Team success depends on Driskel

There is room for improvement at every position on the field for the Gators this fall, but what happens with Jeff Driskel at quarterback will determine the success of the season.

It was obvious when Driskel went down last season. The Gators had no experience behind him, and Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg both stumbled through the season, bringing the offense to a screeching stop.

Assuming Driskel stays healthy this season, the way he plays will determine how much success the Gators have.

The Florida offense desperately needs a star. There isn’t one on the roster at the running back, receiver or tight end position, although all three have plenty of depth to be effective and have strong seasons. But Driskel needs to be the face of the Florida offense this fall and show that he’s ready to play the quarterback position at a high level.

Last season was supposed to be when it happened. Three bad decisions at Miami masked what was actually a solid nine quarters of play before a broken leg ended his season. Driskel completed 68.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 477 yards and two touchdowns, but the three interceptions are what stick out in the mind of most people.

The confidence from those around him hasn’t waivered this offseason. The Florida coaches have had high hopes for Driskel and maintained them throughout his struggles and injuries. They still believe he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.

His teammates still believe, too. Dante Fowler, Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves III both raved about Driskel last week at SEC Media Days, and Hargreaves even called him “the best quarterback in college football.” Hargreaves wasn’t asked if Driskel was the best quarterback in the country, and the sophomore cornerback brought his belief up on his own.

To make the instant impact the Gators need from Driskel in the new offense, he has to learn it quickly. The spring brought positive returns in that area, and Will Muschamp was actually surprised at how much of the offense they were able to install in their first spring under coordinator Kurt Roper. It’s also a more natural fit for the Florida quarterback.

“I think this offense fits him better as opposed to what we may have been doing before,” Muschamp said. “To utilize his athleticism and space, some of the things he's able to do athletically is going to benefit him and us.”

The early opinions on the offense were exciting. It gives the Gators a chance to play at a quick tempo, something Muschamp and the Florida defensive staff have been impressed by when other teams used it in recent years. That was a big part of why Muschamp wanted to go that route with the offense this year.

It also gives Driskel a chance to fit better into an offensive scheme. In recent years, he has been stuck under center during a majority of snaps. When the Gators did go to the shotgun, that’s when they found most of their big plays on offense. This fall, that will only be the case when he’s taking a knee at the end of a Florida win.

“This is an offense where you can put up numbers and points,” Jeff Driskel said. “I’m excited to light the scoreboard up for a change. I feel like we can go out and win games by scoring points. It’s a fun offense, an offense that can really get in a groove when we get going.”

But what happens if Driskel doesn’t play well?

It would put even more pressure on a Florida defense that needs to be stout this season. It would force Roper to be even more creative while trying to force offensive production in some form. Ultimately, it would keep Florida from having the type of season that the coaches believe is possible.

That’s why it’s important for him to have a strong season in 2014 and prove that he can be the quarterback to lead Florida back to success. If he can’t, the Gators signed two All-American quarterbacks -- Treon Harris and Will Grier -- that are both freshmen on the team this fall. It’s hard to imagine a situation where the Florida coaches go away from a healthy Driskel as the starter this year, but one thing is clear this fall.

The success of the Gators rides on the shoulders of their quarterback.

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