First Look: Florida
In a non-conference rematch of last winter’s Birmingham Bowl, the East Carolina football team will travel to the Swamp in Gainesville, Florida, to face the Florida Gators on Sep. 12. Back in January, the Pirates’ fourth quarter rally at storied Legion Field was spoiled when Shane Carden’s last-minute attempt for a game-tying score was intercepted in the end zone by First-Team All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, clinching a 28-20 Gators victory while the program’s next head coach, Jim McElwain, watched on in the bleachers. McElwain, who has spent the last three seasons as Colorado State’s head coach, will open his first season in Gainesville with a home game against New Mexico State prior to the Gators’ primetime tilt with the Pirates. Dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris was named Florida’s starter halfway through his freshman season in 2014 and sparked an otherwise uninspired team, which at that point was still being guided by coach Will Muschamp, who was fired after the Gators’ regular season finale. With Harris under center, Florida won four of its final six games to cap a 7-5 season. However, with a new coaching staff and a new system in place, Harris’ starting position is far from reserved terrain heading into his sophomore campaign. In fact, McElwain put red-shirt freshman Will Grier — a more conventional pocket passer — ahead of Harris on the depth chart this spring, which will likely set up one of the SEC’s most competitive position battles in fall camp. After being beat out by Harris last year, Jeff Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech during the offseason. Junior Skyler Mornhinweg, who was another potential candidate for the Gators’ starting job, also ducked out of the race when he transferred to Columbia last month. But while quarterback will be undoubtedly the most discussed position battle in Gainesville during fall camp, determining who will be protecting the Gators’ signal caller could be the most significant concern to address. Florida lost four starters on the offensive line, including Arizona Cardinals first round draft pick D.J. Humphries, and currently lists just 15 scholarship linemen on its roster after the acquisitions of FCS All-American tackle Mason Halter (Fordham) and freshman center T.J. McCoy (N.C. State), via transfer. Seven of the 15 linemen will be true freshmen this fall and only of them has started a game at the FBS level. On the other side of the ball, the Gators bring back Hargreaves, but lost their top pass rusher in Dante Fowler Jr., who was selected with the third overall pick in May’s NFL Draft. Aside from the Birmingham Bowl, the Pirates and Gators’ only other meeting was in 1983, a 24-17 Florida victory in Gainesville. ECU possesses a 6-25 all-time record against SEC opponents; five of the six wins were against South Carolina and the other was against one of the conference’s newer members, Missouri.
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