Florida Gators: Tyler Murphy

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.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer's last complete recruiting cycle at Florida, the Class of 2010, was astounding on paper.

On the field, it hasn't quite lived up to such lofty billing.

The Gators signed 27 recruits in 2010, a class that ranked No. 1 in the nation. Seventeen players were among the top 150 prospects in the nation, 14 in the top 81.

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd was one of too few gems to come out of Florida's top-ranked 2010 recruiting class.
Much was expected of such an impressive array of top-rated players, but instead of playing for championships, this class became better known for falling short of those goals.

Still, the class produced a few obvious stars and a sizable group of starters and role players. It clocks in at No. 4 in our weeklong series looking at Florida's most impactful recruiting classes in the last decade.

The stars: Defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam were rated among the top 25 prospects in the nation and lived up to the hype at Florida. Floyd and Easley quickly proved to be dominant forces at defensive tackle, and Elam showed elite instincts as a playmaker in center field. Floyd and Elam were first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Easley has suffered some setbacks with two torn ACLs and chose to forgo a fifth season of eligibility at Florida to enter the NFL draft this May.

The contributors: Ten players rode out the transition from Meyer to Will Muschamp to make their mark as starters. Several others found useful roles. Defensive back Jaylen Watkins and wide receivers Solomon Patton and Trey Burton all avoided redshirts, grew into starting roles and made significant contributions on and off the field. WR Quinton Dunbar, OL Chaz Green, DT Leon Orr and LBs Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball return as likely starters in 2014.

The letdowns: One could argue that Ronald Powell belongs in this group because he was the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2010 and was expected to be a star. In four years he overcame two ACL surgeries on the same knee, had a fantastic attitude and was productive when he was on the field. It's easier to look for letdowns among the 11 players in this class who transferred. Safety Jonathan Dowling, the No. 10 overall recruit in the nation, transferred after he was dismissed for violating team rules. Josh Shaw, the No. 3-ranked cornerback prospect, started out well at UF but transferred closer to home in the Los Angeles area and has played well for USC. Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE prospect in 2010) and Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR) were two other high-profile transfers. QB Tyler Murphy, CB Cody Riggs and OL Ian Silberman recently transferred after spending their first four years at Florida.

The results: When crowning Florida's 2010 recruiting class as No. 1 in the nation, ESPN called it one of the best classes ever. Everything clicked in 2012, when the Gators went 11-1 in the regular season and played in the Sugar Bowl. But sandwiched around that were 7-5, 6-6 and 4-8 regular-season records in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The class produced two high draft picks in Floyd and Elam. Easley is likely to be a second-rounder this spring, and Watkins could go anywhere from the second through fourth rounds. But after those four, there aren't any sure bets in the NFL. That's surprising for a class that was so highly touted.

Grading the Gators' 2014 class

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Signing day is one of those rare times in which every college coach celebrates a win.

And for a Florida program that suffered through seven straight losses to finish a miserable 2013 season, a win is somehow more than a win. It's validation. It's hope.

The Gators put a bow on their fine 2014 recruiting class on Wednesday, and the feeling on campus was like a return to happier times.

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Gators' class with a grade for each.

Quarterback
Florida needed to replace two transfers after junior backup Tyler Murphy and freshman Max Staver left, and the Gators did so with aplomb. Will Grier, one of the centerpieces of the class, is a gifted passer with plenty of athleticism to run. Adding Treon Harris gives the Gators a talented athlete who is a proven winner with two state titles as evidence. Harris flipped on signing day from Florida State because he felt Kurt Roper's offense at UF would be a better fit. Now Roper has to get both QBs ready for action.

Running back
Losing one of the top tailbacks in the country, Dalvin Cook, was a big blow. Losing him to Florida State hurts even more. Cook would have been a perfect complement to UF's already-strong backfield. But Florida recovered quickly and flipped ESPN 300 athlete Brandon Powell from Miami. Like Cook, Powell is an early enrollee, which helps. He does a lot of the same things as Cook and likewise see early playing time.

Wide receiver
Again, Florida lost one of the best prospects in the country, Ermon Lane, to FSU, which will sting when the schools square off in their annual grudge match. And again, the Gators recovered with a flip of their own. Ryan Sousa, a four-star prospect, switched from FSU to Florida. The Gators also got a signing-day boost from former FSU commit C.J. Worton. Both project as slot receivers and are good fits for an offense that will feature more spread elements.

