Florida Gators: Skyler Mornhinweg

Editor's note: We're breaking down the Gators' two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We'll cover every position and offer a glimpse into the future.

QUARTERBACK

The starter: Junior Jeff Driskel

The backup: Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg

The rest: True freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris

[+] EnlargeWill Grier
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Will Grier enrolled early in a bid to become the Gators' No. 2 quarterback.
The lowdown: It wasn't much of a competition. With loads of talent and experience, Driskel is locked in as Florida's No. 1. He had coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper buzzing about how well his passing and running skills fit the Gators' new spread offense. Behind Driskel, there is an enticing competition brewing. After being pressed into duty as a redshirt freshman last year, Skyler Mornhinweg has an edge with his experience level. He is Driskel's backup for now, but few expect Mornhinweg to hold off two true freshmen who have obvious advantages in athleticism, arm strength and comfort in the spread. Florida coaches believe they struck gold in signing Grier and Harris, either of whom could push Driskel if he returns in 2015. For now the focus is on winning the No. 2 job this fall and possibly earning game action in a change-of-pace role. Grier got a head start by enrolling in January and participating in spring practice. He's got prototypical size, arm strength and a very quick release. Harris won't be far behind this fall, though. He won big at the highest level in the ultra-competitive Florida high school ranks and spent most of his spring break in Gainesville observing practice and sitting in on meetings. Harris and Grier expect to challenge for the backup job in fall camp and should have an entertaining battle for the next couple of years.

The future: Since the Tim Tebow era ended, the Gators have had a lot of ups and downs in recruiting quarterbacks. With excellent prospects such as Grier and Harris in the fold, Florida finally has the quality and depth it's been seeking for so long. Now the challenge is to keep it up. Recruiting for the 2015 class hasn't been easy because a few top prospects have been discouraged by the presence of Grier and Harris. But the Gators have made a high priority of signing at least one QB every season. They got their wish with a commitment from four-star dual-threat prospect Sheriron Jones, a lanky athlete from Moreno Valley, Calif., who fits well in a spread offense. It's imperative that Florida signs a prospect with the talent to push for the starting job in a couple of years and ensure the Gators have quality depth and competition in the future in case either Grier or Harris transfers.

Post-spring questions for Florida

April, 29, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Soaring temperatures and a lack of football tells you that spring is over in Florida. It's time for the long days of summer.

The Gators will work out in the weight room, delve deeper into playbooks and conduct drills with each other. Fifteen signees are expected to enroll in June, several of whom come with legitimate hopes for immediate playing time.

With more than three months before Florida practices again, there are still several questions that must be answered. Here are a few:

[+] EnlargeMornhinweg
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSkyler Mornhinweg will try to hold off a couple of true freshmen for the right to back up Jeff Driskel.
1. Who's the backup QB?

Jeff Driskel is entrenched as the starter, but with his history of injuries, the Gators must prepare their backups like never before.

When Driskel was lost for the season last September, whole sections of the UF playbook went with him. That can't happen again, and it doesn't seem that it will, because Florida has more depth at quarterback than it has had in a long time.

True freshman Will Grier split reps throughout the spring with third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, and true freshman Treon Harris will enter the fray in August. The prevailing thought is that Grier is more talented and athletic than Mornhinweg and got a leg up on Harris by enrolling early.

But overlooking Mornhinweg, who started the last three games of 2013, would be a mistake. The coaches valued his experience and decision-making enough to cut into Grier's development this spring, and Mornhinweg rewarded them by showing improvement in the passing game.

He doesn't have Grier's arm or Harris' mobility, but Mornhinweg could easily be Driskel's primary backup.

2. What happens if the injury bug strikes again?

Injuries devastated Florida's 2013 season, but 2014 has yet to be a whole lot better.

Seven scholarship athletes missed all of spring recovering from injuries. Two others were limited to just a few days of practice in non-contact jerseys. Six more players got hurt during practice and missed time.

The good news? Every one of those players is expected to participate fully in fall camp. The bad news? Florida still hasn't developed enough depth to overcome losses at key positions such as quarterback, defensive tackle or cornerback.

One big injury could hurt in more ways than one, so other than simply having some better luck this fall, the Gators will need their young backups to prove they can handle larger roles.

3. Will UF finally have a dangerous receiver?

It's a stunning statistic, but Florida hasn’t had a receiver record 600 or more yards in a season since 2009 when wideout Riley Cooper had 961 and tight end Aaron Hernandez had 850.

A lot will depend on the new scheme, Driskel's improvement in accuracy and decision-making, as well as the offensive line's ability to pass block. But if all of those things happen, the Gators believe they finally have the wide receivers to make hay.

Senior Quinton Dunbar, a solid possession receiver, is the leader on and off the field. A trio of sophomores -- Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson -- brings size, speed and much-needed athleticism. Andre Debose, back for a sixth year of eligibility after a torn ACL in 2013, is a talented wild card.

The numbers might not match those of Cooper or Hernandez, but Florida will be thrilled with even one pass-catching threat after four years of going without.

4. What can the Gators expect out of the backups on both lines?

If you listened to the coaching staff, the answer after spring was not much. A familiar refrain from head coach Will Muschamp and Co. was that there was "a huge drop-off" in effectiveness between the first and second units on the offensive and defensive lines.

That wasn't a motivational ploy. It's a real problem.

On the offensive line, the Gators have one backup -- junior Trip Thurman -- they appear comfortable with. Given the injury histories of the starters, a lack of depth here could be the biggest concern on the team. Florida will need reserves Drew Sarvary, Cameron Dillard and Kavaris Harkless to improve rapidly. Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson and true freshman Nolan Kelleher must come back from the injuries that cost them the entire spring, or the O-line could see another revolving-door season.

On the defensive line, Florida needs more from redshirt freshmen DTs Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley, who showed flashes of talent but little consistency. This could be an area where UF benefits from some heralded true freshmen who arrive in June. Gerald Willis III, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark could all be in the mix on the D-line in fall camp.

5. Will there be enough carries for all of the running backs?

The players say yes, but that was during a spring that didn't include former starter Matt Jones and true freshman Brandon Powell, both out with injuries.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor looks to be the starter, senior Mack Brown is a reliable backup, and redshirt freshman Adam Lane emerged as another weapon. But none of the three has breakaway speed. Although they run with similar styles, UF's backs believe they will all play. Duke's offense in 2013 supports that notion, as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper employed four tailbacks throughout the season.

