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Florida Gators are threats to beat any team they play, thanks to their defense alone

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You don't even have to have high hopes for this new offense to see how a more consistent and more fortunate Florida could scare anybody.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Sensibility

It's been difficult to elaborate on Florida's hire of Jim McElwain as its new head coach. It just ... made sense. The former Colorado State coach has the pro-style credentials many ruling-class programs covet. He's got SEC experience (four seasons as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama).

And he's a somewhat proven head coach. He inherited a Colorado State program that had gone 3-9 for three straight years, and he went 4-8, then 8-6, then 10-3.

All good things. His assistant hires made sense, too. You've got Doug Nussmeier, another former Saban coordinator, running the offense. Geoff Collins, former Mississippi State coordinator, takes over the D. Former Miami head coach Randy Shannon is aboard as associate head coach and linebackers coach.

The staff has experience, Florida recruiting ties, etc. Very little about this hire was sexy, but it was sensible. It will probably work.

Florida's last two head coach hires were sensible too. After taking a risk by hiring Ron Zook in 2002, athletic director Jeremy Foley has stuck to the script, and he's gone 1-for-2. Urban Meyer was prototypical mid-major success story, with four years of head coaching experience, 39 wins, and a top-five finish at Utah. Will Muschamp was the trendy defensive coordinator, once Texas' head coach in waiting, whose name had been connected to other power positions. The former won two national titles. The latter had Florida playing at a level below SEC average in three of four seasons.

This sensible hire has to clean up for the last one. What does that mean for Year 1?

A stellar defense, for starters. Defense was never much of a problem for Muschamp -- his four Gator defenses ranked 13th, first, fourth, and eighth in Def. S&P+. Collins inherits a front seven with proven playmakers (and dicey experience on the line, at least outside of the projected starting four) and an unimpeachable secondary. He was able to craft top-30 defenses at Mississippi State, and he should be able to do far more with this personnel.

On offense, there's a mess. Florida ranked 72nd in Off. S&P+ last fall, 83rd before that. There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to a defensive coordinator making decisions about his team's offensive philosophy: one kind chooses the kind of offense that he would hate to defend, and others just want the offense to stay out of the way so the D can win.

Muschamp did win 11 games in 2012 with the latter approach, but he won just 11 in 2013-14 combined. The offense had little rhythm, confidence or explosiveness. The personnel seemed to understand that their existence frustrated Muschamp, that if he could figure out how to win with 60 minutes of defense, he would give it a shot.

The defense should assure Florida of a high floor. Even in the last two years, with sputtering offenses, the Gators still ranked 45th and 32nd in overall F/+. But it is too much to ask of the new staff to quickly turn around that grunting O. There is too much youth, no proven depth, and a patchwork line. That slaps a ceiling on the season.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-5 | Adj. Record: 10-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 32
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
6-Sep Eastern Michigan 128 65-0 W 94% 36.7 100%
13-Sep Kentucky 68 36-30 W 69% 11.7 82%
20-Sep at Alabama 2 21-42 L 28% -13.6 0%
4-Oct at Tennessee 24 10-9 W 67% 10.2 63%
11-Oct LSU 22 27-30 L 64% 8.4 52%
18-Oct Missouri 20 13-42 L 21% -18.7 2%
1-Nov Georgia 4 38-20 W 96% 41.8 98%
8-Nov at Vanderbilt 115 34-10 W 85% 24.3 100%
15-Nov South Carolina 38 20-23 L 69% 11.4 77%
22-Nov Eastern Kentucky N/A 48-14 W 95% 39.2 100%
29-Nov Florida State 15 19-24 L 81% 20.1 84%
3-Jan vs. East Carolina 61 28-20 W 65% 8.8 43%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.9 72 16.4 8
Points Per Game 29.9 59 22.0 25

2. Too little, too late

Our narrative is easy. Muschamp's tenure fell apart with 2013's 4-8, and it was all but certain he would lose his job following an unsuccessful rebound. We knew that was conceivable heading into last fall, and that's what happened.

Muschamp came close to staying afloat, however, perhaps closer than we realized in real time.