Tight end
It's been a rough ride at this position since Jordan Reed's departure. There's really nowhere to go but up. The Gators are excited about all three signees. DeAndre Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. Moral Stephens is a playmaker who profiles more as an H-back. And despite being less well-known, C'yontai Lewis caught the coaches' eyes during summer camp as a big target (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) with good hands.

Offensive line
Florida desperately needed help here and got it in the form of six signees. The big prize is Jacksonville, Fla., offensive tackle David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect. But this group offers plenty more in the way of immediate impact and depth. Guards Drew Sarvary and Nolan Kelleher have the size to contribute this fall and are already on campus. Offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless will also benefit from being an early enrollee. Travaris Dorsey gives UF a rock-solid prospect on the interior line. Big, rangy offensive tackle Andrew Mike was a late addition, flipping from Vanderbilt to UF the night before signing day.

Defensive line
This might be the strength of the class, a group that Florida recruiters might someday pound their chests over. It started with three prospects on whom the coaching staff is extremely high -- DE Taven Bryan, who is on campus now, burly DT Khairi Clark and DE Justus Reed, a quick and explosive athlete. Then Florida added two huge pieces in pulling DL Gerald Willis III out of New Orleans and flipping DT Thomas Holley from Penn State. Both are among the finest D-line talents in this class.

Linebacker
Florida didn't have a serious need after signing a fine class of four linebackers last season. They went after some big names, like Christian Miller (a one-time commit), Raekwon McMillan, Jacob Pugh and Nyles Morgan but didn't settle for lesser talents just to fill space. We'll give this position and incomplete grade.

Defensive back
This could have been a home run had Florida signed Adoree' Jackson. Instead, it was a stand-up triple. The Gators have lost four starters in a backend that typically starts five in the oft-used nickel formation, but Florida has recruited well here for years. The 2014 class was no exception. UF desperately needed a signee who can compete right away as a starting cornerback and got its man in five-star Jalen Tabor. Keeping J.C. Jackson in the class and signing fellow ESPN 300 talents Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson was huge. Deiondre Porter, a late flip from South Florida, is an intriguing project who played quarterback in high school.

Overall
The Gators met every one of their biggest needs -- a corner who can start, talented depth for the offensive line, a future starting quarterback (or two), fresh blood at tight end, and some explosive playmakers in the slot on offense. Not enough can be said of the job this coaching staff did to finish with the No. 6-ranked class in the nation after a 4-8 season. It speaks volumes about the resilience of the Florida brand name as well as the recruiting ability of Will Muschamp and his coaches.

Reviewing Florida's Class of 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every year on signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp takes a moment to throw a jab at the media.

The circus surrounding college football recruiting has grown to epic proportions, and he clearly bristles at the thought of ranking classes or players before they don cleats.

"You judge a recruiting class after it’s been on your campus for two or three years," he's said. "Everybody wants to judge it in February and rank them and say this class is great. That’s ridiculous to be able to rank a class in February when these guys haven’t even stepped on campus yet and been through a spring practice and been in fall camp.

"I’ve been around a lot of guys who were two-stars who ended up playing in the NFL for a really long time. They were really good players. And I’ve been around some five-stars who couldn’t play."

With that sentiment and the passage of four years, we review Florida's 2010 class.

It ranked No. 1 in the nation with four five-star players, 15 four-star recruits and 17 players from the ESPN 150 (including 11 of the top 50). ESPN called it "simply one of the best classes ever."

The stars

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd became everything the Gators hoped he would when they signed him in 2010 and was Minnesota's first-round pick in 2013.
Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 DT prospect in the nation): He just about embodied the blueprint for how you'd like a top prospect to go through school. Floyd grew into a dominant force in the middle for Florida, was a leader and became a first-round NFL draft pick after his third season.

Matt Elam (No. 2 ATH): Like Floyd, Elam played right away and became a team leader at safety for the Gators, starting every game of his final two seasons. And like Floyd, Elam was a first-round pick after three years in college.

Dominique Easley (No. 1 DT): Easley's flame burned bright on and off the field. His magnetic personality made him a team focal point right away, and his ability to torment offensive linemen made him a standout on the field. If it weren't for two surgeries on torn ACLs in each knee, Easley would be a lock for the first round of the NFL draft this May.

The contributors

Ronald Powell (No. 1 ATH): The No. 1 overall player in the country, Powell was the headliner for Florida's vaunted class. But he never truly lived up to the hype, compiling modest stats and suffering two torn ACLs in the same knee. After a healthy season as a fourth-year junior, Powell hopes to be picked in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.

