Following a 7-6 season, the Florida Gators bounced back in a big way in 2012, finishing the year 11-2. The Gators were in position to not only win the SEC East, but also advance to the BCS title game. But a loss to Georgia on Oct. 27 ultimately ended their division title hopes, and it was the Bulldogs who would advance to the SEC championship game with a BCS title berth on the line.
That disappointment aside, the season was an important step forward for head coach Will Muschamp, who needed to instill some confidence in his ability to lead the program back to an elite level. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M in College Station early in the year, and that win would look better and better as the season progressed. They also beat LSU and South Carolina in Gainesville, and all told, they showed they could compete with the league's best after a two-season hiatus from serious contention.
As the Gators head into spring practice, they have aspirations to do what last year's team could not -- finish the job and get back to the SEC championship game. But that task won't be easy -- nothing is in the SEC -- as the Gators have a lot of starters to replace.
Spring practice start date: March 13.
Spring game date, location: April 6, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Approximate returning starters: Six on offense, three on defense. The Gators lost a lot of talent, including three of their top four receivers and their leading rusher. But quarterback Jeff Driskel returns, as does the team's second-leading receiver last year, Quinton Dunbar.
Biggest addition: Consensus five-star running back Kelvin Taylor gives the Gators a big-time talent at a position that has some question marks heading into the 2013 season. Mike Gillislee, who led the team with 1,152 yards rushing in 2012, has been lost to graduation. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was the team's second-leading rusher, while then-freshman RB Matt Jones finished third on the team with 275 yards on the ground. So Taylor -- who has the added benefit of going through spring drills -- may be in a position to step in and help immediately.
Biggest loss: The Gators lost a lot of talent to graduation, but they lost some key players who left early for the 2013 NFL Draft as well. Safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd both skipped out on their senior years, and both could end up going in the first round come April. Floyd led the team in tackles for loss in 2012 and ranked second in sacks. Elam finished second on the team in tackles.
Seven members of Florida's 2013 recruiting class enrolled for the spring semester: linebackers Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin; running back Kelvin Taylor; wide receiver Demarcus Robinson; defensive tackle Darious Cummings; and defensive end Joey Ivie. The rest of the class will be on campus for the start of camp in August.
Florida's recruiting class ranks among the nation's top 10 and includes plenty of blue-chip talent, so several players could have an immediate impact. One might be Kelvin Taylor, who was considered the second-best RB in the 2013 class:
After defensive coordinator Dan Quinn accepted an offer for that same position with the Seattle Seahawks, Muschamp promoted linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to replace Quinn. Durkin has been a coach at Florida since 2010 and provides continuity to the program given his familiarity with both the personnel and the scheme.
The Gators also added Brad Lawing to their staff as the co-defensive line coach.
While the Gators do have a new defensive coordinator, changes to the scheme don't appear likely. Muschamp had this to say when Durkin was introduced:
"D.J. and I will run the defense, continuing the way that Dan and I did for the past two years," Muschamp added. "We will look to add another coach that is the best fit for our staff moving forward."