The Win Expectancy column above looks at key stats and says, "With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X percent of the time." With the box scores at hand, Florida had a 52 percent chance of beating LSU, a 77 percent chance of beating South Carolina, and an 84 percent chance of beating Playoff semifinalist Florida State. Odds would say they should have gone at least 2-1 in those three games. They went 0-3, finishing 7-4 in the regular season.

The Gators' slapstick performance against Missouri on Homecoming is said to have been the beginning of the end. It was an amazing performance in all the wrong ways. Florida turned the ball over six times and gave up a superfecta of return touchdowns -- kickoff, punt, fumble, interception -- and Missouri's offense actively tried to stay out of the way. The Tigers completed six passes for 20 yards, gained 119 total yards, and won by 29 points.

There was almost nothing Muschamp could do to rebound ... but he almost pulled it off. Florida responded by whipping Georgia and almost doing enough to beat South Carolina and FSU. Pull that off, and that's a five-game win streak. Muschamp possibly survives.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 57% (~top 55 | record: 3-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 5 games): 85% (~top 20 | record: 3-2)

Florida did Missouri countless favors, both in the teams' Homecoming "battle" and in the win over UGA two weeks later. But if McElwain ends up turning UF back into a top-10 program, the more hapless moments of 2014 might be regarded fondly by Florida fans as well.

Without the return scores by Missouri, two blocked kicks by South Carolina in the final four minutes of regulation, and some impressive drive-finishing ineptitude against Florida State -- UF drove inside FSU's 40 eight times, scored one touchdown, attempted six field goals (missing two), and throwing a pick six (net points in eight trips: 12) -- Muschamp might still be the coach.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.87 50 IsoPPP+ 95.8 77
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.4% 112 Succ. Rt. + 93.1 96
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.9 46 Def. FP+ 101.0 53
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 74 Redzone S&P+ 82.6 118
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.6 ACTUAL 24 +5.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 96 91 102 77
RUSHING 43 69 82 55
PASSING 106 98 120 77
Standard Downs 101 99 105
Passing Downs 49 104 22
Q1 Rk 106 1st Down Rk 70
Q2 Rk 81 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 70 3rd Down Rk 54
Q4 Rk 36

3. A Doug Nussmeier offense

You get the impression that, before each game, Muschamp turned to his offense and said, "DON'T F*** THIS UP FOR ME."

A Gator offense, loaded with former four- and five-star recruits, should never start games as poorly, throw as inefficiently, or finish drives as horrifically. If nothing else, I assume this year's offense will improve in those areas. Progress, right?

After his tenure with Alabama, Nussmeier spent last season trying to bail water out of Brady Hoke's sinking Michigan boat. He didn't have the playmakers, but a) Michigan had a top-50 offense in the first quarter, and b) the Wolverines had top-50 pass efficiency (and top-100 pass explosiveness, but we're focusing on the positives). And while they averaged just 3.9 points per scoring opportunity (100th in FBS), adjusting for opponent makes that look better, too.

Nussmeier is organized and decent. His system protects the quarterback to a degree; he aims for balance on standard downs and calls more runs than the national average on passing downs. His Michigan offense failed in "you don't have the guys" ways: fading after the first quarter, stinking on third downs and passing downs, etc.

With a young quarterback, younger skill-position guys and a mélange of a line, he might not have those guys this year either. But in key ways, Nussmeier's structure should lead to improvement.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jeff Driskel
114 212 1140 9 10 53.8% 10 4.5% 4.8
Treon Harris 5'11, 195 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9417 55 111 1019 9 4 49.5% 7 5.9% 8.4
Will Grier 6'2, 201 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9758








Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Matt Jones RB
166 817 6 4.9 4.6 36.7% 3 1
Kelvin Taylor RB 5'10, 205 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9896 116 565 6 4.9 5.8 33.6% 0 0
Treon Harris QB 5'11, 195 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9417 68 364 3 5.4 4.4 47.1% 5 3
Jeff Driskel QB
59 249 4 4.2 2.8 42.4% 2 2
Adam Lane RB 5'7, 226 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8830 24 181 1 7.5 8.9 45.8% 1 1
Mack Brown RB
22 95 0 4.3 11.0 18.2% 0 0
Brandon Powell SLOT 5'9, 184 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8784 16 70 1 4.4 3.2 31.3% 0 0
Darius Masline RB
7 25 0 3.6 4.7 28.6% 0 0
Hunter Joyer FB
Mark Herndon RB 5'9, 195 Sr. NR NR
Jordan Scarlett RB 5'10, 198 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9442
Jordan Cronkrite RB 5'11, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9020







