Florida Gators: Tyler Moore

Editor’s note: With Florida's spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, we’ll clean out the notebook this week and touch on a few remaining topics.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Want some hard evidence for optimism inside of the Florida football offices? Look no further than two upperclassmen starting at offensive tackle.

Bookends D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green are back, and they're healthy.

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIRight tackle Chaz Green's last appearance came in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl, but he was healthy and looking sharp this spring.
"That’s a big deal, man," Humphries said during spring practice. "Me and Chaz being back, that’s good. When we’re on the field together, it works well. We’ve been flowing well this spring. We’re going to try and keep it up. If both of us stay healthy, we can make some things happen."

Florida coach Will Muschamp puts a heavy emphasis on winning the line of scrimmage. That was harder than ever in 2013 when the Gators played the entire season without Green, the right tackle who suffered a torn labrum in preseason camp. Humphries, the left tackle, missed the final five games of last season with a sprained MCL.

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who lines up against both tackles in practice, saw the impact of their losses.

"Chaz was having a great summer camp [in 2013]," Fowler said. "He just had that setback, and it was like a freakish accident. D.J. is kind of like the anchorman. He leads everybody, so when he went down, things kind of went down the drain from there."

Muschamp said both players came back with more determination than ever.

"[Chaz] has picked it up to another level as far as his commitment, his work ethic," the coach said. "I mean, the guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program on how he’s handled himself and how he’s worked.

"I think when something’s taken away from you, you realize how important it is to you. Not that he didn’t work hard before -- he’s always worked hard, he’s always had a great work ethic -- but even more so this time."

Muschamp said Humphries has finally gotten his weight where it needed to be. Since January, he has consistently weighed more than 290 pounds -- the first time that has happened since he arrived at Florida.

Once practice began, the two were eager to return to action. Green, a senior, and Humphries, a junior, spent much of their time butting heads with Fowler, a junior who is the team's best pass rusher.

"Me, D.J. and Chaz, we really got each other better," Fowler said. "We went at it. We just competed this whole spring. I feel like I’m a better player, and I can feel it because of them helping me."

As Florida installed its new no-huddle spread offense, the two tackles saw just how well they fit the zone-blocking scheme, which is predicated on short drops by the quarterback.

"It's kind of made for athletic tackles," Humphries said. "So it's kind of working out for me and Chaz. We're able to get on the edge a little, get on the outside shoulder of our defenders. I would say it's been kind of an easy adjustment."

The effectiveness of the tackles has had a domino effect on the rest of the line.

Junior Tyler Moore, who played much of last season at right tackle in Green's absence, has found a home at guard. Senior Trenton Brown started the spring competing with Green at right tackle before moving to right guard.

Moore and Brown have cited Green as one of Florida's most important leaders.

"He's a really hard worker, a really talented guy," Moore said. "We've just got to keep him healthy."

Staying on the field is the key for Florida's entire offensive line, which was battered by injuries last season.

Having healthy bookends in 2014 is a tantalizing thought for the Gators. There's even a chance that Green and Humphries could anchor the line for two more seasons, as Green could still get a medical hardship waiver for missing the 2013 season.

"I haven't discussed that," he said. "I think I'm going to see how this year goes, and then if I need it I'll use it. I'm just trying to get back out there, have a great year, get back to playing at the level that I know I can play at, because it's been so long that I've been hurt.

"Help the team out with my play, that's what I'm trying to do."

With all of his focus on playing this fall, Green knows he'll be overcome with emotion when he finally gets back onto Florida Field on Aug. 30.

"I'm too excited," he said. "I feel like it's been so long since I've been out there. So I'm just excited to get out there, just get back to doing what I love doing."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jonathan Bullard expected to be one of the Gators' best players last season. Wanted it badly.

He came to Florida in 2012 as the No. 4-ranked defensive end prospect in the nation and put pressure on himself to produce even more after a solid freshman season.

But injuries forced him to play part of last season at defensive tackle, a position he had never played before.

[+] EnlargePeterman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida's Jonathan Bullard has embraced a move to DT and is ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses this fall.
He was lost amidst 600-pound double teams.

"If you know how to do something, you can do it full speed," he said. "But you're second-guessing yourself at something you haven’t done. You’re not moving as fast as you can. If you’re thinking too much, the ball is snapping and you’ve got a 300-pounder in front of you. You ain’t got time to think. So it was just different."

It showed in his production, on his face and in his body language.

"The coaches knew that I was kind of frustrated moving inside," he said. "I figured most people could tell that it wasn’t something that I really wanted to do."

Teammates tried to encourage Bullard to follow in the footsteps of former Gators Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, who had played both positions before him.

"I talked to him about it most of the time," offensive lineman Trenton Brown said. "But I just try to tell him, 'Try to do what's best for the team. I know you didn't see yourself coming here to play three-technique, but it's best for the team and it'll show that you're versatile.'"

That is the personal impetus for Bullard. Floyd was a first-round draft pick, and Easley is looking to be selected early in the NFL draft in May. The benefits of playing inside and out, of showing that versatility on your game tape, led Bullard to seek the advice of Easley, who has been in town to prepare for his personal pro day in a few weeks.

"Actually, Ease has been around lately and it kind of happened to him," Bullard said. "He bumped outside and wanted to stay inside. I’m the opposite. I'm going from the outside and really not wanting to go inside. He just talked to me, told me to embrace it and work at it hard."

Bullard did just that in the offseason after head coach Will Muschamp called him into his office to discuss the move and why it was necessary.

"All offseason I’ve been working at it because I know we’re kind of light there now and had a couple of players out, so I was going to play a lot of it," he said. "Now I’ve got the hang of it and I can read things better at D-tackle like I could at end. Now it’s kind of even.

