a more fluid passer, he’ll have to generate better chemistry with a receiving corps that returns one receiver with 20-plus catches from a year ago in redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar (40) and one with a touchdown reception (Ahmad Fulwood, 1).

Muschamp sees potential in Dunbar and Fulwood, who will be a true sophomore this year, and is waiting to see how guys like Chris Thompson, Andre Debose, Demarcus Robinson and Letroy Pittman improve during a critical spring.

The fourth-year Gators coach also says he has the players in place to be successful and believes that Roper can mold the offense around their abilities. That’s why the offense is different. That’s why the ground-and-pound theme of this offense has been tweaked. That’s why Roper was hired.

“Since he’s been here, the biggest thing I would say [he brings] is a positive energy for the players, a positive energy for the staff,” Muschamp said of Roper.

Now, Muschamp needs that positivity to turn into production.
Say this for Jeremy Pruitt: He knows what a national championship defense looks like.

He'll try to bring that same dimension to Georgia as the Bulldogs' first-year defensive coordinator, and the fans voting in our SportsNation poll obviously think he has what it takes.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SMIAt Florida State, Jeremy Pruitt oversaw the No. 1 scoring defense in the country last year.
With nearly 10,000 votes cast, Pruitt was the runaway winner as the most significant assistant coaching addition in the SEC. He received 43 percent of the vote, while Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin finished second with 19 percent of the vote.

Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was third with 16 percent of the vote, followed by LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes with 15 percent and Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith with 7 percent.

Pruitt, who will also coach the secondary at Georgia, has been a part of a national championship staff for three straight seasons. He was Florida State's defensive coordinator last season, and the Seminoles led the country in scoring defense (12.1 points per game). Before going to FSU, Pruitt was the defensive backs coach for three seasons at Alabama, and the Crimson Tide won BCS titles in both 2011 and 2012.

The good news for Pruitt is that he has just about everybody returning from last season's Georgia defense. On the flip side, the Bulldogs took their lumps a year ago defensively and finished 11th in the SEC in scoring defense against league foes. They gave up an average of 31.8 points per game and allowed 30 or more points in six of their eight league contests.

With safety Josh Harvey-Clemons booted from the team last month, Pruitt's job could get even tougher depending on what happens to sophomore safety Tray Matthews, one of four Georgia players arrested earlier this week on theft charges. The Bulldogs were already lean at safety.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Will Muschamp had his druthers, every Florida practice would take place under a veil of such secrecy that even the NSA would be jealous.

The Gators coach simply believes there's a competitive advantage to keeping team affairs close to the vest.

[+] EnlargeMuschamp
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFlorida coach Will Muschamp's first instinct is to close practice during the spring, but he's reluctantly opening up access this year.
"I feel in the first year of a coordinator it is (an advantage), quite frankly," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of things that get out there. It's not the same as it was 15 years ago. Everybody wants to say, 'This is what we used to do,' but it has changed a lot. I do believe there is some competitive advantage from that standpoint.

"There are things you do pick up, regardless of what coaches in our league say, from people on the Internet and different things we're able to have access to. You do see things. Everybody's spring game is televised now. I think, in that situation, we need to go do what we do because our guys need to get turns and reps as many times as possible with just 29 practices in the fall before our first game. There's no question you can pick up things from what people do."

But shutting out curious observers is a luxury Florida can no longer afford.

Muschamp closed all spring practices in 2011, his first year. Fans used to seeing much more under previous coach Urban Meyer voiced their displeasure. Two practices were opened in 2012, and UF did the same last spring.

Now, coming off a 4-8 season that frustrated and turned off a lot of those fans, Muschamp has had to shift his priorities. Starting with their first spring practice Wednesday at 3:35 p.m. ET, the Gators are opening their doors. Nine of Florida's 15 practices, including the spring game, will be open to the public.

"I think it's best for our program at this time," Muschamp said.

Clearly there is hesitation. Muschamp is comfortable showing off his defense and special teams, which haven't changed much and are available for any opponent to watch on game film. But Florida is installing a new offense this spring under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper.

There is no doubt that sensitive information such as formations, core principles, personnel groupings and tendencies will get out.

But the show must go on.

"Kurt and I sat down when I made the decision a couple weeks back, and I said, 'You have any issue with us opening practice?'" Muschamp recounted. "He said, 'I don't have any issue with what we're doing.'"

The move to open things up is a compromise, to be sure, but Florida will still do its best to keep its most important work private this spring. Other than the annual Orange & Blue Debut that wraps up spring practice on April 12, Muschamp said he'll keep all Saturday scrimmages closed.

