THREE THINGS WE KNOW
They will need more offense this season. Even by the defensive standards of the SEC, Florida was a subpar team last year when it comes to moving the ball. The Gators ranked 12th in the conference in total offense; only Kentucky and Auburn were worse. And while Florida was merely below average in terms of passing efficiency -- it ranked 10th -- it was downright terrible in passing yardage, coming in last in the league in that statistic and trailing Auburn by more than 10 yards a game. When you rank first or second in the conference in total defense, rushing defense, passing efficiency defense and scoring defense -- and the only team you're behind in any of those categories is Alabama -- then you can win playing that way. But Florida isn't likely to have the same success on defense this year, meaning some more offense is probably going to be be needed to contend for the division.
Home-field advantage won't help them win the East. Florida's schedule is odd in one respect: Neither of the other expected contenders for the SEC East will play in the Swamp this year. In fact, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the only SEC East teams that will travel to Gainesville this year. Part of that is because this is Florida's year to have the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party as a "home" game. So the home slate is Toledo, Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern and Florida State -- a set of games that, with the possible exception of the last one, would likely open with Florida as the favorite no matter where they were. If the Gators are going to win the East, they're going to have to do so on the road.
Kicker Caleb Sturgis is gone. It's not often that the loss of a kicker makes one of our previews, and it might not make a huge difference to Florida this year -- but if the kicking game plays a key role in one or two games this year, one of the most prolific kickers in Florida history won't be on the sidelines. How good was Sturgis at the end of his Florida career? He was a fifth-round draft pick for the Miami Dolphins and is already making a run at the starting job there after kicking a 58-yarder the other day. He also scored the seventh-most points in a single season in Florida history last year with 106, which was the second-highest total of his career, and is third on the career list for Florida in points scored. The early returns on Brad Phillips or Austin Hardin replacing Sturgis are not encouraging.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
Which Florida will take the field in 2013. There were kind of two Floridas in 2012. For the first seven games of the season, no one other than Texas A&M and LSU came within two scores of Florida, though the Vanderbilt game was probably closer than the Gators would have preferred. The final five games were ... somewhat different. Florida defeated both Missouri and Lousiana-Lafayette by a single touchdown, and as a general rule looked good only once after late October, that being the 11-point win at Florida State.
How much Jeff Driskel can / will improve. We've already been over the importance of Driskel to Florida this season, so we're not going to beat the dead horse much more here. Suffice it to say that Driskel could have a lot to say about whether the offense becomes the more potent force that it needs to be, especially now that the running game is missing Mike Gillislee this season. The quarterback can't turn the offense around on his own, but it looks unlikely that Florida would score many more points this year if he doesn't improve.
Whether the offensive line can protect Driskel. At least part of the question of Driskel's effectiveness might be answered by the offensive line. Florida allowed more sacks in 2012 than any other team in the SEC -- though the per-game number was slightly lower than Auburn -- with opposing defenses getting to the quarterbacks 39 times. This year, that line is a bit more experienced; according to Phil Steele, the line returned 79 starts last year, but 92 this season. Two projected starters -- Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio -- started every game in 2012. And Chaz Green, who's fighting for a starting spot this year, had 10 starts last year. If the improved experience leads to improved protection, it could help Driskel.