"To be honest, I’m actually trying to embrace it and enjoy it rather than last year, not wanting to but knowing I had to. So now I'm trying to embrace it and do it at a high level."

Muschamp believes the high-level results are already there.

"Jon Bullard I think is playing his best football," he said on Tuesday. "He's playing really well inside. ... I think Jon is a very good nickel rusher inside and he can really match up on some of the guards in our league."

The offensive linemen he goes up against in practice have certainly noticed.

"It's definitely a challenge," said junior OT Tyler Moore. "He's definitely stepped up his game this year. He's one of our better D-linemen, and he's showing that every day."

It didn't take long for Bullard to see the advantages his size and quickness would allow on the interior. Now he loves going up against guards and centers.

"You can definitely tell that they’re slower than the tackles," he said. "And also you’re closer to the ball, so you can read it better. Now I’ve gotten real good at it. At end, I just look at the tackle, but now that I'm inside I try to look at the two guards and the center. Sometimes you can kind of tell what’s about to happen before it happens. If you get that right, you can disrupt the play."

Since Floyd and Easley moved on, the Gators have searched for that disruptive presence inside. Bullard says he's the one to bring it back.

The smile has returned to his face. He says with a wink that he's got the defensive tackle position down. Bullard's body language is as easy to read as ever. He knows he's having a productive spring despite not taking a single snap at defensive end.

"This spring," he said, "I’ve been all inside."

And all in.
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."

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
1:00
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Schedule: The Gators' first spring practice is Wednesday. It's open to the public and free, along with seven other practice sessions. Spring football concludes Saturday, April 12 with the annual Orange & Blue Debut, which starts at 1:30 p.m. ET.

What's new: After a 4-8 season in 2013, a couple of key offensive coaches were replaced. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease was fired and replaced with Kurt Roper, who was in the same position at Duke. Offensive line coach Tim Davis was fired and replaced by Mike Summers, who coached the OL at USC in 2013. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate left to coach at Washington and was replaced with Coleman Hutzler, who coached special teams at New Mexico.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxFlorida pushed back the start of spring practice to ensure that previously injured players such as Jeff Driskel could participate.
On the mend: Florida pushed back the start of spring football by about 7-10 days in order to insure the full participation of several players who were injured last fall. Most notable among them are QB Jeff Driskel (broken leg), LBs Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL), and O-linemen Tyler Moore (broken elbow) and Chaz Green (torn labrum). Still, the Gators will be without nine players this spring, including two former starters -- RB Matt Jones (torn meniscus) and DT Leon Orr (broken wrist).

On the move: The biggest shuffling will happen on the offensive line, which lost three senior starters and another key reserve who transferred. Max Garcia, who started at left guard and left tackle last season, will move to center. Moore, who played tackle in 2013, moves to guard. Trenton Brown, who started five games at right tackle, will also see time at guard. And junior Trip Thurman, a reserve at guard and tackle who's been praised for his offseason work, will also get a look at center.

New faces: Eight true freshmen and a juco guard enrolled in January. The biggest impact is likely to come from CB Jalen Tabor, who should compete for a starting job. QB Will Grier will have a chance to become Driskel's primary backup. TE DeAndre Goolsby could stand out as a pass-catcher. Juco guard Drew Sarvary should compete for a spot on the two-deep roster. Taven Bryan has a chance to impress at defensive end. DB Duke Dawson will get a look at cornerback and safety. Kavaris Harkless provides depth at guard. RB Brandon Powell (foot) will be a non-contact participant. Guard Nolan Kelleher (back) is waiting on a second opinion before he's cleared to participate.

Question marks: There are so many following a subpar season. The biggest issue for Florida is making the most of its 15 allotted practices to install a new offense. Roper can often be heard telling his new students to play fast, but it will take time for new plays, new schemes and new principles to become second nature. The Gators' problems on offense ran deep. The line was porous in pass protection, often giving the quarterbacks precious little time to scan the field. When there was time, the receiving corps had trouble getting open. All of those issues must be addressed, as head coach Will Muschamp is betting his job on new hires Roper and Summers to restore competence to one of the worst passing attacks in the nation.

Florida was not great on defense last season, either. It's true that the offense got so bad that Muschamp publicly complained about the effect it had on his defense, but he also had some gripes of his own. The Gators' run defense, for one, slipped badly and got worse as the season went along. After DT Dominique Easley got hurt, the middle of UF's defense never recovered. It's a high priority for the Gators to find and develop some linemen who can win one-on-one battles. Also, for the second straight year, the secondary lost a lot of experienced players. Florida is deep and talented and will put pressure on several young players to progress quickly.

Key battle: There are several to choose from, but the most important and tightest competition will probably happen at middle linebacker. Morrison is the incumbent but performed below expectations last season. Senior Michael Taylor is a solid option and should push Morrison, but Taylor has always struggled in coverage. The wild card is sophomore Jarrad Davis, who came on strong as a true freshman when he drew raves for his speed, athleticism and ability to absorb coaching.

Breaking out: This is a team desperate for skill players to produce. Florida signed five talented wide receivers in 2013, and three -- Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Demarcus Robinson -- saw immediate playing time. With at least one starting WR job up for grabs, the Gators are counting on those three and redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins to mature. Roper's offense depends upon getting its best weapons the ball in space. At this time, any of those five could become the team's most dangerous weapon. Regardless of who it is, a reliable pass-catching threat must emerge this spring.

Don't forget about: On a young team, senior Quinton Dunbar will be counted on for leadership and more. He's been a solid possession receiver and has improved in each of his three seasons, but the Gators will ask Dunbar to take the next step. A certain starter, Dunbar needs to consistently separate and catch everything that comes his way. Florida's QBs need their senior receiver to be something of a security blanket.

