With a good deal of help from Year2.
If there is one reason to doubt Florida's chances of winning the SEC East this year, it comes from the roster turnover. Tim Tebow is gone, along with six defensive starters and the top two receivers. How much of that is balanced by John Brantley taking over the signal-calling duties and the return of four-fifths of the offensive line starts will decide what actually happens in Gainesville this year.
WHO'S GONE ... ON BOTH SIDES
Much of the hype about starters who have left will focus -- and rightly so -- on Tim Tebow, a contender for the greatest college football player of his generation. Tebow was responsible for 35 TDs passing or rushing, about 60 percent of Florida's total TDs last year. Tebow was the top rusher for Florida in 2009, with 910 yards on 217 attempts. Also gone are both of Tebow's favorite targets -- Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper, who combined to make a total of 119 receptions for 1,811 yards and 14 TDs.
But even more significant could be the losses on the other side of the ball. Among the defensive contributors moving on due to graduation and the NFL:
- Joe Haden (14 starts, 68 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 4 INTs, 10 passes broken up)
- Ryan Stamper (14 starts, team-leading 78 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 INTs)
- Brandon Spikes (12 starts, 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 eye gouge)
- Carlos Dunlap (12 starts, 38 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 9.0 sacks)
- Jermaine Cunningham (12 starts, 34 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 6 QB hurries)
- Major Wright (12 starts, 32 tackles, 3 INTs)
Those players alone accounted for 37 percent of Florida's tackles, 55 percent of the team's interceptions, 60 percent of its sacks, and of course 100 percent of its eye gouges.
Despite losing the quarterback and top two receivers, Florida does have some weapons back on offense, including five of the seven top rushers from 2009. That includes likely RB starter Jeffery Demps, who was second to Tebow with 99 carries for 745 yards and 7 TDs. Chris Rainey, who will also spend some time as a receiver, had 89 rushes for 575 yards and five scores last year. Deonte Thompson is the top returning receiver after 24 receptions for 343 yards and 4 TDs.
Meanwhile, the offensive line returns 56 total starts, losing only the 14 starts of Maurkice Pouncey. Three of those back on the line in 2010 started all 14 games this past season, though not always at the same position: Carl Johnson, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Pouncey. Xavier Nixon and James Wilson, who combined for nine starts, will likely be the other two starters, and Maurice Hurt is back after 5 starts in 2009.
On defense, Omar Hunter and Terron Sanders are back after starting 11 and eight games on the line in 2010, respectively, though they might not have their starting positions on the line back. Justin Trattou and Jaye Howard will likely be called on for more than the four starts each along the line last year. A.J. Jones returns to anchor the linebacking corps after totaling three sacks and as many interceptions in 11 starts last year before a knee injury sidelined him. Brandon Hicks, who took over for the last three starts when Jones went down and played in 10 other games, had four sacks himself. Ahmad Black and his 70 tackles are back in the secondary, along with Janoris Jenkins, who had two picks and broke up six more passes. Will Hill, who started four games and played in every game, brings back his 42 tackles.
Does John Brantley count as a "new" player? Sure, he's technically a new starter, but he's a redshirt junior who's attempted 76 passes over the past two seasons. That doesn't make him an experienced SEC quarterback by any stretch of the imagination -- his career high in attempts was 13 against FIU in 2009 and in completions was 10 against Troy last year -- but it's more than some teams (cough cough Ole Miss cough cough Tennessee cough cough) have.
|John Brantley, Career|
One of Brantley's "new" wideouts will be Carl Moore, who was sidelined in 2009 with a back injury after having 14 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown in 2008.
Potential starters on the defensive line include Duke Lemmens, who started once in 2009, and Lawrence Marsh, though neither had a particularly memorable stat line last year. (In fairness, neither did Hunter and Sanders.) Jonathan Bostic should get plenty of playing time at linebacker, and Moses Jenkins could fill the fourth place in the secondary.