9 Big Questions For UF

Lets play NINE questions about the Gators upcoming college football season. What are the keys for a big year? Lots of new Gators will run through that tunnel for the first time in the orange and blue.

1.  Who will start the season at quarterback?  Ingle Martin will start the fall as the number one guy but he will definitely be looking over his shoulder.  Martin has shown the ability to move the offense and not make mistakes.  But he has lacked big play capability and if he tries to do more than he is capbable of he will struggle.  The other three players must take the job away from Martin if they are going to start the season.  Gavin Dickey must get back to being patient and not forcing things, while Chris Leak and Justin Midgett will need to prove that they can handle the next level.  The biggest change for Leak will be identifying coverages.  Once he understands that part of the game everything else will become easy.

Ack's Prediction: Hard not to go with Leak having watched him throw the ball.  He gives Florida a dimension no other QB can give them in the passing game.  I think Martin will start but all three could play against San Jose St.

2. What is the defensive tackle rotation going to be?  One thing is for sure the Gators have a lot of numbers to roll in at the defensive tackle spot.  The quality of players is still to be determined but Charlie Strong won't hesitate to move people in and out.  Maurice Mitchell on the team helps along with the additions of two freshman Michael Hill and Marcus Thomas.  One or both true freshman will play this fall.  Strong will also move some personnel around to play different teams (especially pass happy teams like San Jose St.).  Ron Dowdy and Kenny Parker finished the spring as the starters.

Ack's Prediction:  Eric Holcombe has added 15 pounds of muscle this summer and could be ready to emerge as a dominant player.  I think the combo of Holcombe and Mitchell will start the game at Miami.  Marcus Thomas and Kenny Parker will be first two after them with Dowdy and Ray McDonald playing snaps as well.

3. Will Keiwan Ratliff play both ways during the season?  Keiwan Ratliff knows the offense after spending the spring at wide receiver.  He gives the young quarterbacks a presence at the slot position that is lacking in the passing game.  He does great things after the ball is in his hands and knows what to do with it.  Obviously the new cornerbacks Reynaldo Hill and Demetrice Webb must emerge to give Coach Ron Zook confidence to leave him on offense.  The incumbents on campus - Johnny Lamar, Matt Jackson, Nick Brooks and Deshawn Carter have not done enough to convince Zook just yet.  Hill and Webb would be the fastest corner combo at Florida in over a decade.

Ack's Prediction:  I think he plays offense and will be a situational guy on defense.  He can play corner on a young defense or he can play receiver on an offense looking to win games early while the defense comes along.  Give me offense and roll with Webb and Hill barring injuries.

4.  Who will emerge at the linebacker spots?  Todd McCollough has had a great summer in the weight room after moving to middle linebacker in the spring.  He will be solid much like Bam Hardman a year ago because of his physical nature.  Matt Farrior and Dwright Jackson have been around f or awhile and need to make something happen in the fall.  Tauren Charles, Reid Fleming and Brian Crum will all be in the mix for playing time early.  Channing Crowder has had a super summer and appears to be out of the woods with his off the field problems.

Ack's Prediction:  Channing Crowder will emerge during the season as the next great Gator linebacker.  McCollough will lead but this group with Crum and Charles is the most athletic group at UF since Kearse, Peterson and Rutledge.  Jackson has had a very good summer program.

5. Can Zook improve the special teams this season?  The first pressure is on Eric Wilbur who needs to be able to handle the punting duties as a true freshman.  Zook has handed him the job and protection should not be a problem with the added depth at linebacker and defensive back this season.  Matt Leach returns and should be much better after finishing the season soundly.  The key may be to make sure holder Sean Morton does not quit the team during fall camp like last year's holder.  Ratliff and Dee Webb could return punts which will help while freshman Andre Caldwell and Chad "Bubba" Jackson could be on kickoff return.

Ack's Prediction:  UF will block four punts this season and return one kickoff for a touchdown.  I like Wilbur to hang on to the job because he reminds me a lot of Shayne Edge in that he is an exceptional "heady"athlete.  The kickoff return will be much improved with game-breakers back there this season.  Look for the McCollum twins to make a name for themselves on special teams.