All eyes on: It's all about the offense for a program that has consistently fielded one of the nation's best defenses. Driskel and Grier will be in the brightest spotlights, as only quarterbacks can be. They will be the easiest measuring sticks of the progress that Roper's offense makes, and hundreds of fans will come to practice to see if things are indeed improving. The shotgun, zone-read options and spread elements of the new scheme are tailor-made for these two QBs. Roper (and therefore Muschamp) will be counting on their QBs to make the offense look good.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring has sprung in the state of Florida, which means a much-needed football fix is almost here.

We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

Our weeklong series moves to the offensive line, a group of players who are critically important to Florida's plans for a rebirth on that side of the ball.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxD.J. Humphries is back and healthy for the Gators.
Returning starters: Left tackle D.J. Humphries, who will be a junior this fall, started six games in 2013 and missed the last five due to a sprained knee. He's one of Florida's top talents and is looking to bounce back after a sub-par season. Rising senior Max Garcia emerged as a leader last fall and started all 12 games, mostly at left guard and left tackle. Rising junior Tyler Moore made six starts at tackle last season before missing the final four games with a broken elbow. Mammoth juco transfer Trenton Brown played in every game last season as a junior and started the final five games at right tackle. Chaz Green was the Gators' starter at right tackle before he tore his ACL and missed all of last season.

Departures: Florida lost three seniors in center Jonotthan Harrison (12 starts), right guard Jon Halapio (10 starts) and guard/tackle Kyle Koehne (six starts). They were the heart and core leadership of the line. The Gators also saw key reserve Ian Silberman, who started the final four games at guard last year, transfer to Boston College after graduating in December. Two other transfers, Quinteze Williams and Trevon Young, never saw action for Florida.

Returning reserves: Rising junior Trip Thurman played in all 12 games as a backup. While he's not expected to unseat any of Florida's incumbent starters, Thurman will have an important role as the Gators' only returning reserve. The former three-star prospect has good size at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and can play guard or tackle.

Newcomers: Last season, Florida redshirted tackle Roderick Johnson, center Cameron Dillard and guard Octavius Jackson, whose playing career is over because of a chronic shoulder injury. The Gators have three midseason enrollees who will participate in spring practice -- juco transfer Drew Sarvary and true freshmen Nolan Kelleher and Kavaris Harkless. This summer will see the arrival of three more linemen from UF's Class of 2014 -- tackles David Sharpe and Andrew Mike and guard Travaris Dorsey.

What to watch: No unit could use a clean slate more than Florida's offensive line. It struggled with injuries in 2013, but that wasn't the only major problem. The Gators have had trouble with pass protection for several years now, and it's proven to be one of the most crippling issues for an offense that hasn't been able to get out of its own way. Improving the pass blocking and developing depth are the two most important tasks this spring, and Florida will look to new line coach Mike Summers to lead the way. Summers comes to UF with 34 years of experience and a reputation as a fine teacher. Those skills will be put to the test, as the Gators have just five linemen with starting experience and only two others who have ever played in a college game. It's not necessary to settle on five starters this spring, but Summers needs to quickly figure out his players' strengths and best positions. Finding a replacement for Harrison, a three-year starter at center, is key. It's expected that a veteran like Moore or Garcia will make the shift to center, but Florida must continue to develop Dillard as a quality reserve who can eventually push for the starting job. Last year, Florida was unable to play a true spring game because of injuries to its offensive linemen, so staying healthy is another modest goal this spring. There are holes all over the two-deep roster and plenty of opportunities to win jobs. Fresh faces like Sarvary, Johnson and Kelleher will have their chances to carve out roles and perhaps even make it a competition with one of the five veterans. With a new OL coach and that much-needed clean slate, anything is possible.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's offense has been a problem for a few years now, and the line has taken its fair share of the blame. But 2013 was supposed to be different.

The O-line was expected to key a resurgent offense last season. It was experienced, talented and deep. But like a lot of positions on that woeful 2013 offense, a few injuries led to wholesale collapse.

To make matters worse, three senior starters departed and a key reserve was among three transfers. When the dust settled, Florida had just nine offensive linemen on scholarship.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Humphries
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesFormer five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries should be in line to start at left tackle for the Gators in 2014.
Last Wednesday, coach Will Muschamp announced a recruiting class with six offensive linemen, including three who are already on campus as early enrollees.

"We're getting our numbers back on the offensive line," Muschamp said. "We're right at 15. You'd like to have 15 to 17 offensive linemen on scholarship. That's a developmental game, but that's a huge developmental position, and that's where you've got to have guys in your program. So it's good to see that."

The offensive line continues our week-long series of the Gators' top positions with room to improve.

Battling for No. 1: It's not hard to project UF's starting offensive line because only five linemen on the roster have ever started a game. Only seven have ever played in a collegiate game, so there is a strong likelihood that those five veterans will be the Gators' starters. D.J. Humphries will look to reassert himself at left tackle after an injury-plagued sophomore season. Max Garcia should slide back to the left guard spot he played last season before injuries forced him to shuffle. Chaz Green, who started 19 games in two seasons, returns after missing last season due to injury. He mostly played right tackle but lacks bulk and could move inside. That would allow Florida to stick with 6-foot-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown on the outside. Then there's 6-5, 320-pound Tyler Moore, who played mostly at tackle last season before breaking his elbow. He could be a prime candidate to take over at center.

Strength in numbers: Florida hasn't developed much depth in recent years, and several offensive linemen have left the program. Trip Thurman, who will be a fourth-year junior this fall, has all of 15 career games as a backup under his belt. But that might make him the Gators' top reserve. Much was expected of Octavius Jackson, who came the closest to burning his redshirt last fall as a standout on the scout team. But his hometown newspaper recently reported that a shoulder injury has ended his playing career. Florida's other two linemen who redshirted last season will be counted on as key reserves in 2014. Roderick Johnson is well-built at 6-5, 316 pounds and could play tackle or guard. And Cameron Dillard was recruited as UF's center of the future. He'll need time to develop, however, because center is such an important position that it's doubtful the Gators would throw an untested freshman into the fire.