"Our offense is definitely not stingy and we're going to pass the ball around and use each other in different situations," Lane said. "I wouldn't say it's really roles, but in some situations some fit better."

Still yet to be resolved is where Powell and Jones fit. Powell has speed and wiggle and could be a change-of-pace back. Jones will get a look at the B position (typically manned by tight ends and fullbacks), where he could do damage as a pass-catcher and get more playmakers on the field at the same time.

"But he's going to play the running back positon as well," Muschamp cautioned.

Ultimately, the Florida offense will still be predicated on running the ball, so it's possible five backs could share the load.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nobody does optimism quite like a football team in springtime. Especially one with a lot to prove.

As Florida made its way through spring practice, a majority of players who spoke to the media predicted that 2014 will be a whole lot better than 2013. Even coach Will Muschamp got into the prognostication business.

"We’re going to have a good team next year," he said. "We just need to continue to progress."

Now that the Gators' spring practice is in the rear-view mirror, it's time to re-evaluate our spring predictions with the benefit of hindsight.

Prediction No. 1: Florida will have a whole new attitude

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was satisfied with the progress the Gators made in spring practice.
OK, so we started off with a softball. It wasn't much of a reach to say the Gators would change the "woe-is-me" tune that permeated through an awful 2013 season. Nevertheless, a new attitude was extremely important in setting the tone of spring practice, building team chemistry and creating an environment for learning and development.

Leaders who were projected to step forward, such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., actually did more than was expected. Fowler became an authority, at one point taking two teammates to task over academics. Driskel was a focal point, gathering his teammates before the spring game to spur them into action.

The biggest thing that Muschamp needed to see this spring was belief in the concept of the new offense. He got that and a more.

Prediction No. 2: Kurt Roper will lead an improved offense

This seemed to be another easy one to fulfill, as the Gators' offense really had nowhere to go but up.

The biggest surprise of the spring might have been how the offense looked on the first day of practice. It was fast-paced, generally well-executed and coherent in its design.

In Roper, Florida fans were promised a fresh offensive mind. Four weeks later, he might have been the biggest new star to emerge.

The best move Roper made was to simplify everything and make his offense easy to learn. Aside from designing and implementing a scheme that best suited the players, Roper also did well in coaching his new pupils. He was equal parts patient and assertive and quickly established himself as a respected authority figure.

Prediction No. 3: New leaders will emerge on defense

This kind of thing happens every year at Florida, where the defense produces NFL players like a factory assembly line.

[+] EnlargeTaylor
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Michael Taylor aims to lead by example for the Florida defense.
The names might have been slightly off, but the final outcome was as expected. Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jabari Gorman, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis are the players to whom teammates look for tone-setting and guidance.

Taylor, a senior linebacker and a respected veteran, pointed out that UF had too much of the wrong kind of leadership in 2013. He and his defensive teammates did very little talking this spring and made few predictions. The emphasis is now on leading by example, so it's no surprise to see that all of Florida's aforementioned leaders are reliable performers.

There is an obvious air of confidence on this defense, despite a heavy dose of youth. Some of these guys are going into their fourth year in Muschamp's system, which has made players like Taylor practically into coaches on the field.

Prediction No. 4: Roper's offense will showcase the QBs

This one didn't fully bloom to fruition, as Florida focused on basic installation for most of the spring and then added more complexity late.

Driskel, a junior coming back from a broken leg, showed that he was both healthy and clearly ahead of his competition. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Will Grier split second-team reps. All three wore noncontact jerseys and were limited in the running game, which is likely to be the foundation of the offense.

It should also be noted that Muschamp is extremely cautious about revealing details of any new schemes to the public. The overall result was a pretty vanilla version of a no-huddle spread offense. In the spring game, however, each of the three QBs had their moments.

"I really have looked at Practice 1 to Practice 15," Muschamp said after Saturday's game. "Have those guys improved every day? Yes. I think the answer is yes. Those guys have made subtle and sometimes huge leaps of improvement."

Prediction No. 5: Spring standouts will emerge

Ugh. This happens every year. Some poor player lights it up and is crowned the star of spring practice ... only to never be heard from during the regular season.

There were a lot of names -- some hits and misses -- mentioned in our final prediction blog.

Running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane were excellent in camp, but Florida might very well use four tailbacks this fall, which would greatly diminish the possibility of a star rising.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Alvin Bailey was solid but unspectacular and did not climb the depth chart as predicted. He's behind at least six other wideouts.

Junior cornerback Brian Poole did not capitalize on his experience to pull away from his competition this spring. Young defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Nick Washington and Marcus Maye performed well, but the secondary remains unsettled heading into the summer.

Offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Trenton Brown had very strong showings, and Brown did indeed move to guard, where he started the spring game.

The other side of the line was up and down. Fowler met everyone's expectations, but young reserve defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick were regularly pushed and prodded by coaches and teammates to improve their focus and stamina.

There was no singular star player this spring, and that could be a good thing.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In keeping with tradition, Florida concluded a month of practices with a feel-good scrimmage in front of thousands of fans and called the spring a success.

Coming off of a terrible 2013 season, the Gators desperately needed changes and positive feelings. They got that and more.

Florida satisfied head coach Will Muschamp's top priorities by installing a new offense, developing confidence, discovering some new players and rehabilitating some old ones.

Here's what else happened this spring:

[+] EnlargeWill Grier
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Will Grier showed a quick release in Florida's spring game.
Quarterbacks in command: From the opening of the first practice, it was obvious the QBs had studied hard and grasped the no-huddle spread offense. They led the installation process and made enough progress with fundamentals and basic principles to add wrinkles throughout the spring. Junior Jeff Driskel clearly separated himself as the starter in camp and had the strongest arm. He got into a good rhythm in the spring game and showed what the offense can do (against much of Florida's first-team defense). The battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot was a draw. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg improved as a passer throughout the spring and split reps with true freshman Will Grier. The much-anticipated prospect didn't disappoint, as Grier showed he has an extremely quick release and a bright future.

Deeper at receiver: The Gators have been painfully short of playmakers on offense in recent years, but the numbers are tilting in their favor. Florida will lean heavily on senior starter Quinton Dunbar and three talented sophomores who gained valuable experience last season in Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. The three combined for 13 receptions in Saturday's spring game. Robinson led the way with five catches for 53 yards, including a 31-yard, highlight-reel touchdown. The biggest proof of concept for the offense was that it did what everyone promised it would -- get the ball to players in space.