Mack Brown (No. 4 RB): He was supposed to be the first premier running back then-coach Urban Meyer had ever recruited, but it took Brown time to adjust to the college game. He finally contributed as a junior and will be a key reserve in 2014.

Chaz Green (No. 4 OT): Started nine games as a redshirt freshman and 10 games as a sophomore before missing last season to injury. He's expected to be a key member of UF's O-line in 2014.

Jaylen Watkins (No. 5 CB): He never got the hype of some teammates, but Watkins quietly had a solid career at UF. He started 28 of 48 games played in four seasons at cornerback and safety.

Cody Riggs (No. 7 CB): Like Watkins, Riggs has proven to be a versatile member of the Gators secondary. After redshirting the 2012 season due to injury, he'll be back as a senior this fall.

Leon Orr (No. 8 DT): Returns for his senior season after finally breaking through as a starter last season.

Michael Taylor (No. 12 OLB): Became a starter in 2013 after two seasons as a backup. He'll return for his final year.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Patton
AP Photo/John RaouxIt took time for him to develop but WR Solomon Patton made an impact in his senior season.
Solomon Patton (No. 17 WR): Had a standout senior season after toiling in anonymity the previous three.

Gideon Ajagbe (No. 23 OLB): Never a factor at linebacker, he finally saw action last season after switching to fullback.

Neiron Ball (No. 28 OLB): A quiet contributor, he made seven of his nine career starts in 2013 and will be counted on this fall.

Trey Burton (No. 30 ATH): Played every skill position on offense during his four seasons and was a consummate leader.

Quinton Dunbar (No. 42 WR): Has been a solid starter for most of the last two seasons and looks to do the same as a senior.

Darrin Kitchens (unranked LB): Was a valuable reserve for the last four years.

The transfers

Jonathan Dowling (No. 1 S): Was kicked off the team and transferred to Western Kentucky, where he became a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection. He's skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

Josh Shaw (No. 3 CB): Played in 10 games with one start as a redshirt freshman before transferring to USC. He emerged last season, finishing third on the Trojans with 67 tackles and four interceptions.

Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE): Played eight games for UF after redshirting, then transferred to Louisville and caught 26 passes for 401 yards and four TDs last fall.

Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR): Redshirted, then transferred to USF. He finally got playing time in four games last fall after being plagued by suspensions.

Ian Silberman (No. 3 OT): Never rose above the level of reserve in three seasons at UF. He graduated in four years and transferred to Boston College.

Chris Martin (No. 10 DE): After an arrest for marijuana possession, he transferred to two junior colleges, then transferred to Kansas and was dismissed after an arrest for an alleged robbery.

Jordan Haden (No. 44 S): Enrolled early but transferred before his first season. Haden has played the last two seasons for Toledo.

Robert Clark (No. 48 CB): Played two seasons before transferring to Louisville, where he caught 23 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown in 2013.

Tyler Murphy (No. 54 ATH): Started six games at QB as a junior in 2013, graduated, then transferred to Boston College for his final season.

Lynden Trail (No. 63 DE): Redshirted and saw no action in 2011 before transferring to Norfolk State.

Michael McFarland (unranked TE): Redshirted, then transferred to USF, where he's worked his way up the depth chart. Was second on the team with 23 catches for 288 yards and two TDs in 2013.

Season report card: Florida

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It was a very rough season in Gainesville in 2013, and Florida's final grade reflects that:

OFFENSE: F

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was left searching for answers after a 2013 season that saw losses to in-state rivals Miami and Florida State, as well as a loss to FCS Georgia Southern.
The Gators never really got their offense going last season and struggled all year to find consistent playmakers. A plethora of injuries, including a season-ending leg injury to quarterback Jeff Driskel, didn't help, either. Injuries at quarterback, running back and the offensive line left Florida with the SEC's worst total offense (316.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (18.8 points per game). Florida ranked 12th in the league in passing (170.9) and 13th in rushing (145.8). Florida watched backup quarterback Tyler Murphy leave late in the year with a season-ending injury, and the Gators failed to score more than 20 points in its final seven games (all losses).