New on the scene: Of Florida's six new O-linemen, juco transfer Drew Sarvary might have the best chance of securing a role on the two-deep roster because he started 10 of 11 games for Florida A&M as a freshman before heading to junior college. The next most likely is guard Nolan Kelleher, who enrolled early and has the size (6-6, 305) to play right away. Another early enrollee, tackle Kavaris Harkless, will need time to bulk up. That and raw technique are common issues with true freshman offensive lineman, so it will take a special effort for any of the three freshmen who arrive this summer -- David Sharpe, Travaris Dorsey and Andrew Mike -- to earn significant playing time in the fall. Sharpe, the No. 2 OT prospect in the Class of 2014, has the athleticism to shine. Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Mike (6-6, 278) have the size to surprise.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- By now the benefits of enrolling early are well known both to players and the football programs that typically put such valuable freshmen right to work.

Not only do these select prospects get a significant head start in terms of strength, conditioning, learning the playbook and participating in the all-important spring practice session, they also have extra time to settle into college life.

This year, the Gators are expecting nine mid-year enrollees. That makes it a perfect time to look back at how last year's bumper crop performed.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesOf all the players who were early enrollees at Florida last year, RB Kelvin Taylor was the one to make the biggest impact.
The headliner

Kelvin Taylor came to Florida with all the hype of the nation's No. 1-rated running back. He also had huge cleats to fill as the son of Gator great Fred Taylor. It's fair to say he lived up to the expectations, showing good vision and a blend of power and quickness right away. Taylor started at No. 3 on the depth chart because he needed to learn the plays and improve his pass-blocking. But he was ready when called upon. He played in all but two games and started four of the last five after starter Matt Jones was injured. Taylor finished with 508 yards on 111 carries (4.6 yards per carry), four touchdowns and was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team.

The starters

Tyler Moore, a sophomore transfer from Nebraska made six starts on the offensive line -- five at right tackle and one at left tackle -- before a freak injury ended his season. It sort of epitomized Florida's season. Moore struggled some in adapting to SEC defensive ends at right tackle. Just when he played one of his best games (at left tackle, no less), he fell off his scooter and broke his elbow. Florida's offensive line was never the same.

Darious Cummings, a junior transfer from East Mississippi CC, stepped up when Florida needed him after Dominique Easley's season-ending injury. The 6-foot-1, 309-pound defensive tackle they call "Bear" played in 11 games and started the last six. He finished with 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, two QB hurries and a pass breakup.

The linebackers

Alex Anzalone joined the Gators' group of early enrollees in dramatic fashion after decommitting from Notre Dame just two days before he was to report to South Bend, Ind. Slated to be Florida's backup middle linebacker, he injured the labrum in his right shoulder early in spring practice and needed surgery. Anzalone returned in the fall to play mostly on special teams, where he had one tackle. He was pressed into his most significant duty after starting middle linebacker Michael Taylor was injured in the Gators' disastrous loss to Georgia Southern. Anzalone came into the game and made one unassisted tackle and then followed Taylor with an injury of his own soon after, suffering a dislocated shoulder that needed surgery.

Daniel McMillian came to UF as the nation's No. 3 prospect at outside linebacker. The 6-2, 225-pound freshman earned praise and raised expectations after a standout spring practice. Florida head coach Will Muschamp even said he thought McMillian would start several games at some point in 2013. Capable of playing all three linebacker positions, McMillian opened the season as the primary backup to Ronald Powell at strong-side linebacker, but that was about as close as he got to making an impact. He never saw much playing time on defense, seeing action mostly on special teams in nine games and recording two tackles.

Matt Rolin missed spring practice rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in high school. Early in fall camp, Muschamp was full of praise for Rolin and said the freshman strong-side linebacker was expected to play as a reserve and on special teams, calling him physical, tough and smart. But Muschamp said all of this while announcing that Rolin had suffered another tear of the same ACL. Rolin went right back to rehabbing and was the only early entrant who redshirted.

Wait and see

Injuries on the defensive line created an opportunity, and Joey Ivie was rewarded for his strong efforts in practice with playing time. He came to Gainesville a little-known three-star recruit who was expected to redshirt, but Ivie ended up playing in three of the final five games of the season and recorded three tackles.

The highest ceiling

So much was expected of wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, so little was delivered. After UF beat out Clemson to win his turbulent recruitment, Robinson became the latest in a string of recent spring standouts at wide receiver who gave fans hope only to disappear when the games counted. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease tried to get Robinson involved early in the season, but nothing clicked as the offense struggled overall. Later, Pease expressed frustration with Robinson's "ups and downs in practice." He played in just seven games and finished with a disappointing five catches for 23 yards. By the end of the season, while Robinson sat out the final three games, he was passed on the depth chart by fellow freshmen Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson.
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.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, is known for his ability to adapt his offense to his players. It's one of the biggest reasons he was hired.

Will Muschamp is a head coach who needs results right away, and the Gators are expected to try just about anything to achieve them -- uptempo, no-huddle, spread, zone read. You name it.

After three years of a pro-style offense that had a heavy emphasis on downhill running, there will be changes.

Practice time will be at a premium, but Roper has a plan.

He'll start with incumbent quarterback Jeff Driskel and find what he does best. Then Roper will do the same with his offensive line and skill positions.

"I think you’ve got plenty of time through spring practice and through fall practice to make those decisions," he said. "So you get 15 opportunities in spring practice to make those decisions, and then you get 29 practice opportunities in the fall to keep making those decisions and finalizing going into fall camp.