Still some concerns: After years of departures to the NFL, Florida has a very young secondary. There's plenty of talent, but it appears likely that at least one of the true freshman cornerbacks -- Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson -- will start either at corner or nickel. There will also be two new starters at safety, with an open spot still up for grabs opposite senior Jabari Gorman. ... The issue Muschamp harped on the most throughout the spring was a "huge" drop-off in ability from his first team to the second team on the offensive and defensive lines. Mental and physical stamina is part of the problem. ... Florida still isn't getting much offense from its tight ends and fullbacks. "We’re still looking for that consistent playmaker at the B-position," Muschamp said Saturday. He did single out true freshman DeAndre Goolsby for praise. ... Though there weren't any major injuries this spring, the bug still looms. Florida on Saturday held out two key starters on defense in defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. There was no reason to expose them to risk, and can you blame a team that lost one of its best players in Ronald Powell to a torn ACL in the spring game two years ago?

Kick in the pants: Muschamp said he's talked to a lot of mental conditioning coaches to try to help place-kicker Austin Hardin iron out his mechanics. Hardin, who struggled mightily in his first season as UF's kicker, made all four of his field-goal attempts in the spring game and won his coach's praise for achieving some consistency. Hardin will still have to fight off a few walk-ons who will try to take his job.

Position changes: Senior offensive tackle Trenton Brown moved inside to guard, performed well as a starter in the spring game and will stay there. At 6-foot-8 and 361 pounds, the Gators love his ability to be a people-mover in the running game. ... Florida gave junior Trip Thurman a long look at guard throughout the spring before giving him second-team snaps at center in Saturday's game. ... Redshirt freshman Antonio Riles moved from defensive line to offensive guard midway through spring. Florida coaches like his athleticism and said he looked natural on the O-line, but the real reason for the move might have more to do with three highly touted defensive line signees who are coming this summer: Thomas Holley, Gerald Willis III and Khairi Clark. ... Redshirt freshman Marqui Hawkins wasn't making much of an impact at wide receiver early in the spring so he was moved to safety, where he played some in high school. Florida felt good about its numbers at receiver and needed more help in the secondary.

What's next: The Gators are on their own as far as workouts, as veteran players typically organize drills throughout the summer to stay sharp. Driskel said he plans to throw a lot and work on timing with his receivers. Muschamp said it best in outlining the next phase for his players: "Still got a way to go, 112 days until we report. Our older players understand the importance of this time of year. Understanding in all three phases, taking the next step schematically, being in shape, being ready to go and understanding what it’s going to take to be successful and win in this league."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have completed seven of their 14 practices, and the spring game is less than two weeks away.

Before Florida opens another practice to its fans today, let's go over a few developments.

Fast-moving offense: It's all anyone wants to talk about. The Gators are installing a new offense, and so far the key word is speed. The players have learned and adapted quickly. The tempo is much faster than at any time in the last three years. Players look fast again.

Give much of the credit to new coordinator Kurt Roper, who simplified everything and really made the most of his meeting time before practice began.

"You spend the time you’re allowed in the meeting room trying to create that understanding and showing it to them on tape," he said. "You’re trying to put your install together that makes sense for them to understand it. The biggest thing for us is we try to create lining up simpler than most people. I think because of that, that's part of what you see. We're able to get lined up in a hurry."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp's future probably rides on Florida's offensive improvement.
Head coach Will Muschamp, whose future probably rides on Florida's offensive improvement, has noticed the difference and says he's very pleased.

"[They're] really play fast, physical," he said. "We’ve really limited negative plays to this point. … Our guys have got a lot of confidence, playing real good tempo and having a lot of fun."

Driskel separates himself: All three of Florida's top QBs -- junior Jeff Driskel, sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Will Grier -- have had their moments. They've shown a solid grasp of the offense in its early stages of installation, made solid decisions and delivered the ball to receivers in stride.

Muschamp has not yet named Driskel the starter but did say he has "distanced himself at this point" while the other two have split second-team reps.

Driskel, however, has a lot of work yet to do. While his arm strength has been on full display and he appears recovered from the broken leg that ended his 2013 season, Driskel is getting a crash course in quarterback fundamentals from Roper.

"Sometimes he’s overstepping a little bit which causes him to sail the ball," Muschamp said. "That’s been something that Kurt is really working on. Kurt is a really good fundamental quarterback coach."

D-line shuffle: One of the players who has been singled out most often for praise is sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., son of the former Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker.

Muschamp said Cox has gotten stronger, put on a few pounds and has "made really remarkable improvement" in his technique. That has allowed the Gators to slide junior Jonathan Bullard inside to defensive tackle, where the coaching staff believes he can thrive as a pass rusher on obvious throwing downs.

Because senior defensive tackle Leon Orr is sidelined this spring with a broken wrist, it bears watching whether these plans stick in the fall.

Florida has a number of talented young linemen starting to make an impact. But it remains to be seen if redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley, Jay-nard Bostwick, Antonio Riles and sophomore Joey Ivie are ready to do more than just provide quality backup minutes.

"I feel like the depth is there," Muschamp said. "We've got some good players."

Veteran line with one exception: The makeup of Florida's first-team offensive line has been fairly consistent with junior D.J. Humphries at left tackle, junior Trip Thurman at left guard, senior Max Garcia at center, junior Tyler Moore at right guard, and senior Chaz Green at right tackle.

Thurman is the newcomer, the only player on that first unit who has never made a start.

"He hasn't played as much," Roper said, "but he's out there working hard to be a good player."

Starting would be quite a step forward for Thurman, who stands 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. The fourth-year player has seen very limited playing time in just 15 career games as a reserve.

Overall, Muschamp and Roper have been pleased with the play of their O-line. There have been some issues with Garcia and backup center Cameron Dillard handling shotgun snaps, but the coaches expected some bumps in the road.

This is a unit that struggled mightily in pass protection last season but could benefit greatly from Roper's uptempo spread scheme.

Kickers still need work: Before practice started, Muschamp identified the kicking game as one of his top two priorities of the spring. Florida's place-kickers were abysmal last season and likely cost the team a couple of wins, while starting punter Kyle Christy slumped badly enough to force the Gators to burn freshman Johnny Townsend's redshirt.

So far this spring, the two punters have been locked in a battle that has featured some colossal moonshots and no clear starter.

"We've got two guys that have Sunday legs," Muschamp said of their potential as pro prospects. "They both kick very well."

