1.Offensive line becomes the talk of the practice field- The core of the offensive line returns from last season. It's yet to be determined whether that's good or bad after the unit played well below its expectations during the 2011 season. Florida is hoping a coaching change is enough to change the group. First-year offensive line coach Tim Davis is enough to change that.Healthy would be a nice change for the unit this fall. If the unit can stay remotely healthy throughout the season, there should be enough bodies on the line to improve competition and give the coaches the chance to make changes if players don't live up to expectations. Two freshmen— offensive tackle D.J. Humphies and guard Jessamen Dunker—will add to the depth and could even see time on the field.
2. Jordan Reed becomes the go-to target for the offense- This might seem crazy with the inconsistency Reed showed during the 2011 season. There were times when he lost his knowledge of where he was along the sideline and couldn't stay in bounds to make the catch. Other times, Reed would leave his feet to catch the ball when it wasn't necessary.Part of it is understandable. Reed was a high school quarterback that signed to be the quarterback of Urban Meyer's spread offense. Instead, he was moved to tight end and has shown the athleticism necessary to be a weapon in the passing game. This could be the year he puts it all together, and with A.C. Leonard recently deciding to transfer, Reed's emergence becomes even more important for a first-year starting quarterback.
3. Two freshmen win starting positions on defense- With ten starters returning on defense from the 2011 group, the expectation is that the Florida defense will be a veteran group. It's a bold prediction but not out of the question that two freshmen could earn starting spots. My two picks from the group are defensive end Jonathan Bullard and cornerback Brian Poole.Bullard is expected to enroll in time for the start of fall camp. If he proves that he can handle the starting role at defensive end, the former five-star player would mean a of couple things for the defense. The first, and probably most important, thing it could do is move Sharrif Floyd inside to defensive tackle. It would also show that the defensive coaches believe Bullard is prepared to be a factor as a freshman in the SEC.
Poole doesn't have the ideal height Muschamp wants at cornerback, but his toughness and physicality can get him on the field early. If he doesn't win the second cornerback spot, it's not out of the question that he could get some time at nickel back. He will be on the field early and often in 2012.
4. Austin Hardin gets involved on kickoffs- Caleb Sturgis heads into 2012 as one of the best kickers in college football. He made 22-of-26 field goals as a junior last season. In 2010, Sturgis attempted just four field goals because of a back injury that kept him off the field much.With freshman Austin Hardin on campus for the 2012 season, the Gators can play it safe and not risk injury to Sturgis. Florida could plug Hardin into the role as the kickoff specialist to keep Sturgis healthy for the field goals. It would also prepare Hardin with an important role for when he takes over the field goal kicking duties in 2013.
5. Neither quarterback wins the starting job- At least not in an official sense. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel have been the focus of the team since the 2011 season came to an end with a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. At this point in the offseason, there doesn't seem to be a big lead for either player.Most assume that Jacoby Brissett will win the job, but it's way too early to expect that to happen. They will battle it out through fall camp to see who wins the job. Don't be surprised if the Gators head into the season opener on September 1 without a true starter. Sure, someone will take the first snap of the season, but my prediction is that both quarterbacks see time on the field.
Driskel's running ability gives Florida a chance to use him in a different fashion than Brissett's strength of staying in the pocket and throwing. It remains to be seen whether using the two quarterbacks is the best way to go for Florida, but it wouldn't be a surprise if both saw playing time when the game is in doubt.