Can Matt Elam help the Gators solve their turnover margin woes?
Here's a though exercise for you: Name the last star to play for Florida. Not a "good player" -- everybody in the SEC has good players, and very few have the pedigree that Florida had over the 20 years that ran from 1990 to 2010. The last bona fide star. Tim Tebow? Has there really been anyone in the last two years that you can call a star? And is there anyone at Florida that could take that mantle this year?
BIGGEST RETURN | DB Matt Elam
While Jon Bostic had more tackles on the season -- and is a very good player in his own right -- Elam did a little of everything at safety last year. He broke up seven passes, grabbed two interceptions (tied for an admittedly unimpressive team lead), had 11 tackles for loss and forced a pair of fumbles. And it's not like his 78 tackles, second only to Bostic, were anything to sneeze at. Florida might be able to totally reverse its minus-12 turnover margin from last year -- which ranked 113th in the nation -- but a solid campaign by Elam and the rest of the secondary could certainly make the number a lot better.
BIGGEST LOSS | RB Jeffery Demps, RB Chris Rainey
It's really hard to separate Demps and Rainey when you talk about the Gators backfield over the last two years. Demps had more yardage last year -- 861 yards on 171 carries -- but Rainey had a half-dozen touchdowns to Demps' two. Rainey averaged more per game at 71.8 yards, but Demps averaged more per carry with 5.8. The two accounted for 76.9 percent of the rushing yards that Florida accumulated last year.
Oh, and then there was their impact in the passing game. Rainey led the team with 31 catches for 381 yards. (His two receiving touchdowns tied him for second place.) Demps kicked in another 172 yards on 16 receptions. Rainey averaged 120.9 all-purpose yards a game, the only player to hit triple digits. On a team that didn't really have any grade-A offensive threats last year, Rainey and Demps were the closest things Florida had to game-changing players.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | RB Mike Gillislee
Gillislee didn't get as much playing time over the last few years as Demps and Rainey did, but his career average of 6.3 yards a carry actually stacks up pretty well against Demps' 6.7 and Rainey's 6.2. He's also the only returning player besides Tre Burton with more than 100 carries in his career. And with the continuing turmoil at quarterback, Florida is going to have to rely heavily again on the run. That doesn't mean that Gillislee is a sure bet to have a big year -- it just means that Florida needs him to.