The Gators are still struggling with field goals, however, and it seems unlikely that sophomore Austin Hardin or senior walk-on Francisco Velez will do enough to win the job outright. Their competition could continue throughout the fall with other walk-ons getting chances as well.

"The kicking situation is still not what it needs to be," Muschamp said, "but Austin is hitting the ball more consistently the same way."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle in the rearview mirror, the long college football offseason is well under way. But fear not. Spring football is just around the corner.

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.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxOnce again, all eyes will be on Florida QB Jeff Driskel this spring.
QB Jeff Driskel
Fourth-year junior
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.

Florida QBs starting over in new system

February, 10, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It all starts with the signal-caller.

No one on the football field touches that ball as much as the quarterback. Therefore, as QBs go, so goes the offense. And as the Florida Gators have found out the hard way in recent seasons, strong defense and special teams alone cannot win games consistently.

The quarterback position has been a sore spot since the departure of Tim Tebow, who was quickly cast in a bronze statue outside the stadium after a legendary career. It's hard to follow that act, and the Gators have seen a lot of poor production since 2009.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesDespite missing most of 2013 with a broken leg, quarterback Jeff Driskel is the odds-on favorite to start for the Gators next season.
With that, quarterback is first up in our week-long series of the Gators' top positions that have room to improve.

Battling for No. 1: Junior Jeff Driskel is a survivor. In 2012, he fought for the starting job with Jacoby Brissett, who then transferred to NC State. And last season, Driskel fought injury, suffering a broken leg early enough to result in a medical redshirt. Florida coach Will Muschamp has declared all starting positions open after a 4-8 season, but this is one job that is expected to be decided early and with little drama.

Driskel runs well and is a very good athlete for his size (6-foot-4, 239 pounds), but hasn't shown a good feel for the passing game despite a strong arm. Whether it's accuracy, reading defenses, pocket presence or decision-making when the pocket collapses, Driskel has plenty of room to improve. Florida's great hope is that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who has an excellent track record working with QBs, will be able to strike a balance in creating an offense around Driskel's strengths while developing him as a passer.

Gators fans can expect plenty of running, as usual, so Driskel will be handing off and keeping the ball on zone-reads. But the true test of offensive progress in 2014 will be how much improvement Roper can coax out of Driskel in the passing game.

Strength in numbers: When Tyler Murphy graduated and transferred to Boston College, Florida lost an experienced and athletic backup who fit the offense Roper is likely to build. Skyler Mornhinweg, who will be a third-year sophomore this fall, started the last three games of the 2013 season under difficult circumstances. But because Mornhinweg did not display a strong arm and is better suited for a pro-style offense, Muschamp and the Gators turned to the recruiting trail to search for depth at the position. Florida's backup quarterback in 2014 is expected to be one of two true freshmen.

New on the scene: As the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country, Will Grier was one of the headliners in Florida's 2014 class. Expectations are high, and because he is already on campus and will compete this spring, Grier has a good chance to grab that No. 2 spot. But shortly after he was hired, Roper made sure to recruit another prospect. The Gators were able to flip another highly regarded dual-threat prospect, Treon Harris, from Florida State on national signing day last week. Like Grier, Harris is an exciting athlete who truly can threaten a defense with his arm or legs. The battle to be Driskel's backup should be a fascinating tilt this fall.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the quest to rebound from a 4-8 season, Florida is getting its first wave of reinforcements.

Eight recruits are enrolling early, as classes began this week. Seven have already arrived in Gainesville, while surprise commit Jalen Tabor will enroll by Monday.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNAs the nation's No. 15 prospect, Jalen Tabor is the top recruit in Florida's class.
The new signees can expect to play as true freshmen if recent history is a guide. Last season, only one early enrollee redshirted -- linebacker Matt Rolin, who spent the year recovering from a torn ACL.

The Gators have 25 scholarships to fill in their Class of 2014. That includes 15 seniors, three early departures for the NFL and seven transfers. All of the transfers came from the offense -- two quarterbacks, three offensive linemen, a tight end and a fullback. So Florida can restock most of those positions with a QB, three OL and a TE among the early entrants.

Here's a scouting report and projection for each new Gator.

CB Jalen Tabor
Scouting report: When he flipped to Florida on Thursday morning, Tabor instantly became the top recruit in the Gators' top-10 class. The nation's No. 15 overall prospect has got great size for a cornerback (6-foot-1, 188 pounds), and the speed and athleticism to match up with receivers of all shapes and sizes. Tabor is ultra-competitive and ultra-confident. His coverage skills are a perfect match for Florida, which plays more man-to-man than most schools.
Impact in 2014: When the Gators lost cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins, a huge void was created in the secondary. Armed with immediate playing time, head coach Will Muschamp went hunting for a starter and bagged Tabor. Florida doesn't exactly need a true freshman to start opposite Vernon Hargreaves III, but an elite prospect who can do so sure gives them comfort. Having Tabor enroll early is an ideal situation for both parties.

QB Will Grier
Scouting report: At 6-3 and 181 pounds, Grier is considered a dual-threat quarterback. His foot speed and quickness are probably underrated, but that's because of his strong arm and the monster numbers he posted through the air in high school. In the pocketm he shows good vision, decision-making and the ability to put touch on the ball or throw with zip. The No. 2-rated QB in the nation, Grier has the mental makeup to handle high expectations at Florida.
Impact in 2014: Grier has a very good chance to leap over rising sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and assume backup duties. But before he gets that chance in spring football, Grier has a lot of work to do in the weight room and in studying with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. There isn't another recruit who is more likely to take important reps in practice.

DB Duke Dawson
Scouting report: A true defensive back, Dawson has the athleticism to play corner and the size (5-11, 197) to play safety. He can handle bigger receivers as well as play in the slot. He shows advanced coverage technique and instincts, thanks in part to working with former Gator standout Keiwan Ratliff.
Impact in 2014: Florida clearly has a big need at cornerback with three upperclassmen departing so Dawson could get a look there. But if he ends up at safety, it might be harder to see early playing time. Still, he has the size and speed to make an impact on special teams right away.

DE Taven Bryan
Scouting report: It's not often the Gators go to Wyoming to pull a recruit, but Bryan made a strong impression during a summer camp, and he is the No. 1-ranked prospect from his state. Coaches were impressed by his explosiveness and motor, but it remains to be seen which side of the ball Bryan will end up on.
Impact in 2014: At 6-4, 250, Bryan has some growing to do if he's going to play in SEC trenches. There's a good chance he'll redshirt, but first he'll have the benefit of spring football to determine if he can stick at DE or move to OT.

