Bold predictions for the Gators

While Florida opens practice on Thursday, here are some bold predictions to keep an eye on this fall.

1. Jordan Scarlett will lead Florida in rushing: We’ll start out with what might be the boldest prediction on this list. After being on the short end of splitting carries with Matt Jones for the last two years, this is the season Kelvin Taylor finally gets to begin as the first-team running back. He has 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns combined in the first two years, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. We have a good idea of the player Taylor is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a good back that can move the chains and make people miss in tight spaces, but he lacks the speed to be a consistent threat for a big run.

That’s where Scarlett can help Florida. I’m a big believer in his talent, and he steps into a situation that’s a good opportunity for immediate success. Behind Taylor, there are a lot of questions. Adam Lane was the hero from the Birmingham Bowl MVP, but he suffered through an injury-prone spring and is still unproven at the college level. If Scarlett has a big fall and the coaches feel like he’s ready to handle a role as a true freshman, is it that much of a stretch to imagine him starting the year as Taylor’s backup? Scarlett has the talent to make an impact in his first season at Florida.

2. Brandon Powell will lead the Gators in catches: Demarcus Robinson had more than double the catches (53) of Quinton Dunbar (21), who was second on the team last season. Powell is the only player that I think can change that this fall. He split time at running back and wide receiver last season, but the new Florida coaching staff changed that in the spring and made him a full-time receiver. Powell looked like a natural before his spring came to an end with a foot injury.

The slot should be a perfect position for him. Powell will be able to catch passes close to the line of scrimmage and use his speed and elusiveness to create plays for a Florida offense that needs them. It didn’t take long for the Florida staff to feel like they’d found a difference maker in Powell, evidenced by their words during the spring and by Jim McElwain’s choice to bring the sophomore with him to represent the program at SEC Media Days. His breakout year is coming this fall.

3. Alex Anzalone leads the Gators in tackles: There are questions at the linebacker position because of Antonio Morrison’s knee. He suffered a serous injury in the Birmingham Bowl, didn’t practice in the spring and McElwain said at SEC Media Days that he’s not sure when he’ll be back on the practice field. The defensive staff threw Anzalone into the mix this spring and encouraged him to become more vocal, knowing that he would have to lead the defense from the linebacker position if Morrison wasn’t ready for the start of the 2015 season.

Morrison led the Gators with 101 tackles last season, 37 more than any other player on the roster. If he can’t play every game this year, it’s probably not much of a stretch to think Anzalone could be the one at the top of the charts in tackles this season. Of course, tackles is only a small measurement of production at linebacker, but Anzalone should be in good position to record plenty of them this fall.

4. Ten sacks for Alex McCalister: Replacing Dante Fowler’s production as a pass rusher will be the biggest challenge for the Florida defense this fall. If there’s anyone that can come close, it’s McCalister. He was second on the team with six sacks last season and led the Gators in sacks for a majority of the second half until Fowler’s three-sack Birmingham Bowl put him at the top.

This year, McCalister will have to prepare for the double teams Fowler faced all of last season. The redshirt junior and Jonathan Bullard will be the two defensive linemen that demand the attention of the offense, but McCalister’s pass rush skills are good enough to still be productive. Expect a big year for the lanky pass rusher.

5. Two freshmen start on the offensive line by midseason: I considered going even bolder and saying three freshmen would start, but we’ll leave it at two for now. The obvious name that makes the most sense is offensive tackle Martez Ivey. David Sharpe feels locked into one tackle spot, and Ivey is likely battling Fordham transfer and FCS All-American Mason Halter for the other tackle spot. A former five-star recruit, Ivey has enormous upside at 6-5, 302 pounds. He should have a chance to show it this fall.

The second freshman in this situation is up in the air, but I’ll be watching the center position closely this fall. There’s no clear answer from a returning player at center based on what it looked like in the spring. The Gators could move senior Trip Thurman to center, but that just creates another hole at the position next season. I think the staff could throw Tyler Jordan into important reps at the position in the fall with thoughts of starting him there when the season begins. At 6-4, 292, Jordan has the frame for the position, and he has received rave reviews about his intelligence. It would also give the Gators a clear leader on the offensive line in future seasons when the line should be much better.

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