DEFENSE: A-

The Gators were as good as anybody in the SEC on defense the first month of the season, but injuries took their toll, particularly when defensive tackle Dominique Easley went down for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in practice in late September. Cornerback Marcus Roberson also missed several games. And to be fair, Florida's defense wore down some after having to carry a woeful offense all season. The Gators still finished eighth nationally in total defense (314.3 yards per game) and 15th nationally in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). They didn't give up more than 21 points in their first six games, but gave up 34 or more in three of their final six games. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was one of the best true freshmen in the country, and sophomore end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. also had a big season with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

It was a mixed bag for the Gators on special teams, which has typically been one of their strengths. Solomon Patton was seventh nationally in kickoff return average and led the SEC. He took one back 100 yards for a touchdown against Missouri. Florida also led the SEC in kickoff coverage. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to like on special teams. The real mystery was Kyle Christy, who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012 as the country's top punter, but was inconsistent this season and ultimately benched in favor of a freshman. The Gators finished 10th in the league in net punting and also struggled on field goals. They used three different place kickers and were a combined 12-of-22 (13th in the SEC) on field goals, including two that were blocked.

OVERALL: F

It's rare that a team with the caliber of defense like Florida's is as bad as the Gators were, but they were an absolute train wreck on offense and went into every game with no margin for error. It didn't help any that they were 12th in the SEC in turnover margin. There's no question that injuries gutted this team, but there's no excuse for losing to Georgia Southern or being as limited as Florida has been on offense, really, for the past two seasons. It all caught up to the Gators in 2013 and resulted in their first losing season since 1979. The pressure is squarely on Will Muschamp to turn it around next season ... or else.

Past grades
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Grier knows the deal. He has been hearing from Gator fans for months, knows how excited they are about his future and is flattered by the attention.

Some have even called him a savior.

"Yeah, I see that all the time," Grier said. He's rated the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation and is one of the most anticipated recruits in Florida's top-10 class. He gets it.

"When a program is down a little bit, they're looking for anything to put their hope into. It's just something that I hear, and it's great. I thank you for your support, that kind of thing. But I've got a long ways to go. So we'll see."

It's easy to understand the buzz. Grier is 6-foot-2, 186 pounds with a live arm, advanced footwork and a truckload of accolades and accomplishments.

The two-time Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year finished his career at Davidson Day School with 14,565 yards passing, 2,955 yards rushing and 226 touchdowns in three years of varsity play. He made headlines in 2012 when his 837-yard game set a national record for single-game passing yardage.

Will Grier
Miller Safrit/ESPNWill Grier is rated the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation after an outstanding high school career.
The success didn't get to Grier, though. He's a calm, mature, level-headed 18-year-old.

He's excited about the future, too. Grier is enrolled in his first college semester, 17 credits. He wants to major in business and minor in communications, but it's more like a dual-major with football. Grier is taking a crash course with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

The moment UF lost No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy to transfer, Grier became most likely to back up Jeff Driskel this fall.

It's a situation his father and high school coach, Chad Grier, hopes will go according to script.

"The perfect scenario would be for [Will] to be able to go play behind an All-American, a Heisman candidate, an NFL prospect," Chad said. "He could learn from a guy that's having success at that level and watch his practice habits and off-field habits and get a feel for playing in the SEC in general.

"On a much smaller scale, when I went to college I was in a similar situation. I played behind a guy who was an NFL prospect and an All-American candidate. It was ideal. He taught me a lot. It was great to have him take me under his wing and get me prepared for what was going to happen. Unfortunately he ended up getting hurt and I had to play as a true freshman."

Will has always had a lot to learn from his dad, the coach and former player. Now that he's preparing to play the same position in college, Will can turn to Chad for even more advice.

Chad started his career at Division I-AA Richmond, backing up Bob Bleier in the mid-80s. Then he transferred to East Carolina, where eventually he was Jeff Blake's backup.

"I was the most popular guy in Greenville," Chad said. "Jeff struggled a little bit [in 1990]. He was hurt a little bit. So, man, every time he threw a bad ball I could hear 'em screaming for me. They'd chant my name. That's because I wasn't the guy. If you're the guy doing well, they're going to love you. If you're the guy not doing well, they're going to love your backup.

"So that may be what [Will is] getting into. I don't know Jeff Driskel from Adam's house cat, but I see a big, good-looking kid that's got a big arm and can run. I think he came with a lot of expectations. And I hope he gets healthy, and I hope he has a tremendous year. But if he doesn't they're going to start calling for Will, and I'd hate for that to happen to Driskel. Because the very same thing, it could be Will one day.

"When you're the backup, you're the next guy. Until you get out there and face live bullets, everybody thinks you're the greatest thing ever."

Undoubtedly, there is pressure on Will Grier. He comes to Florida with high hopes and a good chance that he'll be one injury away from taking over at quarterback.