OL Nolan Kelleher
Scouting report: He already looks the part of an SEC offensive lineman at 6-5, 310 pounds, and Kelleher has the nasty attitude to be a road-grader. With his long wingspan and solid footwork, however, he could eventually play tackle with some coaching.
Impact in 2014: Enrolling early should benefit Kelleher tremendously, as he has the size and run-blocking chops to make Florida's thin two-deep roster. There are needs all over the OL so he'll have a chance to chip in as a freshman.

OL Kavaris Harkless
Scouting report: He played wide receiver and tight end as a freshman in high school before gaining enough weight to play offensive tackle. The athleticism is there. So is the toughness and mean streak necessary to survive in the SEC. Harkless is smart and very coachable. His 6-5, 285-pound frame projects well to handle another 20-30 pounds.
Impact in 2014: He could use a redshirt year to bulk up, but everything else is in place for him to eventually contribute as a Gator. His technique and attitude make him less of a developmental project than some think.

TE DeAndre Goolsby
Scouting report:
The Kansas product displays above-average hands and can make plays with intermediate routes. He has decent speed for the tight end position, but will need to add some upper-body strength and work on his technique as an inline blocker if he's going to play right away.
Impact in 2014: Coming in early should give Goolsby a chance to get into the tight end rotation as a freshman. Florida has a dearth of pass-catchers at the position so it's not out of the question that Goolsby can avoid a redshirt and find a role catching passes over the middle.

OL Drew Sarvary
Scouting report:
Not an elite prospect, but solid and experienced. Sarvary comes to UF via Tyler Junior College in Texas, where he was named All-Southwest Junior Football Conference first team last season. He's physically ready at 6-5, 318 and has enough mobility to be an effective pulling guard.
Impact in 2014: Florida has just five offensive linemen with starting experience and needs all the help it can get to completely rebuild its rotation. Sarvary, a juco transfer who started 10 of 11 games for Florida A&M as a freshman, will be expected to join UF's core group and could even challenge for a starting job before his two years of eligibility are through.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans clung to a dubious silver lining after Florida's miserable 4-8 season in 2013: It can't get any worse!

And it's true. The Gators had terrible luck, enough injuries to fill an entire season of "Grey's Anatomy" and a team that couldn't wait for all of it to be over.

But can they really bounce all the way back to the Top 25?

Right after the season ended Monday night, Florida made Mark Schlabach's always fun Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

The case for

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinWill Muschamp is banking on a 2014 bounce-back.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has had a lot of success, and the excitement he helped generate during Duke's superlative season in 2013 is coming with him to Gainesville. He'll install an much more diverse, uptempo offense that would seem to better fit mobile quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Speaking of Driskel, he and most of last season's wounded should be healthy in 2014. That alone gives coach Will Muschamp reason for optimism. By the final game of last season, he was dumbstruck by just how many players were out: "There were a bunch of [talented] guys that didn’t play for us today. They were all on the sidelines in street clothes. We have good football players and we have a good staff. We just got to get back healthy and continue to move forward.

"We’re going to be fine. We’re going to have a good football team next year, I can assure you of that. Sitting in that locker room with those guys, we’re going to be fine. And that’s what’s encouraging for me. It’s damn encouraging."

The case against

The injury bugaboo is still lurking. If Driskel misses time, as he has in each of his three seasons, the Gators will be forced to turn to true freshman Will Grier or sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg. The transfer of Tyler Murphy cost Florida a reliable backup at the most important position.

The offensive line is paper thin as well. Beyond D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, there are only a handful of scholarship linemen on the roster. Just one -- rising junior Trip Thurman -- has even taken a college snap. That's a whole lot of inexperience ticketed for UF's line in 2014.

There are plenty of other reasons for pessimism, such as a lack of proven playmakers at receiver and tight end, some shuffling needed in the secondary after losing three upperclassmen at cornerback and a dearth of pass-rushers off the edge. Then there's the always-difficult schedule.

But with a sizable recruiting class ranked in the top 10 and some fresh ideas from three new coaches, it's a lot more fun to imagine a Gators turnaround next fall.

  • Click here to view the full Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 poll.
  • Click here Insider to see how all of the schools in the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 are faring in recruiting for the Class of 2014.

Gators have needs to fill in recruiting

December, 24, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a 15-player senior class and seven players transferring or leaving since the end of the season, Florida has plenty of holes to fill.

Considering all seven of those departing players were from the offensive side of the ball, it's obvious where much of the Gators' recruiting efforts are focused.

Florida has 23 scholarships available with cornerback Louchiez Purifoy forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

Here's a breakdown of Florida's biggest needs in restocking its roster with talent.

Will Grier
Miller Safrit/ESPNWill Grier is the nation's No. 2-ranked quarterback.
Quarterback: The Gators have a starter in Jeff Driskel, who is expected to recover from a broken bone in his lower leg that required surgery. Their most experienced backup, Tyler Murphy, surprised the coaching staff when he decided to transfer, but Skyler Mornhinweg remains. He started UF's last three games of the season as a redshirt freshman, but it remains to be seen how Mornhinweg will fit into Florida's new offense.

The numbers are obviously low with just two scholarship QBs on the roster, but help is on the way. Florida expects Will Grier, the nation's No. 2-ranked quarterback, to enroll in early January. Now that Murphy has departed, expect the Gators to add a second quarterback to their 2014 class. A dual-threat QB who can bring a more athletic dimension and schematic flexibility to the position makes the most sense. Coach Will Muschamp will let his new offensive coordinator find the right fit.

Offensive line: Florida graduated three starters and lost reserve Ian Silberman to transfer along with two others who were buried at the bottom of the depth chart. That's six departures -- a lot for any season. Muschamp likes to have at least 15 offensive linemen on his roster, so expect a handful of newcomers. Offensive line has been a sore spot for the last two seasons, and injuries decimated Florida in 2013. The Gators return five players with starting experience, but depth must be created as only four other scholarship linemen remain. With so few bodies, at least one of the incoming prospects can expect to make the two-deep roster.

Florida needs the most help on the edges, which is why the headline OL commitment is David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2-ranked offensive tackle prospect. The Gators recently signed Drew Sarvary, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound juco OT who could also play inside. Of all the newcomers, he'll have the inside track to play first. Florida also has pledges from three of the nation's top-30 guard prospects in Nolan Kelleher (6-5, 310), Travaris Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Dontae Angus (6-5, 310).