4. Now's your chance, Kelvin

Kelvin Taylor might have been the most encouraging piece of Florida's 2013, not because of what he accomplished (4.6 yards per carry over just 12 carries per game) but because of the future he represented. In his first sustained action that year, he rushed 22 times for 126 yards against LSU and Missouri, and for a half it looked like he might carry the limping Gators to an upset at South Carolina. It was easy to be excited.

In 2014, he didn't really become much. He got basically the same number of carries, surpassed on the depth chart by Matt Jones, and while he still showed ability in the open field, he rarely found it. He carried 25 times for 197 yards (7.9 per carry) and two scores in a brilliant performance against Georgia. He carried 91 times for just 368 yards (4.0) the rest of the year. In the final two games, he carried 17 times for 37 yards (2.2).

The bricolage line will have something to say about this, but if Florida's offense is going to succeed, it's going to be because Taylor overcame his sophomore slump. There are other interesting options; sophomore Adam Lane (whose name you might recognize for different reasons) [Update: and who has since transferred to Eastern Kentucky] rushed for 109 yards on 16 carries in the bowl win over ECU, and incoming freshman Jordan Scarlett was one of the nation's most-touted backs in the 2015 class. But Taylor has the size, speed, and pedigree (father: Fred Taylor, a former Gator and one of the NFL's more underrated backs) to be a star.

It appears redshirt freshman Will Grier is the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. The former blue-chipper is far from a diamond-in-the-rough type, but he was forgotten last year, redshirting as fellow freshman Treon Harris efforted in place of starter Jeff Driskel. Grier showed nice progress this spring and turned heads by going 8-for-11 for 136 yards in the spring game. He will make mistakes, and his decision-making will be too slow at times, but he will have bright moments as long as he's not constantly asked to make plays on second-and-9 or third-and-8.

(One asterisk: Oregon State quarterback Luke Del Rio transferred to Florida, and there's a tiny chance he's eligible. That almost certainly won't happen, so I haven't listed him.)

And he'll have Demarcus Robinson. Gator fans were high on the former blue-chipper heading into last year, and he backed up the faith with an enormous start. He almost single-handedly helped the Gators survive against Kentucky, catching 15 passes for 216 yards, and he caught five for 104 a few weeks later in the tight loss to LSU. But following every breakout, he disappeared.

After Robinson, who knows? Three other returning wideouts caught at least five passes, and all three are former four-star recruits. Sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby caught a touchdown from Grier in the spring game. The staff is reportedly high on four-star freshman Antonio Callaway. The potential is high, but no one outside of Robinson has proved much.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Demarcus Robinson WR 6'1, 204 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9640 95 53 810 55.8% 31.4% 51.6% 8.5 151 8.6 93.7
Quinton Dunbar WR
42 21 353 50.0% 13.9% 54.8% 8.4 85 8.5 40.8
Clay Burton TE
27 18 156 66.7% 8.9% 55.6% 5.8 -60 5.7 18.0
Ahmad Fulwood WR 6'4, 208 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9494 25 12 199 48.0% 8.3% 60.0% 8.0 45 8.1 23.0
Latroy Pittman, Jr. WR 6'0, 212 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8967 25 15 164 60.0% 8.3% 40.0% 6.6 -20 5.5 19.0
Brandon Powell SLOT 5'9, 184 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8784 24 15 147 62.5% 7.9% 79.2% 6.1 -35 6.7 17.0
Matt Jones RB
21 11 65 52.4% 6.9% 61.9% 3.1 -74 3.1 7.5
Tevin Westbrook TE
11 8 81 72.7% 3.6% 63.6% 7.4 -14 7.2 9.4
Kelvin Taylor RB 5'10, 205 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9896 7 2 -8 28.6% 2.3% 28.6% -1.1 -38 -1.9 -0.9
Valdez Showers SLOT 6'0, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9053 5 2 31 40.0% 1.7% 20.0% 6.2 4 3.3 3.6
Andre Debose WR
5 1 -3 20.0% 1.7% 100.0% -0.6 -20 N/A -0.3
Chris Thompson WR 6'0, 171 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544 3 2 17 66.7% 1.0% 33.3% 5.7 -7 3.6 2.0
C.J. Worton WR 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8756 3 2 12 66.7% 1.0% 33.3% 4.0 -12 2.5 1.4
Jake McGee TE 6'6, 249 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 1 0 0 0.0% 0.3% 0.0% 0.0 -1 N/A 0.0
Alvin Bailey SLOT 5'11, 192 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9225
DeAndre Goolsby TE 6'4, 243 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656
Moral Stephens TE 6'3, 240 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8759
Ryan Sousa WR 6'0, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8687
Antonio Callaway WR 5'11, 198 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8869

