- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule. On Tuesday we’ll rank the top 10 offensive players Florida will face in the fall.
Ranking the schedule
1. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Sure, the Bulldogs lost nine starters on defense, but Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are coming back, and that makes them one of the SEC’s best teams. Georgia scored a school-record 529 points last season behind those three, and the offense figures to be explosive again in 2013. It’ll need to be to carry a rebuilt defense.
2. South Carolina (Nov. 16 in Columbia, S.C.): Two words: Jadeveon Clowney. The Gamecocks lost some key players on offense (Marcus Lattimore, Ace Sanders) and defense (D.J. Swearinger, DeVonte Holloman) but Clowney is the best player in the country and a terror for offensive tackles and quarterbacks. He makes up for a lot. Offensively, Steve Spurrier has two quarterbacks upon whom he can rely (Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson). Seriously. He can win games with either player.
3. Florida State (Nov. 30 in Gainesville): The Seminoles might have been much lower on this list were it not for the development of quarterback Jameis Winston in the spring. He won the job and looked pretty darn good in the spring game. He’s a step down from EJ Manuel right now but has a big upside. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is installing the defense that helped Alabama win a pair of national titles in his tenure as a Tide defensive assistant.
4. LSU (Oct. 12 in Baton Rouge, La.): The Tigers had eight defensive players drafted in April, including six in the first three rounds. That’s a lot to replace, but considering how well Les Miles has recruited, there’s probably a bunch of future draft picks just waiting for their chance. The key will be the impact new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has on the offense. He helped Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco develop into one of the NFL’s top QBs. What can he do with Zach Mettenberger?
5. Miami (Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla.): Quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson looked great in the spring, so new offensive coordinator James Coley has a good nucleus around which to build the rest of the offense. There are some questions about the offensive line, too, but the problem is on defense. Ten starters return, but competition for jobs is wide open and there’s not a lot of depth. The unit was inconsistent in 2012 but there’s enough talent to be one of the ACC’s top defenses. They just need to bring it all together.
6. Vanderbilt (Nov. 9 in Gainesville): If you’ve been paying attention the past several seasons then Vandy being this high on the list won’t surprise you. Vandy has a solid offensive line a couple of playmakers in receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd returning, plus a solid group of linebackers around which to build the defense. The biggest improvement in the program, however, is the attitude that coach James Franklin has instilled. The players believe they’re capable of winning the Eastern Division.
7. Missouri (Oct. 19 in Columbia, Mo.): Remember when quarterback James Franklin was supposed to be one of the country’s top dual-threat players? He’s had trouble staying healthy and now he’s embroiled in a quarterback competition. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Tigers can give him some weapons in the backfield (Henry Josey) and at receiver (Dorial Green-Beckham). Losing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson hurts, but the Tigers should still be solid up front. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the offensive line can find some consistency in pass protection.
8. Arkansas (Oct. 5 in Gainesville): The Razorbacks have to replace quarterback Tyler Wilson, which certainly isn’t going to be easy, but they’re also changing from a pass-happy attack to a something more Big Ten-ish thanks to the arrival of new coach Bret Bielema. His goal is to make Arkansas a more physical team. He’s gotten off to a good start on the defensive line.
9. Tennessee (Sept. 21 in Gainesville): New coach Butch Jones has done a nice job of injecting some enthusiasm back into the program and has gotten off to a good start in recruiting for the Class of 2014. However, none of that will make any difference this season because the Volunteers are woefully thin on talent -- especially in the secondary. Losing Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson is a huge blow to try and overcome, too, and the Vols don’t have that kind of talent on the roster right now.
10. Kentucky (Sept. 28 in Lexington, Ky.): It’s amazing how much energy there is in Lexington for the football program under new coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats are solid on the defensive line and seemed to take a step forward on the offensive line in the spring. But it’s a mess at quarterback and there are few playmakers at receiver or running back. Stoops has a long way to go to get the Wildcats back to being a bowl team.
11. Toledo (Aug, 31 in Gainesville): The Rockets return five All-Mid-American Conference players as well as senior quarterback Terrance Owens on offense. The defense lost eight starters, including linebacker Dan Moll, who led the nation in tackles (166) in 2012. Toledo has gone 26-13 the last three seasons, including 20-4 in the MAC.
It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule.