A look at the players who will play a key role in the 2013 race for the SEC East
The key. Will Muschamp made no secret about the barometer for Florida's success this season during SEC Media Days: The team will go as far as Jeff Driskel can take them. And Muschamp's diagnosis is probably right. Mike Gillislee, the lead rusher for Florida in 2012 with 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns, is gone. the lead returning rusher for Florida is ... Jeff Driskel, with 408 yards. Jordan Reed, who led the team with 45 catches for 559 yards, is now playing for the Washington Redskins. Omarius Hines and Frankie Hammond are also gone. And depth, if nothing else, took a hit with the season-ending injury to Andre Debose.
Which Jeff Driskel? To say that Driskel had an uneven 2012 would be to put it mildly. And simply looking at the numbers (in part taken from cfbstats.com), you can make the case that Driskel passed best when he passed least. In the seven games in which Driskel threw the ball at least 20 times, he averaged a mediocre quarterback efficiency rating of 122.72 and broke 130 three times -- at Tennessee, against Kentucky and at Florida State. In the five games in which Driskel threw the ball fewer than 20 times, though, he averaged a solid 154.41 and had only one game in which he failed to break 140 -- the showdown against LSU. And two of his worst games also coincided with Florida's two losses. His 100.17 rating in the Georgia game was lower than just one other performance on the year -- at Vanderbilt -- and he threw two picks and zero touchdowns against the Dawgs. His 103.45 rating in the Sugar Bowl was his third-worst outing of the season, and the threw one touchdown against two interceptions in the loss to Louisville.
The wild card. How good is Brent Pease at developing quarterbacks? It's kinda hard to tell. Pease was not a quarterbacks coach between 2005, his final season at Baylor, and 2011, his last year in Boise. For that 2011 campaign, he had a guy you might have heard of, name of Kellen Moore, under center. At that point, the best plan for Pease was not to mess up Moore. More than a decade ago, he coached Jared Lorenzen at Kentucky for a couple of years. This will be Pease's second year working with Driskel and the rest of the offense, a needed does of stability that could benefit the entire offense generally and Driskel particularly.
In the final analysis. It's important to remember that Driskel has only played 17 games at quarterback for Florida. That's less than a year and a half, and Driskel is just now headed into his junior season. There's still room for growth, and still reason to hope that Driskel can live up to the recruiting hype that preceded his arrival in Gainesville. Asking Driskel alone to make up for sizable losses on the defensive side of the ball might be asking a bit much. But if he gets some help from the rest of the team and Pease does a good job elevating Driskel's skills, 2013 could be the year that quarterback stops being a question mark for Florida.