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 100 2.59 3.56 37.4% 73.5% 19.4% 113.8 2.9% 6.8%
Rank 74 108 39 83 24 69 48 23 51
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Chaz Green RT 30
Max Garcia C
24
D.J. Humphries LT
19
Tyler Moore RG
14
Trenton Brown RG
11
Trip Thurman LG 6'5, 313 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8876 10
Roderick Johnson RT
3
David Sharpe LT 6'6, 355 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9434 0
Antonio Riles OL 6'4, 322 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8753 0
Cameron Dillard C 6'4, 308 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8712 0
Travaris Dorsey OL 6'2, 318 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600
Andrew Mike OL 6'6, 302 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8767
Kavaris Harkless OL 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8491
Mason Halter
(Fordham)
OL 6'6, 295 Sr. NR NR 33
Martez Ivey OL 6'5, 302 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9990
Tyler Jordan OL 6'4, 292 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8795

5. Starting from scratch

The Florida line improved dramatically last year. It was a complete disaster in 2013, ranking 102nd in Adj. Line Yards and 100th in Adj. Sack Rate. Those numbers improved to a mediocre 74th and 48th, respectively. The run game wasn't efficient enough, which was on both the line and the backs, but improvement is improvement.

Of course, that doesn't matter now, as 2015's line will be almost brand new. Guard Trip Thurman started 10 games last year ... and the rest of the returnees combined for zero.

So line coach Mike Summers, a Muschamp holdover, will be making potpourri. Thurman is a senior, as is three-year starting Fordham tackle Mason Halter, who is making a slight leap up in competition (Patriot League to SEC) as a senior transfer.

After that: a smattering of sophomores, redshirt freshmen and freshmen. Some come incredibly regarded, of course -- it would be a surprise if blue-chip freshman Martez Ivey didn't start from day one -- but the primary goal has to be finding the right mix of talent for 2016 and beyond. There will be errors up front.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.72 4 IsoPPP+ 129.8 8
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.9% 24 Succ. Rt. + 116.5 20
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 33.7 9 Off. FP+ 110.1 2
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 20 Redzone S&P+ 119.2 18
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 31.3 ACTUAL 30.0 -1.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 15 10 16 8
RUSHING 13 14 27 4
PASSING 42 15 10 22
Standard Downs 10 15 8
Passing Downs 21 21 22
Q1 Rk 39 1st Down Rk 6
Q2 Rk 5 2nd Down Rk 9
Q3 Rk 15 3rd Down Rk 8
Q4 Rk 4

6. A Geoff Collins defense

Collins' Mississippi State defenses attempted to render you one-dimensional by stopping the run, then tee off on you on passing downs. His 2014 unit was unapologetically aggressive, excellent on passing downs despite giving up some big scrambles and draws.

The Bulldogs got hands on both the quarterback and his passes, and opponents still felt the best way to attack was through the air. Opponents threw 3 percent more frequently than the national average on standard downs and almost 5 percent more frequently on passing downs.

It will be interesting to see what happens to those rates this year. Despite Florida having one of the nation's most efficient pass defenses, opponents elected to throw on the Gators. But while they have some turnover to deal with in the front seven, they might also have the nation's best secondary, with three of the SEC's most successfully aggressive cornerbacks and steady safeties.