As for the rest of practice, the added attention and the scrutiny that surely comes with it, Muschamp is keeping a sense of humor.

"It's kind of like offense -- you do the same things, you're going to get the same results," he said with a smile. "I've got some friends in town that are big Gator fans and they want to come to practice. I'll let them come. Nah, we've got great fans and I'm very appreciative of their support. I've had people reach out to me and say, 'Hey, we'd like to be able to have more access to the team.'"

This spring, at least, they'll get their wish.
We took an expansive look earlier on Thursday on the SEC blog at the coaching changes in the league.

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Who is the SEC's best assistant coach hire for 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 10,290)

Vanderbilt had the most, including the only head-coaching change with Derek Mason coming over from Stanford. Georgia was second, as the Bulldogs have an entirely new defensive staff.

Who was the most significant assistant coach addition in the SEC for the 2014 season? We'll let you tell us by going to our SportsNation poll and voting.

Interestingly enough, the guys on the Big Ten blog conducted a similar poll, and three of their five choices are moving over from the SEC -- Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to Michigan, Taver Johnson from Arkansas to Purdue and Chris Ash from Arkansas to Ohio State.

Four of the five candidates we've come up with in the SEC are coordinators. Go cast your vote, and we'll go over the results in the coming days.

Here's a quick look at the five candidates (listed alphabetically):

Jeff Grimes, offensive line coach, LSU: Grimes spent last season at Virginia Tech as the Hokies' offensive line coach, but he's no stranger to the SEC. He was Auburn's offensive line coach from 2009-12 under Gene Chizik and a part of the Tigers' 2010 national championship staff. Grimes, a 20-year coaching veteran, will also assume the role of running game coordinator at LSU. The Tigers return four starters in the offensive line.

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Alabama: Kiffin and Nick Saban may seem like an odd pairing to most, but Saban has long respected Kiffin's mind for the game and his feel for calling plays. He's also a proven recruiter. Kiffin returns to the coordinator ranks after three head-coaching stints. He spent the past three-plus seasons at USC before being fired and was at Tennessee for a season (2009) before that. Kiffin was also the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 season before being fired.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary, Georgia: Pruitt is back in the SEC after spending last season as Florida State's defensive coordinator. His FSU defense led the country in scoring defense in helping the Seminoles to the national championship. Pruitt, a finalist for the Broyles Award last season as the nation's top assistant coach, was the defensive backs coach at Alabama for three seasons (2010-12) and has been a part of three straight national championship staffs.

Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Florida: After a long association with David Cutcliffe, Roper moves back to the SEC to try and pump some life into a Florida offense that has struggled under head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators have never finished higher than 10th in the SEC in total offense under Muschamp. Roper spent the past six seasons as Duke's offensive coordinator. The Blue Devils set a school record with 54 total touchdowns last season. Prior to going to Duke with Cutcliffe, Roper spent all of his time in the SEC with stops at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary, Arkansas: Smith spent last season in the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebackers coach, but his previous 14 seasons were spent in the collegiate ranks. He was at Rutgers for four seasons and promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. His defense that season was ranked fourth nationally in points allowed (14.2). Smith was the defensive coordinator at Maine before joining the Rutgers staff. He inherits an Arkansas defense that finished 12th in the SEC in scoring defense in 2013, allowing an average of 30.8 points per game.
The only head-coaching change in the SEC following this past season was at Vanderbilt, where Derek Mason took over for James Franklin.

That's down from four head-coaching changes the previous year. In fact, Mason will be the 38th different head coach to coach in a game for one of the current SEC schools since the start of the 2004 season.

Even in the volatile world of the SEC, that's a ton. But change is a part of this league's fabric. With 11 of the 14 head coaches making $3 million or more per year, there is no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Some would argue there's not even a four-year plan.

[+] EnlargeRoper
Jeff Barlis/ESPNFlorida hopes new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will help improve its anemic offense in 2014.
Since the end of last season, we've also seen several changes in the assistant-coaching ranks in the SEC. The five coaching staffs that will return intact next season are Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.

One assistant, Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, left for a head-coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. His former colleague with the Hogs, Chris Ash, left his post as co-defensive coordinator for the same job at Ohio State.

Georgia's entire defensive staff has a new look, triggered largely by Todd Grantham's move to Louisville as defensive coordinator. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt replaces Grantham along with three other new defensive assistants.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has his fourth different offensive coordinator since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Lane Kiffin, who's no stranger to the SEC after his turbulent 14 months as Tennessee's head coach in 2009, will call the Tide's plays in 2014.