"So everything moves fast, but you've got to figure those things out."

Here are some keys to Florida's offense next year.

Run, Driskel, run

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The majority of Roper's success has come in the passing game, but this season at Duke proved he can succeed calling plays in a much more balanced spread offense. Blue Devils quarterback Brandon Connette, who started three games this season, has 13 scores on the ground. He and starter Anthony Boone have combined to score 17 of Duke's 25 rushing TDs.

Look for the read-option to come back at Florida in 2014. It won't take Roper long to see that Driskel's best success as a college QB came mostly on the ground.

One of former offensive coordinator Brent Pease's goals for 2013 was to get Driskel comfortable as a pocket passer, but it didn't happen in his injury-shortened season. In his two full games, Driskel ran 17 times for just 38 yards (2.2 yards per carry). Then he was hurt a few minutes into Game 3. It was a lost season. But if those first two games were any indication, the Gators weren't planning to use as much of the read-option that Driskel had good success with in teaming with tailback Mike Gillislee in 2012.

Look for Florida to turn Driskel loose, hope he stays healthy and not worry about redshirting incoming freshman Will Grier or a possible second QB signee who would likely be a dual-threat athlete.

Pray for the offensive line

This is where it all starts, and there's no doubt Florida has a lot of room for improvement. With D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, Florida has the makings of a capable line. But only one of those five -- Garcia -- played a full season in 2012. The injury bug hit the OL as hard as any position, so it will be critical for this group to miss as little time as the injury gods will allow. There is some size and talent on the bench, but zero starting experience.

Changing to more of a spread offense should benefit this unit more than any other on the offense, as it struggled mightily in pass protection throughout the last two seasons. The comparative simplicity of zone blocking will also help more of Florida's inexperienced players get on the field sooner. The Gators redshirted three offensive linemen in 2013 and hope to sign four or five more this year.

Another technique -- cut blocking -- could be incorporated next season, depending on Roper's scheme and the yet-to-be-hired offensive line coach. After Florida lost to Georgia Southern in November, Muschamp lamented how the cut block "negates talent" of the defense. In 2014, the Gators might prefer to be on the other side of that equation.

Any receivers who can get open?

This has been one of the most confounding problems at UF since Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez thrived as Tim Tebow's favorite targets in 2009. There are plenty of decorated recruits on the roster. The wideouts have had proven position coaches such as Pease and Joker Phillips mentoring them. In steps Roper, who has produced 1,000-yard receivers in four of six seasons at recruiting-challenged Duke. It's time for some of Florida's talented youngsters to step forward and demand the ball, and there is at least one starting job available.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesKelvin Taylor showed plenty of promise as a freshman.
The freshmen who played the most in 2013 -- Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson -- have the size to create mismatches. Another freshman who burned his redshirt late in the season, Chris Thompson, has plenty of speed. With all of the WR screens Roper likes to call, the Gators will miss senior Solomon Patton, a speedy jitterbug who could have thrived in the new offense. Perhaps a replacement can be found in freshman Alvin Bailey, who redshirted in 2013.

The tight end position took a huge step backward when Jordan Reed left early after a solid 2012 season. Florida lacked any semblance of a down-the-middle pass-catching threat in 2013, as Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton combined for four catches. The Gators have commitments from three TE/H-backs, so don't be surprised if a freshman emerges.

Bigger-play running backs

Tailback is one position that won't keep Roper awake at night, as the Gators have a bevy of talented runners. Florida entered the 2013 season expecting Matt Jones to become one of the SEC's best running backs. And while hopes are still very high for Jones, the Gators believe they found another featured back in Kelvin Taylor after Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury. Mack Brown gives UF a reliable backup, and the coaching staff is excited about the potential of Adam Lane, who redshirted last season.

Where Florida's tailbacks can improve is in hitting more big plays. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards a carry and Brown averaged 3.7. But explosive plays are more likely to come from Jones or little-used Valdez Showers, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry. The Gators are also hoping to sign a speed back who could play right away and complement the group of grinding runners already on the roster.
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.

Florida O-line needs infusion of talent

December, 12, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a strong desire for early playing time, new Florida offensive tackle commit David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) couldn't help but see plenty of opportunity with the Gators.

Florida's offensive line has been a sore spot for the past two seasons. It's been beaten up by marauding defensive linemen, battered by injuries and called soft by head coach Will Muschamp. The O-line became an easy scapegoat on an offense that has struggled not only to throw forward passes but to keep quarterbacks healthy and clean.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Humphries
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesD.J. Humphries is all that's left on the offensive line from Florida's 2012 recruiting class.
Getting a commitment from the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect comes at just the right time for a UF program desperate to discover an offensive identity.

Muschamp is fond of calling the SEC a line-of-scrimmage league, but his Gators have missed on a few high-profile offensive linemen in recent years.

Last year it was Laremy Tunsil, the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation, who lived 45 miles up the road from Gainesville in Lake City. He had significant interest in Florida during his junior year of high school, but it waned throughout his senior year before he signed with Ole Miss. Tunsil lived up to his billing this fall, starting all but four games at left tackle for the Rebels as a freshman.

The Class of 2012 was a strong year for offensive linemen in the state of Florida. But Jacksonville's John Theus signed with Georgia and Palm Beach Gardens' Avery Young chose Auburn. Both are solid starters in the SEC.

UF wound up signing just one of the 2012 Floridian offensive linemen in Jessamen Dunker, who redshirted and was expected to compete for a starting job last spring. But he was arrested, suspended and transferred not long after his first year was complete.

Dunker's departure reduced Florida's already-tiny 2012 OL class to just D.J. Humphries, who started seven games at left tackle this season before a knee injury sidelined him for the final five games.