Florida's m.o. was to prevent big plays on the ground and attack against the air. Despite a mediocre pass rush, this formula worked. We'll see what changes after turnover on the front and in the booth.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 117 2.66 3.22 34.2% 63.0% 22.7% 99.2 6.6% 6.0%
Rank 14 31 58 22 39 22 68 28 90
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dante Fowler, Jr. DE
12 44.5 6.6% 15.0 8.5 0 1 2 1
Jonathan Bullard DT 6'3, 283 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9918 12 35.5 5.3% 8.5 2.5 0 2 0 0
Bryan Cox, Jr. DE 6'3, 268 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8716 11 20.5 3.0% 6.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Darious Cummings DT
11 20.5 3.0% 5.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Alex McCalister RUSH 6'6, 239 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8746 12 17.5 2.6% 8.0 6.0 0 1 1 0
Joey Ivie DT 6'3, 295 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8814 12 16.0 2.4% 3.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Caleb Brantley DT 6'2, 314 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9472 12 13.5 2.0% 4.0 0.0 0 0 2 0
Gerald Willis DE
8 10.0 1.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Leon Orr DL
5 9.5 1.4% 2.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Sherit RUSH 6'4, 250 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9063 9 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jay-nard Bostwick DL
5 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Thomas Holley DE 6'3, 312 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9628
Taven Bryan DT 6'5, 292 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8657
Khairi Clark DT 6'2, 321 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9226
Justus Reed RUSH 6'3, 234 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8476
CeCe Jefferson DE 6'1, 275 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9951
Jabari Zuniga DE 6'3, 263 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8604








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Antonio Morrison MLB 6'1, 229 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8916 12 65.5 9.7% 6.0 1.0 1 1 1 0
Michael Taylor MLB
11 42.5 6.3% 5.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Neiron Ball SLB
9 32.5 4.8% 3.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Jarrad Davis WLB 6'2, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681 9 17.0 2.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Harrell
(Ga. Tech)
MLB 6'2, 237 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8360 13 16.5 2.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alex Anzalone WLB 6'3, 244 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9734 12 10.0 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daniel McMillian SLB 6'1, 219 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9729 6 8.0 1.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jeremi Powell SLB 6'0, 219 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9147 7 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Matt Rolin MLB 6'3, 216 So. 5 stars (5.8) 0.9320
R.J. Raymond MLB 6'2, 236 RSFr. NR NR








7. Wanted: a pass rush

Five members of the front seven made at least four non-sack tackles for loss. The Gators put together a solid 22.7 percent stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line). Three of the five return: tackles Jonathan Bullard and Caleb Brantley and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison [Morrison's injury situation is still a major mystery]. Combine them with backup tackles Joey Ivie, exciting redshirt freshman Taven Bryan and safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal, and you can see one hell of a backbone.

So ... what about the edges? Florida's defense was fine without a strong pass rush, but the Gators did have Dante Fowler Jr.'s occasional brilliance (and I do mean occasional; he had 9.5 tackles for loss against Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, and East Carolina and 5.5 in the other eight games).

With Fowler now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Collins will rely on ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister to generate pressure, along with all-world freshman CeCe Jefferson.

Perhaps a change of scheme will help Florida linebackers. They flowed to the ball, but they had minimal disruptive presence, and now two-thirds of last year's starters are gone. The ends might be able to create a good pass rush by themselves, but Collins will almost certainly attempt to blitz and force the quarterback's hand. When you've got this secondary, you can take chances.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marcus Maye S 6'0, 207 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9487 11 50.0 7.4% 3 0 1 5 2 0
Jabari Gorman S
12 45.5 6.7% 2 0 1 6 1 0
Vernon Hargreaves III CB 5'11, 199 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9979 12 40.5 6.0% 2 0 3 13 0 0
Brian Poole CB 5'10, 211 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9721 12 35.0 5.2% 3 0 4 10 2 0
Keanu Neal S 6'1, 216 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9476 10 35.0 5.2% 1 0 3 4 1 1
Jalen Tabor CB 6'0, 191 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9923 12 26.5 3.9% 4 2 1 8 1 0
Quincy Wilson CB 6'1, 209 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8821 12 19.0 2.8% 1 0 1 3 1 0
Duke Dawson S 5'10, 204 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9191 11 12.0 1.8% 1 0 1 1 0 0
Marcell Harris S 6'1, 211 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9636 12 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nick Washington S 6'0, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9183 12 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Deiondre Porter S 6'0, 177 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244
Chris Williamson CB 5'11, 188 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8761








8. You better be able to run on Florida

Maybe you'll be able to attack unproven OLBs with your ground game. Or maybe you'll be able to counterpunch against a hyper-aggressive front and run your mobile quarterback.