Offensive skill positions: Florida's QBs haven't had much time to develop in the passing game in recent years, and some of the blame can be directed at the offensive line. But nothing is more obviously missing in the Gator offense than playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. The Class of 2013 saw five talented freshmen WRs join the program, three of whom saw action. But with two senior starters leaving, it's imperative that UF continue to add talent and numbers to its receiving corps. The Gators' top wide receiver commit for 2014 is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 WR prospect in the country. Keeping him in the fold is a top priority.

UF also has pledges from former FSU commit Ryan Sousa and Moral Stephens. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Stephens would give UF a prospect with some size who could play H-back or grow into a full-time role at tight end. Florida has just three scholarship TEs on its roster, but has commitments from DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, both three-star prospects. The Gators have plenty of talented options returning at tailback but lack a game-breaking home-run hitter who can gain the edge. That's why it's so important they hang onto the commitment of Dalvin Cook, the nation's No. 4 RB prospect. Coaches presume he would have a role as a true freshman in 2014.

Defensive line: Florida is in good shape with 10 returning scholarship players. But Muschamp's multiple-scheme defense, which uses 4-3 and 3-4 alignments up front, puts a heavy emphasis on defensive linemen making plays and disrupting the opponent's offense. Florida has three commitments -- DT Khairi Clark, DE Taven Bryan and DE Justus Reed. Bryan could end up on offense, so the object of much of Muschamp's hard work on the recruiting trail is adding another difference-maker who can rush the passer.

Cornerback: The Gators graduated two cornerbacks and are losing Purifoy to the NFL. If he is joined by fellow starter Marcus Roberson, who is projected as a first-round pick in ESPN Insider Todd McShay's first mock draft, there will likely be immediate playing time available. That's Muschamp's sales pitch. It's also why Florida is trying to load up on DB prospects. The nation's No. 10 athlete, J.C. Jackson, is committed, as are Chris Lammons, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson. Wilson and Dawson could end up at safety, so Florida must close strong in adding at least one more pure cornerback with the talent to contribute right away. Florida hit the jackpot last year in signing All-SEC first-team CB Vernon Hargreaves III. Few prospects enter the college ranks as technically skilled and prepared as he, but the Gators are hoping another recruiting bounty will keep the pipeline of impact cornerbacks flowing.
Thursday delivered a mass exodus of offensive players from Gainesville, Fla.

Florida announced that six offensive players -- sophomore tight end Kent Taylor, true freshman quarterback Max Staver, redshirt freshman fullback Rhaheim Ledbetter and offensive linemen Quinteze Williams, freshman offensive lineman Trevon Young, and junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman -- will transfer.

On the surface, that's a lot of players, especially for a team that has struggled so much offensively in the last two seasons. It doesn't help that one of those players, Staver, was a quarterback, which is a position that still has a lot of questions surrounding it entering the 2014 season.

Will Grier
Miller Safrit/ESPNWill Grier is the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the ESPN 300, and he's due to arrive on campus at Florida next month.
But before Gators fans start mashing the panic button even more, it's important to point out that only Silberman had any sort of significant role with the Gators in 2013. Silberman made seven career starts, but had spent most of his career at Florida as a reserve guard. He was making strides, but with Max Garcia and Tyler Moore returning, he likely would have spent his final year in Gainesville as a reserve.

Taylor arrived at Florida with a load of hype surrounding his name, as he was ranked as the nation's No. 1 tight end. But in his two seasons with the Gators, he caught just two passes for 5 yards and a touchdown. Both of those catches came last year, as he struggled to get any real time on the field at all this season. When you talk to people around the program, it sounds like Taylor's heart just wasn't in it in Gainesville, as he spent most of his time on the practice squad.

The loss of Staver might not hurt Florida's depth as much as it seems. As bad as the play became at quarterback this season, Staver, a pro-style passer, remained on the sideline in order to preserve his redshirt. But even with the quarterback position likely up for grabs next spring and fall, Staver probably saw the writing on the wall with the Gators moving to a new offensive scheme that will add more tempo and likely utilize more runs from the quarterback.

Jeff Driskel, who missed most of the season with a broken fibula, will return and will have two more years of eligibility if he gets a medicial redshirt. Florida also returns Tyler Murphy, who replaced Driskel last year, and Skyler Mornhinweg, who eventually replaced Murphy.

Not to mention, the Gators will welcome four-star ESPN 300 quarterback Will Grier in January. Four quarterbacks on the roster should be enough for Florida.

While losing players can unnerve people, Florida shouldn't hurt too much from the loss of these six players. Florida's offense had myriad issues last season, but chances are these guys weren't going to be the ones to help turn things around. That will come with a new offensive coordinator and an offensive identity.

Five things: Florida vs. Florida State

November, 30, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch as the Florida Gators (4-7, 3-5 in the Southeastern Conference) play host to the Florida State Seminoles (11-0, 8-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) on Saturday at noon ET (ESPN) in the final game of the regular season.

1. Stopping Jameis: Florida's defense has gradually gotten worse with almost every passing week during a six-game losing streak. The Gators gave up 429 yards to FCS Georgia Southern last week, and while those yards were all on the ground, simply getting stops has become an issue. Injuries have continued to pile up, and the timing couldn't be worse with Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston in town. The Seminoles are a juggernaut on offense, having already scored a school- and ACC-record 607 points this season. Winston leads the nation in passing efficiency, has thrown the third-most TD passes (32) and is second in the nation in yards per attempt (11.1). "He can make all the throws and he does make all the throws," UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "He’s got great confidence in his arm and you can understand why. It’ll be our biggest challenge of the year."

2. Stopping the FSU running game: The Gators know Winston will be a handful, but it would be wise not to overlook the Seminoles' ground game. FSU actually runs (399 attempts) more than it passes (344). The Noles will look to challenge that suddenly suspect Florida run defense. FSU junior tailback Devonta Freeman has 808 yards (6.2 yards per carry) this season and appears on his way to being the Seminoles' first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. James Wilder Jr. also has been coming on strong after missing FSU's game against NC State with a concussion. Wilder has run for six touchdowns and 285 yards on 22 carries (13.0 YPC) in his last four games.