To bolster depth and stabilize the line, the Gators dipped into the transfer pool. They signed former Maryland left tackle Max Garcia, who stared all 12 games this past season; former Nebraska tackle Tyler Moore, who made eight starts before breaking his elbow; and juco transfer Trenton Brown (five starts).

The roster numbers are dwindling. UF loses three seniors in Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison and Kyle Koehne. The school also announced Thursday that junior guard Ian Silberman is departing, and freshmen Quinteze Williams and Trevon Young will transfer.

That means the Gators will have just two seniors next season in Garcia and Brown among nine returning offensive linemen. Starting right tackle Chaz Green would have been a part of that senior class, but he was injured in preseason camp and missed the 2013 season. With a medical hardship waiver, he can return as a fifth-year junior.

With six linemen leaving, the pressure is on Florida to sign at least the four pledges it currently has in Sharpe, Travaris Dorsey, Nolan Kelleher and Dontae Angus.

Another key to balancing the classes will be the progress of Florida's redshirt freshmen. While the Gators missed on some touted high school prospects, they instead stocked up on projects and players with projectable frames in their Class of 2013.

Florida was able to redshirt the three true freshman offensive linemen it signed. Guard Octavius Jackson drew the most praise in practice and came the closest to playing. Cam Dillard is being groomed to be UF's center of the future. Roderick Johnson has the size (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) to compete for playing time in the spring.

Of course, they'll all have to contend with Sharpe, who plans to see the field in 2014 as well.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Much like the little black lovebugs that swarm these parts twice a year only to splatter across windshields like a plague, the Florida Gators' injury bug in 2013 was a nuisance. Then it reached epic proportions. Here's a complete breakdown:

August

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jeff Driskel's season ended in the third game, when he broke his leg vs. Tennessee.
Injuries: Junior QB Jeff Driskel (appendectomy), sophomore RB Matt Jones (viral infection), senior WR Andre Debose (torn ACL), freshman LB Matt Rolin (torn ACL), junior OT Chaz Green (torn labrum)
Impact: In hindsight, maybe we should have known something was a bit off when players started falling before preseason camp. The injury parade started with Driskel and Jones missing reps at a time when they were supposed to be two of the primary focal points in the UF offense. Days into camp, another offensive weapon was lost when Debose tore his ACL in a noncontact situation. "He just planted his foot and there was a tear," coach Will Muschamp said. Florida' O-line got its first big jolt later in camp when Green, the starting right tackle, was lost for the season. With 19 career starts, Green was expected to anchor the right side of the line. The OL already was without senior guard Jon Halapio, who missed all of camp with a partially torn pectoral muscle suffered in late July and missed the first two games of the season.

September

Injuries: Freshman S Nick Washington (shoulder), Driskel (broken fibula), senior DT Dominique Easley (torn ACL)
Impact: Coming off a shaky three-turnover performance in Week 2's loss at Miami, Driskel was hurt in the first quarter against Tennessee the following week. Because junior backup QB Tyler Murphy rallied the Gators and engineered wins in the next two games, it appeared Florida wouldn't be impaired by the transition from one mobile quarterback to another. Eventually, however, Murphy's limitations in the passing offense showed against tougher competition. The two biggest things Florida lost with Driskel were the read-option element of the offense and the ability to diagnose defenses and check out of bad plays. Losing your best quarterback can cripple any team's offensive season. Losing your best player overall? That hurts in many more ways. Easley's injury changed the course of Florida's season. On the field, the senior was Florida's most disruptive defender, an agitator an identity-maker. He provided the crucial push up the middle that many teams desire but few have. Off the field Easley was a vocal leader, a motivator and someone who could keep the team loose. "You don't replace Dominique Easley," Muschamp said later. "It's not just from a play-making standpoint, it's from a leadership standpoint. It's the heart of your team."

October

[+] EnlargeMatt Jones
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via Getty ImagesMatt Jones was Florida's leading rusher when he was lost for the season in the LSU game.
Injuries: Jones (torn meniscus), Murphy (sprained shoulder), senior DT Damien Jacobs (concussion), junior LB Ronald Powell (ankle), senior LB Darrin Kitchens (shoulder), redshirt freshman LB Jeremi Powell (torn ACL), sophomore LT D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL)
Impact: Florida's loss to LSU on Oct. 12 split the season in two. The Gators came into the game with a 4-1 record and ranked No. 17 in the nation. They left with the first of seven straight losses and two more injuries that would plague them the rest of the way. Jones, the starting tailback, saw just six plays against LSU. Florida lost its top blocker and biggest home-run threat at tailback and would have to break in a true freshman replacement. Murphy sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder against the Tigers and struggled with accuracy until his season ultimately ended a few weeks later. The following week in a crushing loss at Missouri, the Gators lost their eighth player for the season in special teams standout Jeremi Powell. But the month wasn't quite over, and UF lost Humphries, its starting left tackle, when he hurt his knee in practice. The offensive line was in disarray heading into the Georgia game.

November

Injuries: Sophomore OT Tyler Moore (broken elbow), sophomore LB Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus), junior LB Michael Taylor (sprained MCL), freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder), freshman DL Joey Ivie (heel), senior WR Trey Burton (shoulder)
Impact: At this point in a season marred by injuries, it started to get ridiculous. Just when the offensive line had found itself against Georgia, Moore fell off his scooter when it slipped on a wet sidewalk and was lost for the rest of the year. Just before it faced Georgia Southern's dangerous triple-option offense, Muschamp announced that Morrison, the team's middle linebacker and top tackler, was out for the season. Casualties No. 9 and 10. To further drive home the point, Florida lost Morrison's replacement (Taylor) and then lost his replacement (Anzalone), as well as another linebacker (Kitchens) in the GSU game. At one point, the Gators turned to David Campbell, a senior walk-on who wasn't even on the game-day roster. Before the final game of the season, Florida suffered another scooter injury when Ivie sliced his heel and needed 25 stitches. The season ended, as you might imagine, with an injury ruining the Gators' game plan against Florida State. Burton was to run the wildcat for about 50 percent of the offensive plays and had early success with a 50-yard run. He hurt his shoulder and was knocked out of the game two plays later.

