THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. The defensive line will be great.
The Florida defensive line was incredibly good in 2006 and was a huge factor in that team winning a national championship. It hasn't been the same since, though Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham were a dynamic duo off the edge together. This year should change that. Sharrif Floyd earned a starting job by the end of last year as a true freshman, which is pretty remarkable for someone with approximately six months of college weight training. Vet Jaye Howard will start at the other tackle spot, and as a former DE, he's got more speed and agility than most DTs. Ronald Powell proved his versatility in the defensive end rotation last year, both rushing the passer off the edge and dropping back and covering receivers like a linebacker. Those three plus DT Dominique Easley form perhaps the most talented line unit UF has had since that '06 season. They'll be good as long as they can stay healthy. The unit doesn't have much depth.
2. The running backs should be able to produce.
Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were the speed backs who turbocharged the 2008 offense as freshmen. They're now seniors, and they should be making a big impact. Both missed time last year: Rainey to suspension and Demps to injury. That's part of why the running game never felt in sync. It also didn't help that Rainey was assigned to the "Percy position," a hybrid receiver/running back spot that he wasn't a great fit for. He's now mostly just a running back, and the offensive staff had nothing but good things to say about his vision running in the new pro-style system. Demps will get plenty of carries too, and he's recovered nicely. The hard running junior Mike Gillislee is a third option, as is talented sophomore Mack Brown. Last year's option quarterback Trey Burton is listed as a running back now too, so this spot has plenty of big play potential.
3. There aren't many pass targets, but they are good.
As previously mentioned, Florida has only nine scholarship wide receivers this fall. There are only three tight ends as well, and one of them (Michael McFarland) has been moonlighting at linebacker. Charlie Weis likes to toss the ball around a bit, but he'll be limited in his options as targets. The good news is that the guys who are there are good. Deonte Thompson, despite his occasional drop problem, did lead the team in receiving last year, and Jordan Reed is a rugged tight end who is tough to bring down. Omarius Hines is an amazing physical specimen, and Frankie Hammond has a flair for making acrobatic catches. Quinton Dunbar was the breakout player of the spring, and Andre Debose proved his gamebreaking potential by running two kickoffs back for touchdowns last year. It will be a trick keeping them all healthy, and learning the playbook is an issue with transitions. The talent is there though.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. If John Brantley can be saved.
This is a point you'll find on every Gators season preview, but it is of vital importance. John Brantley broke Tim Tebow's Florida state high school TD pass record, was the 2006 Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school, and nearly signed with Texas before switching to his family's school in Gainesville. At one time, the kid was one of the best quarterbacks in the country for his age. The question now is whether last year destroyed his confidence beyond repair. He alternated between playing well and playing awfully, and the hailstorm of bad snaps from Mike Pouncey didn't help. Steve Addazio never did square off the round hole at quarterback in his offense, and Brantley never looked comfortable. On top of all that, Jeff Driskel wowed fans at the spring game and will undoubtedly be the fan favorite this fall. Weis may have to summon every ounce of QB development magic he's got to make things work. If the team does have to turn to the true freshman, it may make this long season even longer.
2. Just about anything regarding the offensive line.
The undersold aspect of Addazio's mismanagement last year was how he handled the line. Tackle Xavier Nixon was in and out of the lineup nearly every week, and when he was out, guard Maurice Hurt played out of position at tackle. The rotation never seemed to relate to quality of play, and the unit never gelled. Nixon and G Jon Halapio are the only guys on this year's line with starting experience, and the latter wasn't a standout for most of last season. New center Jonotthan Harrison was a guard up until late in spring practice and is still listed as such on the roster. It's up to new line coach Frank Verducci to make a workable unit here, but it didn't help him that only six scholarship linemen were healthy by the time of the spring game. If the line is unreliable like it was last year, it will make the offensive transition even harder. Speaking of...
3. How the offensive transition will go.
The transition on the defensive side of the ball should go fine. While Will Muschamp's defense is different from Charlie Strong's scheme, which Teryl Austin basically ran last year, it's a lot closer than Weis' pro-set is to the old spread option. Weis will employ spread passing sets, but the idea of seeing a quarterback run on purpose will be relegated to the past. The receivers have new routes to learn. The line will now do zone blocking like an NFL team does. Brantley will be more in his element, which is perhaps the best thing about the transition. However, most transitions between the pro-set and spread option have been rocky. Urban Meyer's 2005 offense had to get overhauled midway through the season. Rich Rodriguez's first Michigan offense was awful. The program he left behind went the other way (from spread option to non-spread option) and shed nearly 100 yards and around 15 points per game. These things are never graceful, and inexperience reigns through much of the depth chart. I'm not predicting a redux of Notre Dame's hideous 2007 offense, but this fall's unit might not come out ahead of last year's anemic attack.