One of the most critical hires was at Florida, where offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes over from Duke with the mission of resurrecting the Gators' offense.

Here's a rundown of the coaching changes (head coaches and position coaches only; number of new coaches in parentheses):

ALABAMA (2)

Who's in?

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bo Davis, defensive line

Who's out?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Rumph, defensive line coach
Greg Brown, secondary

Other moves

  • Kevin Steele moves onto the field as inside linebackers coach and will serve as special assistant to the head coach. He was the Tide's player personnel director last season.
  • Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary after coaching linebackers last season.
ARKANSAS (3)

Who’s in?

Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary
Clay Jennings, secondary
Rory Segrest, defensive line/specialists

Who's out?

Chris Ash, defensive coordinator
Charlie Partridge, defensive line
Taver Johnson, secondary

Other moves

  • Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.
FLORIDA (3)

Who’s in?

Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Summers, offensive line
Coleman Hutzler, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Brent Pease, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Davis, offensive line
Jeff Choate, special teams/outside linebackers

GEORGIA (4)

Who’s in?

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary
Tracy Rocker, defensive line/weak-side linebackers
Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers/special teams
Kevin Sherrer, strong-side linebackers/nickel backs

Who’s out?

Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
Chris Wilson, defensive line
Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers
Scott Lakatos, secondary

KENTUCKY (1)

Who’s in?

Craig Naivar, special teams/safeties

Who’s out?

Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams/safeties

LSU (2)

Who’s in?

Jeff Grimes, offensive line/running game coordinator
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams coordinator

Who’s out?

Greg Studrawa, offensive line
Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1)

Who’s in?

Brian Johnson, quarterbacks

Who’s out?

Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

TEXAS A&M (1)

Who's in?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's out?

Marcel Yates, co-defensive coordinator/secondary

Other moves

  • Jake Spavital will call plays in 2014 as offensive coordinator. He was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
  • Clarence McKinney moves back to running backs after calling the plays last season as offensive coordinator.
VANDERBILT (9)

Who’s in?

Derek Mason, head coach
Karl Dorrell, offensive line/quarterbacks
David Kotulski, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Marc Lubick, receivers
Keven Lightner, offensive line
Gerry Gdowski, tight ends
Brett Maxie, secondary
Kenwick Thompson, outside linebackers
Frank Maile, defensive line

Who’s out?

James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/running backs
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Herb Hand, offensive line
Josh Gattis, receivers
Brent Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Sean Spencer, defensive line
George Barlow, secondary
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of our week-long series predicting what's ahead for Florida this spring.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Let's face it: Winning football games at Duke commands attention.

So when Will Muschamp went looking for someone undaunted by the challenge of resuscitating Florida's offense, Duke coordinator Kurt Roper and his long résumé of success in the South made a lot of sense.

The hire was met with instant approval from none other than Gators icon Steve Spurrier, the Blue Devils' coach from 1987-89 who left Durham, N.C. to take the reins at his alma mater.

"They finally figured it out," Spurrier said last December. "You have to go to Duke to get football coaches."

Yes, Florida created some buzz when it hired Roper, but few players knew who he was. The timing of his last game calling plays for the Blue Devils worked out perfectly, as Gators players and fans tuned in to see Duke's explosive offense give an SEC defense fits (albeit against Texas A&M's secondary, which had been a season-long sore spot).

[+] EnlargeRoper
Jeff Barlis/ESPNThe intensity of Kurt Roper's style and his pace of offense will cause a period of adjustment for the Gators.
After another season of malfunctioning offense at UF, Roper's exhibition was an air show by comparison. It bought the new coach a ton of credibility, and he needs every ounce of it to help his new players believe that a return to respectability in 2014 isn't an impossible mission.

Florida has ranked among the worst offenses in the 123-team FBS for all three of Muschamp's seasons. To pull off such a dramatic makeover, the Gators need a something of a guru to put their faith in.

Roper can be that guide who leads the offense out of the wilderness, but he's not a miracle worker, and the 180-degree change won't be apparent in a matter of three short weeks of spring football.

What Roper will do this spring is lay a foundation. He'll identify his best players and put them in the right positions to succeed. He'll simplify things for the rest of his role players, and he'll oversee some reclamation projects, as several overlooked players will get new chances to contribute.

Like Spurrier, Roper's mentor David Cutcliffe, the head coach at Duke, had plenty of praise for the Gators' new coordinator. He specifically lauded Roper's experience with building and organizing an offense and running a fast-paced practice.