Conclusions

It would be hard for any offense to be effective without its top two QBs, starting tailback and three best offensive tackles. The running game that keyed an 11-win season in 2012 could not be relied upon in 2013. Similarly, the Gators' run defense fell apart by the end of the season. Florida's defense showed signs of being dominant with Easley, giving up just 55.3 yards a game on the ground, but then sprang leaks without their big man in the middle.

The upside? None of the injuries is believed to be career-threatening, and Florida developed some depth when it was forced to turn to younger players.

"There were a bunch of [important players] that didn't play for us," Muschamp said after the season's final game. "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. I'm not using excuses, it's real."

Real painful.

Few answers for beat-up Florida O-line

November, 11, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jon Halapio's voice was subdued, his words measured and his eyes mostly focused on the carpet beneath his seat as he tried to explain Florida's 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.

It was another rough outing for the Gator O-line, which gave up five sacks and a total of nine tackles for loss for a whopping 67 yards. Losing at home to the Commodores was just the latest insult upon a season of injury.

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
AP Photo/John RaouxThe Gators lost sophomore tackle Tyler Moore for the season after a scooter accident Nov. 5.
Veterans like Halapio can only shake their heads in disbelief.

"I've never seen or heard of anything like this, but this is the game we play," Halapio said of the injury bug that Florida just can't shake. "We've just got to move forward."

The senior guard, who tore his left pectoral muscle just before training camp and missed two games, has embodied the season-long struggles of his offensive line, as injuries and ineffectiveness have eroded any cohesion and consistency the UF offense has been able to muster.

Just when Florida made some personnel adjustments that seemed to click in the Nov. 2 loss to Georgia, another devastating injury struck.

That was sophomore tackle Tyler Moore, who is out for the season after falling off his scooter and suffering a compound fracture of his elbow last week. Offensive tackle was already a particularly sore spot. The Gators lost junior starter Chaz Green (torn labrum) for the season in fall camp, and sophomore starter D.J. Humphries (sprained knee) missed his second consecutive game on Saturday.

Against Vanderbilt, the Gators used their sixth different offensive line alignment of the season. Senior center Jonotthan Harrison is the only offensive lineman to start every game at the same position.

Despite how often they have to talk about injuries, Halapio, his teammates and their coaches bristle at the thought of using them as an excuse.

"[Moore's injury] shook things up, but we practiced [last] week," Halapio said. "We prepared for Vanderbilt like they prepared for us. There's no excuses about the injuries."

But losing three starting tackles clearly has had a musical-chairs effect on the line. Against the Bulldogs, Moore replaced Humphries by moving from right tackle to left. Trenton Brown, a juco transfer, got his first start, and the line had its best game in the last month.

“Well, we felt very good about a combination of Tyler Moore and Trenton Brown at tackles. We lost Tyler on Tuesday night. It hurt us in the [Vanderbilt] game," head coach Will Muschamp said on Saturday. "So you move Max [Garcia] from left guard, where he's been playing all year, to left tackle. Then you have a new left guard coming in in Ian [Silberman], who was really -- going in the Georgia game, until he had another injury -- was going to play tight end for us. It's hard.”

Hard to keep up with, too.

The results this season are about what one might expect of such a banged-up unit. Florida has allowed 26 sacks, tied for 105th among 123 FBS schools. The tackles for loss statistics are even worse, as the Gators have given up 67 in nine games, which ranks 110th.

And there are few answers on a roster so depleted. It's no wonder Halapio feels the answers can only come from within.

"We've just got to look ourselves in the mirror individually, especially through this time," he said. "I've never been through this really like this, adversity like this. So we've just got to correct this and move forward with the guys that want to win."

At least the ones who are still standing.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Another good weekend of SEC football is approaching. Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Tide-Tigers showdown: It doesn't quite have the heft that it had in 2011 ("Game of the Century") or maybe even last season (both teams were ranked in the top five), but Alabama-LSU is still a big deal and it will still be the center of attention Saturday night. It's the only game Saturday between two teams in the Top 25 and No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) will try to remain undefeated in pursuit of a third consecutive BCS title. The last time these teams played in Tuscaloosa was in 2011, and LSU won 9-6 in overtime. So Les Miles' crew won't be fearful of going into Bryant-Denny Stadium. Even if the No. 13 Tigers (7-2, 3-2) were to repeat that feat, they'd need the Crimson Tide to lose once more to have a chance to get into the SEC title game, but regardless, Saturday night should serve us some compelling theater.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/John BazemoreJames Franklin, who was injured Oct. 12 against Georgia, could return as soon as this week at Kentucky.
2. Franklin or Mauk? Missouri coach Gary Pinkel indicated that starting quarterback James Franklin is getting closer to being able to play after injuring his shoulder Oct. 12 versus Georgia, but to this point it's unclear whether he will get the start or play or if Pinkel will stick with freshman Maty Mauk. The Tigers are 2-1 in Mauk's three starts, and he had his best game so far last week in a 31-3 win over Tennessee, throwing for 163 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 114 yards. The No. 8 Tigers (8-1, 4-1) are at Kentucky, a team that struggles against the pass (the Wildcats allow 9.6 yards per pass play in SEC games, worst in the league), so it'll be interesting to see what Pinkel decides to do.