Or maybe you'll just succumb to Florida's secondary and hope your defense can stop the Gators' offense. With mostly freshmen and sophomores and an inconsistent pass rush, Florida ranked 10th in Passing Success Rate+ and 15th in Passing S&P+ last year. That speaks volumes about what this unit could become now that Vernon Hargreaves III, Marcus Maye, and Keanu Neal are juniors and Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, and Marcell Harris are sophomores.

May and Neal did a nice job both making and preventing plays, but the corners are the stars. Hargreaves might be the best corner in college football, and he combined with Brian Poole and Tabor to pick off eight passes, break up 31 more, and log nine tackles for loss.

Pick your poison. Or stick to the ground. It at least might work.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Kyle Christy 64 44.3 7 17 22 60.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Hardin 5'10, 198 Jr. 70 63.3 20 3 28.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Francisco Velez 30-31 11-13 84.6% 1-1 100.0%
Austin Hardin 5'10, 198 Jr. 12-12 3-3 100.0% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Andre Debose KR 21 24.7 0
Valdez Showers KR 6'0, 193 Sr. 6 15.2 0
Andre Debose PR 23 14.0 1
Demarcus Robinson PR 6'1, 204 Jr. 3 0.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 24
Field Goal Efficiency 28
Punt Return Efficiency 22
Kick Return Efficiency 38
Punt Efficiency 83
Kickoff Efficiency 39
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 91

9. Few worries in special teams, believe it or not

In Florida's most frustrating losses, special teams implosion was a common theme, from kick and punt coverage against Missouri to blocked kicks against South Carolina to missed field goals against FSU. What made these even more frustrating is how good Florida special teams was the rest of the year. Despite miscues, UF ranked 24th in overall special teams efficiency, with only punt coverage a consistent sore spot.

Florida does have to deal with some turnover. Longtime return man Andre Debose is gone, as are Kyle Christy (who had a booming leg and sometimes outkicked his coverage) and short-kicks place-kicker Francisco Velez. Austin Hardin made four of seven field goals of 40-plus, so place-kicking appears to be in good hands (feet?).

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep New Mexico State 127
12-Sep East Carolina 80
19-Sep at Kentucky 52
26-Sep Tennessee 20
3-Oct Ole Miss 6
10-Oct at Missouri 23
17-Oct at LSU 8
31-Oct vs. Georgia 3
7-Nov Vanderbilt 83
14-Nov at South Carolina 31
21-Nov Florida Atlantic 101
28-Nov Florida State 17
Five-Year F/+ Rk 25.3% (23)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 13 / 8
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 6 / 12.7
2014 TO Luck/Game -2.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 8 (2, 6)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 8.0 (-1.0)

10. Start fast

Any time you talk about a team with good recruiting and a new coach, it's easy to find yourself talking the squad up. They're going to be back soon! The new guy will coax out the potential!

It's almost a good thing Florida's offense is starting from scratch, as it will keep expectations tamped down. But with this defense, the O needs only to be competent for UF to be an incredibly dangerous team. That was the case each of the last two years, but a new staff and new personnel represent opportunity.

Florida fans should expect a frustrating, encouraging fall. The Gators are just a few line injuries away from playing a ton of freshmen in the trenches, but if the lines remain semi-healthy, the Gators could be good enough to take down Ole Miss or Florida State at home or Missouri or South Carolina. They could also be inconsistent enough to lose to Kentucky on the road or Tennessee.

The upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 gives the Gators a 56 percent chance of going 6-6 or 7-5, a 14 percent chance of doing better, and a 30 percent chance of doing worse. I could see eight wins, but 2015 is about 2016 and beyond.

Figure out what you've got on offense, figure out your next generation on defense, win a big game or two, and win the fans back.