As a dad, as a coach and as a former player, Chad knows exactly what Will is getting into. He says backup quarterback is the toughest position in football.

"If you're the backup running back, the backup safety, the backup linebacker, backup anything else, you're going to play," Chad said. "You may not be in the program as a starter, but you're going to play. If you're the backup quarterback you have to be ready to play. The next play you might be the guy for the rest of the game, the rest of the year.

"But it's very hard when you're hyper-competitive to prepare yourself for that and be all excited, ready to go, and then game day comes and goes and you never break a sweat."

As an ECU Pirate, that pretty much summed up Chad's career.

"I've got one record that still stands from East Carolina," he said, "and that's the most consecutive quarters wearing a baseball hat."

His own fond memories aside, Chad believes Will has the right mindset for his first year at UF.

"If they want him to redshirt, he'll redshirt," he said. "He's ready to go run the scout team. … He's champing at the bit to get into it."

But one thing Chad can't advise Will on is the hype his son has heard, seen and felt before even taking a snap.

"I've heard it," Will said. "Especially nowadays with social media stuff. But I think overall, they're fans. That's what they're supposed to do. I don't expect anything less. You know, it's something I acknowledge, and I want to show my appreciation for their support and that type of thing. But I just don't get too much into it.

"They'll be excited until I throw my first interception."

Thanks to his dad, whenever that happens Will should be well prepared for what comes next.
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.
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.
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.

Gators confident they can bounce back

December, 3, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida need not look any further than Saturday's championship game to see how quickly fortunes can change in the SEC.

Auburn was winless in league play last year, and Missouri won all of two games in its first spin through the South. A year later, they're playing for a ring.

With 2013 mercifully over, the Gators must pick up the pieces of a 4-8 season and try to find some positives after a bleak seven-game losing streak ended the season with a thud.

"Honestly, I feel like we hit rock bottom this year," offensive lineman Max Garcia said. "I feel like the only way we can go is up."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp is counting on his players using this year's humbling experience as motivation.
That's one way of looking at it. Another is to use the bitter sting of defeat as a motivating force during the offseason.

"It's a clean slate, but you still have to remember what happened," Garcia said. "And you want to not let that happen ever again. We don't want to feel that pain. We don't want to feel this pain ever again. I'm sick and tired of losing.

"Next year, we have that pain to sit in our hearts. We have to work through that, and we have to take that pain and make it into intensity, make it into effort, make it into want-to. We have to want to go out there and take the opposing will out of the [opponent]. That's what we have to work through."

Payback certainly can be a motivating force. After the season ended last Saturday, safety Cody Riggs spoke of exacting revenge upon the teams Florida will meet again in 2014.

The Gators should have a chip on their shoulder. In fact, head coach Will Muschamp is counting on it.

"It's a great lesson to be humbled in life a little bit sometimes -- as a coach, number one, as a staff and as players," he said. "Nothing wrong with that. That's good for us. ...

"You want to keep battling and keep playing if you're a competitor. Absolutely no relief at all [that the 2013 season is over]. You just want to be able to get out and continue to practice and improve. We've had a lot of young players continue to take a bunch of reps that have improved. A bunch of guys that we weren't really counting on this year that have come out and played. That will help our depth as we move forward."

There's another silver lining.

Florida's dizzying parade of injuries in 2013 sapped the team's strength physically and mentally. But the youth movement that resulted is a big positive for Florida. Several young players got invaluable experience as a result of injuries. True freshmen Kelvin Taylor, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jarrad Davis and Chris Thompson made starts at running back, cornerback, linebacker and wide receiver, respectively.

Florida also developed much-needed depth at the quarterback position after starter Jeff Driskel was lost in Week 3. Backup Tyler Murphy started six games before he was hurt. He ceded the job to redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, who made the final three starts of the season.

"I think the future is very bright," Mornhinweg said. "We've got some guys coming back. We can't make any excuses. We were a little dinged up, but you really can't make any excuses. We've got some guys coming back, and I think we're going to be a very strong team."

Injuries heal, and painful memories can fuel an entire offseason of work.

"We're going to be working hard in the offseason," Mornhinweg said. "I never want to feel like this again. This is a terrible feeling to have, and we're going to be on a mission next year."

Next year. When the season is upon them next fall, Florida will have an unblemished record. Time should heal the wounds of 2013's painful losing streak, and the memories of an incompetent offense will fade. Eventually, Florida will foster some optimism as it begins anew with a rebuilt offense.