"The attention to detail in training quarterbacks, the attention to detail in preparing an offensive team to play a game, practice habits, it's the total package," he said right after Roper was hired. "I think you have the systematic approach, and everything's covered. You try to take the players offensively when your job is the offensive coordinator, you put them in every circumstance they can possibly be in in a game, in practice, and build confidence through great execution. That will be one of [Florida's] great strengths; that they will be extremely well-prepared coming out of practice.

"His style would be intensity, tempo and quality of repetition. From the minute they hit the field it's gonna be intense. I wouldn't call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination. So it's gonna be what we call 'treat the ground like a hot stove.' If you hit the ground you'd better get up running. And you know by the time they get on the field until they get off they're gonna be moving and getting a bunch of quality reps. So I would call it very intense."

To call this spring a success, Florida's passing game needs to only show gradual improvement and a grasp on the fundamentals of the new schemes Roper is installing.

No one should expect the Gators to suddenly operate as quickly as some of the nation's most established up-tempo offenses. At Duke, Roper said he wanted plays called "as fast as possible," somewhere between 10 and 22 seconds into the 40-second play clock.

That might not be realistic right away at UF. But Florida can certainly get a lot faster than its 2013 pace, which resulted in an average of 68.9 offensive snaps per game.

Auburn showed last season that a lot can be accomplished in one year with a new offense, as the Tigers went from an SEC-low of 60.5 plays a game in 2012 to 73.8 last season.

If Roper's offense can achieve even half of that improvement in pace, the Gators could very well have a legitimate offense this fall. Even a modest return to middle-of-the-pack status among FBS offenses would be something to brag about.

The stakes will be extremely high in 2014, with Muschamp under scrutiny. But the rewards for success will be even higher for an offensive coordinator whose star is clearly on the rise.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has the tall task of reviving Florida's offense, and he'll be well compensated for the effort.

Roper, who was hired by UF in January after leaving the same job at Duke, will make $590,000 a year for three years, plus a $100,000 signing bonus and a longevity incentive of $100,000 if he's still with the Gators on Jan. 31, 2016.

Florida on Wednesday released terms of the finalized contracts of their three new football coaches -- Roper, offensive line coach Mike Summers and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler. Summers, who coached the offensive line at Southern Cal last season, signed a two-year contract for $190,000 a year. Hutzler, who coached special teams at New Mexico the past two seasons, signed a one-year deal for $230,000. All three assistants also received $10,000 bonuses from the school's apparel contract with Nike.

In other news, the school announced earlier this week that it will open eight spring practices to fans -- in addition to the April 12 spring game. It's a significant change of policy under head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators are clearly hoping to win back some fans after going 4-8 in 2013. Florida had no open practices his first spring in 2011 and only two open practices in each of the past two springs.

UF also announced Muschamp's annual spring speaking tour with eight engagements around the state of Florida as well as two appearances by Summers and one each by Roper and Hutzler.

SEC's lunch links

March, 6, 2014
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Five SEC programs will have opened spring practice by the weekend -- including Ole Miss on Wednesday, Tennessee on Friday and LSU on Saturday. Not surprisingly, the news is picking up a bit around the league.

Here's a quick taste:

• Georgia players are buzzing about how an entirely new set of defensive coaches will give the Bulldogs a fresh start this spring.

• With Auburn's spring practice approaching on March 18, AL.com's Joel Erickson takes a look at the Tigers' quarterback depth chart.

• Quarterback was a subject of discussion at Alabama on Wednesday, too, as Nick Saban said that his staff will be in no hurry to name a starter.

• Florida on Wednesday released the contracts for the three new coaches on Will Muschamp's staff – including a three-year deal for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

• LSU's quarterback competition is front and center, as the Tigers prepare for their first spring practice on Saturday.

• DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are among the candidates to become Ole Miss' backup quarterback behind Bo Wallace.

• Kentucky announced its ticket distribution plan for the April 26 Blue-White spring game.

• Missouri revealed on Wednesday that five players with eligibility remaining have “decided to graduate and not play football going forward” according to a team spokesman.

• Multiple reports on Wednesday night declared that Texas A&M has dismissed safety Kameron Miles.

• Vanderbilt assistant Vavae Tata will not coach with the Commodores in 2014 after pleading guilty on Wednesday to a February DUI charge. His long-term status with the program remains unclear.

• South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Clemson's Dabo Swinney are united on at least one point -- their relief that college football's rules committee withdrew a controversial 10-second rule designed to slow down college offenses.