6. Will Ran Carthon hold up as the number one running back?  Carthon will be the starter going to the fall for the first time in his career.  He has great size, good speed and sure hands.  His one drawback is that he has been injury prone.T  he running backs are the deepest and most talented unit on the team with Deshawn Wynn, Ciatrick Fason, Jimtavis Walker and freshman Joe Cohen.  Wynn had a great spring and needs to get better without the football while Fason who played last season needs to avoid fumbling.

Ack's Prediction:  I think this will be a position by committee depending on the situation.  Even if Carthon stays healthy Wynn and Fason will play.  Wynn could be real special and has the ability to make people miss while Fason can take it the distance anytime he touches the ball.  I would not be surprised if they handle Joe Cohen the same way the did Fason last season.

7.  Will the passing game be more vertical?  Last year Florida attempted more passes than any Gator squad ever and completed more than any in school history.  The Gators however became very horizontal in the second half of the season.  A lot depends on the the vision of whoever plays quarterback, but expect Ben Troupe to make as many catches by a tight end since Kirk Kirkpatrick in 1990.  The passing game will also benefit from having a nice mix at receiver - (possession guys - Carlos Perez, Kelvin Kight and OJ Small) and deep threats (Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Jemalle Cornelius).

Ack's Prediction:  I believe UF will throw deep early in the season just like last season but protection must be better and the quarterbacks must be able to get the ball to the deep threats.  The running game, if successful, will help the down field passing, but expect the screen packages for receivers to stay in the playbook each week.

8.  Will Bobby McCray and Darrell Lee finally play to their potential?  If the spring and summer are any indications then they should both be ready for a breakout season.  The key for both players is Charlie Strong.  Strong coaches defensive ends as well as being the defensive coordinator.  He developed Kalimba Edwards at South Carolina and Reynaldo Wynn in Notre Dame.  He should make them better and put them in positions to make plays.

Ack's Prediction:  Yes Strong will make a difference and both guys should be watching last year's Miami tape till the cows come home.  It's simple, just squeeze and bounce the running back on Wham G!   Ok, I am not coaching but they could use some depth with Travis Harris, Mackenzie Pierre, Steven Harris and Jarvis Moss.

9.  Will UF emerge from fall camp a confident hungry team?  Ron Zook will have as many as 46 newcomers running out the tunnel on August 30th.  His biggest challenge may not be whether they know the playbook or assignment but whether or not he can convince them they can compete for an SEC Title.  There are many good second year coaching success stories but none with a team this young.  He must spend fall camp working on the trust and psyche of his new team as much as the X's and O's.

Ack's Prediction:  This may be Zook's biggest challenge especially with Miami in week two.  The lack of respect this summer by many will help motivate his team.  The senior class led by Keiwan Ratliff  have voiced that they are completely behind Zook this season.  Last year some guys weren't completely on board and this year there will be some that are not into the Zooker, but the team leaders must help bring along the young talent.  Remember this philosophy of Zook," It's not about the X's and O's but about the Jimmy's and Joe's".  UF has plenty of inexperienced ones but nonetheless they are very talented.

The Florida staff will try to improve on certain areas of emphasis in fall camp for the upcoming season.  First, will be time of possession.  The offense led the league and also ran more plays than anyone else, but were near the bottom in time of posssesion.  A strong running attack will help this area, as Ed Zaunbreaker would like to see UF near the the 30 minute mark which would be up from 28 minutes a season ago.  Offensively the main concern is scoring more points, but with the opportunity to be in a lot of close games because of a young team the Gators would like to improve their 4th quarter scoring.  Last season, the UF offense only scored 64 points all year in the final stanza, so look for Zaunbreaker to be more aggressive early in the season to putting up points in the final 15 minutes.

Defensively, Charlie Strong would like to create more turnovers.  The Gators have more speed this season which is good but the lack of experience may cause them to give up some big plays.  Championship contending teams get 30+turnovers in a season.  The Gators had 17 last year and remarkably were in the hunt until the end of the East race.  Look for more chances from the linebackers to create turnovers because the last line of defense in Guss Scott, Cory Bailey and Daryl Dixon is solid.  Finally, look for a better turnover margin if UF has great success.  Not only does the defense need to get more turnover but the quarterbacks and running backs need to secure the ball and not give any easy opportunities.  Look for an offensive emphasis in fall on throwing the ball away and protecting it in traffic while the defense will try to pull it out of there and create big plays.

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