Like the Gators hope to do next season, Auburn and Missouri bounced back this year with new offensive coordinators. Gus Malzahn brought Rhett Lashlee with him from Arkansas State to the Tigers, while Josh Henson replaced David Yost at Mizzou.

Fresh faces, a clean slate and a healthy roster count for a lot. But for Muschamp, the rebirth of the Florida Gators starts with one thing.

"Roll your sleeves up and go to work," he said. "That's the bottom line. That's all you can do. Be a great leader, great motivator for your team and organization. That's all we're going to do.

"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."

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."

Changes are coming at Florida

November, 25, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Another week, another crushing defeat for Florida, and not even an FCS opponent could remedy what ails these Gators.

An epic losing streak pock-marked with the kind of history no team wants to make has reached six games. The end of the season can't come soon enough, and the negativity and pressure to act are growing as this season of misery threatens to implode.

The questions being asked are damning in and of themselves:

Have the players given up on the season?

Is the offense so debilitating it's affected the rest of the team?

The answers have steadily shown up in recent weeks.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFrustration has reached an all-time high for Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators after a loss to FCS Georgia Southern on Saturday.
After losing in the Swamp two weeks ago to Vanderbilt on homecoming, Florida's first home defeat against the Commodores since 1945, some of the Gators' upperclassmen acknowledged the need to guard against giving up on the final three games.

"We definitely need to look out for that," senior guard Jon Halapio said. "I feel like maybe younger players would have that mentality. I know the older players are trying to keep the team together. That’s something we’ve got to guard against with the younger players. We’re trying to keep everybody up and keep everybody together."

Halapio said he's seen it before, because he checked out when he was a fresh-faced Gator. His first season in 2010 was Urban Meyer's last, and UF slogged through a demoralizing four-game losing streak midseason. The following season, the first of Will Muschamp's tenure, saw Florida go 6-6 in the regular season.

Halapio, now a veteran who is expected to lead, says the young players need to follow the older players' example.

"When the older players come around they see you’ve got that look on your face like you don’t want to do anything this week," he said, "an older player comes around and says to pick it up this week and come together. The leadership on this team needs to take over."

Two weeks later, it still hasn't happened.

After losing to Georgia Southern on Saturday, Halapio did the veteran thing and faced the media again. There was nothing to sugar-coat after the program's first loss to an FCS team.

"Very shocking," he said. "The morale on this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership. We just really need to tighten up as a team."

Muschamp has obviously seen the same issues and pointed out the lack of leadership. He's no stranger to issuing blunt, public criticism. A year ago he called his offensive line soft. This season he has decried a lack of mental toughness throughout the team.

But look more closely and you'll see a defensive-minded coach who is past the point of exasperation with an offense that continually puts his defense in no-win situations.

After his quarterback, Tyler Murphy, threw three pivotal interceptions in the Vanderbilt game, Muschamp pointed out the ripple effect his offense had.

"We didn't take care of the football. And when those things happen, emotionally it's a killer. It's a killer for your entire organization," he said. "So when you spot them the ball on the 4-yard line, right now we're not strong enough mentally to handle that. A year ago, maybe early in the year, we were. Right now, we're not. It's a 'woe is me' mentality right now. We've got to overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward."

Even with three games remaining, a .500 record and a 22-year bowl streak still on the line, Muschamp was concerned his offense might submarine the team's attitude.

"You can play with more of an edge than I believe we did," he said after the Vanderbilt loss shook many a Gator's faith. "Not saying we didn’t play hard. I think we did play hard. We competed and fought to the end. But at the end of the day, you cannot give them those opportunities. It’s just a complete emotional letdown.

"You can’t throw it to them. That helps you check out."

The implications of an inept offense were laid out even more bluntly after Florida's offense couldn't keep up with Georgia Southern on the scoreboard this past Saturday.

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

"We’re struggling offensively and it has infected our entire team right now."

With another season almost in the books and an offense that continues to rank among the nation's worst, it's obviously not a comfortable time to be an offensive assistant at the University of Florida. After the Vanderbilt loss, offensive coordinator Brent Pease admitted "it's human nature to probably think about" job security.

So what is left to do? Muschamp has promised he will evaluate his staff at the end of the season, as he has done the previous two years.

"What we’re doing so far is not working," he said. "Keep doing the same stuff, you’re going to get the same results."

Whether it's players or coaches, changes will come. You can bet the same people won't be doing the same stuff much longer at Florida.

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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