3. Florida's quarterback: For the third week in a row, the Gators are preparing redshirt freshman QB Skyler Mornhinweg to play. Junior Tyler Murphy, who is listed as questionable, has thrown some passes in practice the last couple of weeks, but is clearly still feeling the effects of a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. The problem for Florida is the limitations Mornhinweg presents to an already foundering offense. If he makes his third career start, there might not be much that can be expected in the way of sudden improvement in Mornhinweg's arm strength or decision-making. He did, however, direct a pass-heavy two-minute offense in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to GSU. Perhaps with nothing to lose in the season finale, the UF coaching staff will allow the Gators quarterback -- whoever it is -- to take some shots down the field.

4. Can the Gators score any points? With Mornhinweg likely at the helm and the Gators' kicking game a season-long sore spot, there is a real possibility Florida could be held off the scoreboard. Factor in a Seminoles defense that is hungry for revenge after being gutted in last season's 37-26 home loss to Florida, and this game could be a feeding frenzy. FSU has the nation's No. 2 pass defense and leads the nation in interceptions with 23. As it did last year, Florida State has one of the nation's best run defenses, allowing just four rushing TDs in 11 games this season. Florida's beleaguered offensive line expects to have its hands full up the middle against defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who has 43 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

5. Familiar faces: One of the reasons this series, which UF leads 34-21-2, is so special is the familiarity of most of the players. There are 36 players on both sidelines who were once high school teammates. FSU has 93 players from the state of Florida on its roster. Florida has 83. Many of these players knocked helmets in high school grudge matches, so the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt is certainly fitting. For the head coaches, however, it's done nothing of the sort. Florida's Will Muschamp and his FSU counterpart, Jimbo Fisher, remain close friends after first working together under Auburn coach Terry Bowden in the mid-90s and again under LSU coach Nick Saban. They even share a beach house in Panama City, Fla. Bragging rights are on the line on Saturday, as their head-to-head record is 1-1.

One year changes everything for FSU, UF

November, 26, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every year the most storied rivalries in college football add another chapter. On Saturday in the Swamp the steamroller squares off against the spoiler.

This is what it's come down to: The once-mighty Gators are merely a speed bump in the way of the hated Seminoles' ascension to the mountaintop of a BCS championship berth. Florida may lack the firepower to compete with the nation's No. 2 team, but the Gators still insist they have the fire to pull a colossal upset.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinWill Muschamp hasn't had much to be happy about this season, as the Gators have clinched a losing season for the first time since 1979.
"Our guys understand the importance of this game," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "We'll work hard and we'll have a great crowd just like we did this past Saturday to support our guys. [It's] one of the great rivalries in all of college football. Florida State's got a good football team. They're having a great year. It would help us a lot to go get a win."

What a year it's been for Florida State and Florida. Neither team can wait for the regular season to end on Saturday -- the Noles so they can begin their quest for postseason glory; the Gators so they can begin to wash out the sour taste of one of the worst seasons in school history.

It's hard to fully grasp just how far these archrivals have gone in opposite directions since they played one year ago.

While the Seminoles (11-0, 8-0 in the ACC) have run roughshod over their conference, Florida (4-7, 3-5 SEC) has fallen flat and lost six in a row, including its final five league games.

Both schools have made history this season. Florida State scored a school-record 80 points last week against Idaho and has already broken the school and ACC records for points in a season, while Florida lost to an FCS opponent for the first time ever. With last Saturday's home loss to Georgia Southern, Florida clinched a losing season for the first time since 1979 and will see its 22-year bowl streak come to an end.

One last goal remains for the Gators -- beat their in-state rival.

"We've got to treat this like our bowl game," senior guard Jon Halapio said. "It really is our bowl game."

Another Florida senior, cornerback Jaylen Watkins, said it would "change the feeling around here" to shock the Noles on Saturday.

"It’s motivating for everybody in that locker room," he said. "You want to go win this game and try to duplicate what we did last year, come out with a win and create some short fields for the offense. They’re having a really good season, and we can end off on a good [note]."

Looking back at the way Florida defeated Florida State 37-26 in Tallahassee last season, Muschamp might consider it a proof-of-concept performance. The Gators executed their coach's philosophical approach to perfection with suffocating defense and a power running game that piled up yards against what was then the No. 1 rush defense in the nation. Florida was a national-championship contender ranked No. 6 entering that game and went on to play in a BCS bowl.

"Looking at last year's game, we're just going to try to emulate that," Florida quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg said. "We had some success against them last year, so we think we can have some success against them this year, too."

Mornhinweg, an inexperienced redshirt freshman who started the season No. 3 on the QB depth chart, could draw his third career start on Saturday against a revenge-minded Seminole defense if junior Tyler Murphy (questionable) misses his third straight game with a shoulder injury.

Either way, the quarterback position will be the most glaring difference in the two schools' contrasting seasons.

"They do have a stable quarterback," Watkins said of Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston. "We've had both our quarterbacks go down this year."

The injuries for Florida are impossible to ignore. When linebackers Michael Taylor and Alex Anzalone miss Saturday's game, it will bring the number of players who have missed one game or more this season to a staggering 23, including 15 starters.

“Sometimes they come in bunches, sometimes they don’t,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said on Monday. “Injuries change your football team. That’s why I keep talking about our youth development. You don’t know when one of those things is going to occur. You have a plan for them, but those plans have to work.

"When you have the number they’ve had, I can understand it’s been very difficult.”

Florida's youth development plan will be on full display on Saturday, but for the Gators' 15 seniors there is only the bitterness of ending their careers on such a low note while their biggest rival comes in on such a high note.

"It’s pretty frustrating," senior receiver Solomon Patton said. "That’s our rival, and to see them actually on top right now and doing real good, it’s pretty hard to see that."

The way their season has gone has left many a Florida fan sour and inconsolable. The idea of ruining the Noles' unbeaten season, however, offers a sweet consolation.

"This being our last game," Patton said, "we definitely plan on doing that."

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here's what we learned about the Gators after their 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern on Saturday:

1. Florida needs Tyler Murphy back: All week the Florida coaching staff expressed its confidence in third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg by saying he was ready to use more of the playbook in his next start. And sure enough he threw a pass on the third play of the game, which was a sharp contrast from the previous week, when Mornhinweg threw just two passes in the first half. But any hopes for an expanded offense went out the window at the end of the Gators' first possession after Mornhinweg threw two bad passes into the end zone that should have been intercepted. Mornhinweg was 4-of-10 passing for 6 yards in the first half and 6-of-13 for 14 yards after three quarters. Perhaps a bright spot was his fourth-quarter performance, when he completed 8-of-12 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. After the game, UF coach Will Muschamp said he would not rule out Murphy for next week's game against No. 2 FSU.