• The Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown looks at five questions facing the Tennessee football team as it prepared to open spring practice.

• Bret Bielema covered a variety of subjects in speaking with the media at Arkansas' pro day.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has every reason to be bitter.

From immediately being compared with all-everything stud Tim Tebow as the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect more than three years ago to now working with his third offensive coordinator, Driskel has been thrown around like a rag doll.

Now, Driskel is entering his fourth spring at Florida coming off a leg injury that ended his 2013 season.

But he doesn't have time to pity himself. He doesn't pout or whine. He's focused on taking on yet another playbook and righting a Florida ship that won just four games last season.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Courtesy of Jeff DriskelWhen the cast came off, it was immediately evident that Jeff Driskel had lost a lot of muscle in his right calf.
"I'm not upset I had to go through it. I'm not the first person to get injured," Driskel told ESPN.com last month. "I'm excited to get back, and I think that when I get back, I'll be right where I left off."

Just looking at Driskel, you can sense things are different. There's no anxiety in his eyes, and his shoulders are slumped. He jokes with a stadium staffer and giggles like a child. He leans back in a chair, legs propped on a desk with his vertical ankle scar visible to the world.

It's a mark that keeps Driskel, who will be a redshirt junior this fall, humble and hungry. It's a constant reminder of how much was taken away when Tennessee defensive lineman Marlon Walls awkwardly landed on Driskel's right leg, breaking his fibula in Florida's third game.

"You wouldn't imagine how much muscle you lose in six weeks in a cast," Driskel said with a laugh as he showed a reporter a picture of his puny right calf.

"It looked like all bone. The bone was sticking out of my skin, is what it looked like. And it was all flopping down here (points to where his calf muscle grew back)."

Driskel powered a one-legged scooter around campus and constructed a makeshift scooter ramp out of 10 computer mats just to get to the front door of his house, which had a pebble driveway.

Fixing a sandwich and taking a shower went from routine to grueling.

"I didn't know how hard it was to go to the kitchen when you can't walk," Driskel said. "It was tough. I had to plan out when I had to go to the bathroom and go to the kitchen. A lot of Netflix."

Driskel said he finished the hit FX show "Sons of Anarchy" in about three weeks, but left "Friday Night Lights" alone because, well, that "Texas forever" scene gets everyone.

When Driskel wasn't scooting or lounging in front of the tube, he was with teammates. He attended film sessions, even with no games to play. He couldn't be on the sideline because he was on crutches, so he made sure he advised backups Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg as much as he could during the week. He also attended every quarterback meeting, even though it wasn't a requirement.

When he finally got into a walking boot seven weeks after surgery, he started going through countless hours of rehab, which started with simply flexing his foot for various periods of time. He returned to the gym a month and a half after his cast came off.

"You wouldn't imagine how stiff you'd get staying in the same spot for six weeks," Driskel said.

"I did just about every calf exercise that you can imagine to get back to where it is now."

Coach Will Muschamp said Driskel is ahead of schedule and has been cleared for spring practice, which was pushed back so he would be 100 percent.

"You could tell after he got hurt that he was determined, he was ready to work," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Now, during the offseason, he's ready to work. You can tell, he's trying to get everybody together and have that bond with his receivers.

"I can tell he's taking another big step, and I think he's going to be fine."

But skepticism lurks. His three interceptions in three starts last season, especially two crippling ones in a bad loss to Miami, overshadow his 10 wins from 2012. He's thrown for more than 200 yards just three times in his career and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game only twice.

Driskel is aware of the negativity, but he copes by ignoring and concerning himself with only the people around him.

And those people have seen major strides being made. Muschamp points to the "nine explosive passes" he had against Miami (291 yards) and the comfort he showed running the offense last season.

There have been ugly parts to Driskel's career, but Muschamp has seen enough growth to know what he is capable of.

"Jeff's progressed well as a quarterback and we're going to do more things that fit him well and what he does," Muschamp said. "I'm excited about the year that he's going to have."

That excitement comes from knowing that Driskel will be running more of a spread offense with more no-huddle this fall under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. It fits Driskel's talents and will open up his running ability out of the shotgun, where Driskel said he has a more natural feel and can be more effective with his arm and legs.

More zone-read is coming, meaning the onus will be on Driskel to be more efficient. More runs and passes will go through him, and he welcomes that. He wants the pressure and he wants the responsibility.

"The quarterback is the most important person on the offense," he said. "Being asked to carry the ball more is something that is fun for me, that's what I've grown up doing. I can't wait to do it this fall.

"Hopefully I won't be gimping around."

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