3. Is Texas A&M's defense really improved? The past two weeks have been good ones for the much-maligned Texas A&M defense, as the Aggies have held their past two opponents to a combined 31 points. They've held both opponents under 350 yards, under 130 rushing yards and have forced at least three turnovers in each of the past two weeks. The caveat? Both teams (Vanderbilt and UTEP) had freshman quarterbacks who were making their first start. Vanderbilt's Patton Robinette and UTEP's Blaire Sullivan don't exactly strike fear in the mind of a defensive coordinator, but Saturday when the No. 15 Aggies (7-2, 3-2) host Mississippi State, they could face a talented signal-caller in Dak Prescott, a dual threat who leads the Bulldogs in passing and rushing.

4. Will Prescott play? It has been an emotional week for Prescott, who lost his mother, Peggy, to cancer. Coach Dan Mullen and several Bulldogs joined Prescott for the funeral Wednesday, and Mullen has said that he won't rule out Prescott for Saturday's game but wishes to give his quarterback privacy to make the decision on his own. If he doesn't play, the Bulldogs will turn to Tyler Russell, who started the matchup between these teams last season but has suffered through myriad injuries this season. If Prescott does play, it could be quite the emotional boost for the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3).

5. What's next for Tre Mason? The Auburn running back is coming into his own as of late. He's third in the SEC in rushing yards with 921 and had a huge day last week at Arkansas, compiling 168 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries. On Saturday, he faces a Tennessee rushing defense that is actually last in the SEC (201.67 yards allowed per game), behind even Texas A&M (200.89), the team that has spent most of the year in the bottom of the league in that category. Could be another big day for the junior running back.

6. Florida attrition: Injuries have been a curse for Florida all season long and this week the Gators lost another starter, offensive tackle Tyler Moore, for the rest of the season with a broken arm as the result of a scooter accident. He's the 10th player and sixth starter to suffer a season-ending injury and those players have made a combined 84 starts in their career. The Gators (4-4, 3-3), who host Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4), are now without their three most experienced offensive tackles: Moore, Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss freshman Robert Nkemdiche might be moving to defensive tackle for the long haul.
7. Nkemdiche inside: Ole Miss true freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country in the 2013 class, will move over to defensive tackle this week when the Rebels (5-3, 2-3) host Arkansas (3-6, 0-5). According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin suggested the move could be permanent, saying, "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now." The 6-foot-5 Nkemdiche is 280 pounds.

8. Another strong finish for Vanderbilt? The Commodores (4-4, 1-4) haven't quite had the step up that some might have thought they would after going 9-4 last season, but coach James Franklin noted this week that right now, Vandy has the same record at this point in the season that it did last year. The Commodores proceeded to win five straight games, including their bowl game, to close out the year. Can they finish strong again? They'll have to start with a road win at Florida Saturday if they're going to repeat that feat.

9. How will Tennessee respond? The Volunteers have made significant strides this season, beating a ranked team (South Carolina) and coming close against another (Georgia), but the past two weeks have been rough with blowout losses at Alabama and Missouri. With the Volunteers returning home, can they find some more magic when they host No. 9 Auburn?

10. Tuneup for Georgia: The Bulldogs get an FCS foe this week in Appalachian State. It should be a short day for the starters and comes at a good time, because the Bulldogs will turn around and travel to Auburn the following week. Expect the Bulldogs to take care of business here against the Mountaineers, who are 2-7.

Planning for success: Florida

November, 7, 2013
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Another week, and another injury for Florida's football team.

Offensive tackle Tyler Moore's broken elbow (via a scooter accident) now gives the Gators nine season-ending injuries and more headaches for an offense that has been in the dumps for the last month.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesOf all the players who were early enrollees at Florida last year, RB Kelvin Taylor was the one to make the biggest impact.
Florida hasn't won a game since beating Arkansas 30-10 on Oct. 5, and the Gators haven't hit 400 yards of offense since Sept. 28 against Kentucky.

So how do the 4-4 Gators (3-3 SEC) get a homecoming victory over Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4)? Play like there's no tomorrow.

Each week, we've talked about how Florida needs to run the ball or create more plays in the passing game. We've talked about a need for the offensive line to toughen up. We've talked about the offense needing to be more creative.

For the last three weeks, none of that has happened and the Gators have gone 0-3. Gators coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat and a 6-6 season might be on the horizon -- so could a 5-7 one. It's time to realize that no drastic changes are coming to an offense that has lost its starting quarterback, starting running back and its three most experienced offensive linemen for the season.

It's become a mental game for the Gators. Vanderbilt poses a threat because the Commodores have more confidence, are fighting for a bowl berth, have had an extra week to prepare and have a defensive line that could make Florida's beat up O-line miserable. Vandy coach James Franklin will have his Commodores acting like sharks with chum in the Swamp, so Muschamp has to make sure his wounded Gators aren't left helpless.

Last week's 23-20 loss to Georgia could linger this weekend. The SEC Eastern Division championship is beyond a long shot at this point, so pride and a bowl game are on the line. Muschamp's job looks to be safe through this season, but a loss to Vanderbilt would make things a lot harder for him in Gainesville.

Muschamp said after the Missouri game that he and his team would come out of the corner they backed themselves into swinging. They landed some punches in the second half against Georgia, but not enough. Now those punches have to connect on Saturday, or this team is toast.

Florida certainly has the talent advantage on defense, but with Jordan Matthews at receiver, the Commodores will make some plays. That means the offense has to do its part. Kelvin Taylor has to open things up in the running game and extend plays with his feet. Tyler Murphy has to be more efficient in the pocket. When he as time, he can't be tentative like he has been. He has to make plays down the field. And this makeshift offensive line has to come together and gel better than it has all season.

If there was ever a must-win situation for the Gators, this is it. A win moves Florida closer to the postseason. A loss, and who knows what sort of mindset this team will have going forward.

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