2. Clutch defense has disappeared: During its 11-1 season in 2012, Florida displayed a knack for making halftime adjustments and shutting down its opponents. That certainly hasn't happened this season, as the Gators have bent and broken lately when the team needs its defense the most. After Saturday's loss, Muschamp seemed to indicate that the offense's inability to score is at least partially to blame. Florida gave up 429 yards on the ground but was unable to score enough points to force Georgia Southern out of its basic scheme. "We got gapped out in some situations. But you've also got to change the scoreboard offensively," he said. "You've got to be able to change the scoreboard, and we just struggled scoring points offensively. It's been a week-in, week-out occurrence, and it's my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed."

3. The injury bug: None of the UF players or coaches want to use the rash of injuries this season as an excuse. It's just something they all mention every time they're asked about what's gone wrong this fall. Saturday was another example of just how snakebitten the Gators have been with injuries. Already missing starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison (out for the season after knee surgery), the Gators lost backup Michael Taylor to a knee injury in the second quarter. Taylor had been playing well, too, snagging his team-leading third fumble recovery of the season. But then it got ridiculous, as Taylor's backup, true freshman Alex Anzalone, dislocated his shoulder. Outside linebacker Darrin Kitchens also missed time with a shoulder injury. And at one point, the Gators were using a senior walk-on who wasn't even on the game-day roster in David Campbell to help defend a triple-option offense that was hitting on all cylinders. Talk about ouch.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Just when it appeared Florida's season of discontent could get no worse, it did.

The Gators lost to an FCS opponent for the first time in school history Saturday, and with that 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, UF (4-7, 3-5 in the SEC) has its first losing season since 1979, as well as an end to a 22-year run of bowl games that was the longest active streak in the nation.

And Florida paid Georgia Southern $550,000 to schedule Saturday's contest.

Was it the worst loss in school history? The most humiliating? Does it matter at this point?

A season that began with promise and a 4-1 start has spiraled into a free fall with a six-game losing streak of which few inside the program can make sense. Facing the media Saturday and tasked with explaining another numbing low point, head coach Will Muschamp struggled to find new words or explanations for the state of his program.

"Very disappointed for our program," he said. "An embarrassment in this situation."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsGators coach Will Muschamp was at a loss to explain the latest in a long string of disappointments.
As usual, the primary culprit was an inept offense that came into the game ranked No. 111 out of 123 FBS teams in total offense and generated 279 yards (4.5 yards per play).

"You've got to be able to change the scoreboard, and we just struggled scoring points offensively," he said. "It's been a week-in, week-out occurrence, and it's my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed. ...

"We've just got to keep working at what we're doing. We're struggling offensively, and it has infected our entire team right now.”

On Saturday, however, Florida's defense shouldered as much of the blame, if not more, for another staggering loss.

Georgia Southern's 429 yards rushing were the fourth most Florida has allowed in school history. The Eagles also won without completing a pass (0-for-3).

Muschamp said earlier in the week that the Florida coaching staff began working on its defensive game plan for Georgia Southern in the offseason. But long running plays -- one each by GSU's quarterback (45 yards), tailback (66) and fullback (53) -- either scored or set up three of the Eagles' four touchdowns.

"It hurts," junior safety Cody Riggs said. "We didn't watch what we were supposed to be watching on certain plays, and those six, seven, eight plays are the ones that got them all of those yards."

It didn't help that Florida was playing without starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison. Or that backup Michael Taylor injured the MCL in his right knee in the second quarter and did not return. Or that Taylor's replacement, true freshman Alex Anzalone, separated his shoulder during the game.

Injuries handcuffed the Gators' offense, as well. Starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, the backup at the start of the season, missed his second straight game with a nagging shoulder injury, forcing the Gators to turn again to redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg.

But Florida was facing a team with similar injury problems. Georgia Southern, which plays within the FCS limit of 65 scholarships, has suffered 19 injuries this season, including 13 to starters. As a result, the Eagles have struggled to a 7-4 record (4-4 in the Southern Conference), including losses to Samford, Wofford and Appalachian State.

"I know [the Gators] have had a tough year. They've had a lot of injuries. So have we," GSU coach Jeff Monken said after his team stormed the field at Ben Hill Griffin stadium and lingered to enjoy the biggest win in program history. "We've got a lot of guys playing out there that weren't our starters at the beginning of the year and wouldn't have been starters right now had other guys been healthy. But we've continued to improve, and as those guys said, we've continued to fight."

The same cannot be said of Florida.

The Gators' patchwork offensive line struggled to run and pass block against its FCS foe, forcing a number of direct snaps, jet sweeps and wildcat plays in order to catch the defense off guard, despite the fact that the Eagles' starting defensive linemen averaged just over 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds. Mornhinweg had 6 yards passing at halftime. Florida rushed for 111 yards in the first half but just 46 in the second.

"We came out flat as a team," senior offensive guard Jon Halapio said. "We didn't play as a team today. We didn't communicate. We didn't block together. We didn't run the ball as efficient. That's something that we preached early on in the week, to not take this group of men lightly. They came out here and played their tails off. This was their bowl game. They had nothing to lose. We took them lightly, and we got outworked, outplayed, outphysicaled. You call it, it happened."

Now what happens at Florida is a week of preparation for arch-rival Florida State, followed by a merciful end to a painful season.

"As far as not going to a bowl game, I'm not gonna lie, I never would have seen that coming, coming to Florida," Riggs said. "That's very upsetting. A losing season, even though we were plagued by injuries, like I said, there's no excuses."

Without the excuse of injuries, however, the historic losses this season could throw into question the votes of confidence Muschamp received just more than a week ago from athletic director Jeremy Foley and UF president Bernie Machen.

Losing to Georgia Southern could have significant implications if the outcry from Florida fans is heard. Despite the negativity and the demoralizing losing streak, the Gators coaching staff still has the full faith of its players.

"We're not concerned," Riggs said. "I know that a lot of people around here have Coach Muschamp's back. He's a great coach, best coach I ever had. We're not worried about that. I've learned more under him than I have under any coach ever.

"Yeah, it's about winning. But some stuff you just can't control. We've had a lot of hardships this year. Not using that as an excuse again, but it's just a rough year for us."

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