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Five safe bets for Gators in 2016

The spring produced a lot of promise for a still relatively young Florida football team on the offensive side. With that in mind here are five of what I believe are safe bets for the 2016 season.

It won’t all be rosy for Florida who lost seven players to the NFL draft and another four that signed free agent contracts. But, we think we saw and heard enough this spring to say there will be some marked improvements in a lot of areas. Most of those will happen on offense, some will be team or unit breakthroughs and some will be individual bonuses or minuses.

Here are the first five things that I believe are safe bets for the 2016 season.

#1 Big time improvement in the run game…

Logan Bowles / USA TODAY Sports
 Forget about total rushing yards. The name of the game for 2016 will be yards per carry.  Florida averaged a paltry 3.48 yards per rush in 2016, good for 13th place in a 14 team conference. Those numbers include a 1,000 rusher in Kelvin Taylor, something that has only been done twice now since 2004.

I see the rushing game getting much improved behind a better offensive line for one, but with a more consistent attack through the air that will take a little heat off of the running game. The biggest boon for the rushing game will be the ability for three backs to make the big play.  Taylor was everything to the offense at the end of the year in 2015, but he wasn’t a home run threat.  The Gators have that now in junior Mark Thompson and sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett.

SAFE BET:  The Gators will improve their average per rush from 3.48 yards per carry, to at least 5.0 yards per carry in 2016.  That number would be good for fourth in the SEC in 2015 and that would mark a significant increase (up nine spots).

 

#2 Jarrad Davis will be the tackle machine…

Kan Li / Scout
 Okay, so maybe we should expect senior Jarrad Davis to lead the team in tackles in 2016. But I believe he is set up for a huge year. He is by far the leader of the group and he has a technique friendly defensive front that is going to allow him to be the tackling machine.

I will go a step further. The quarterbacks in the SEC are probably the worst group overall in quite some time, at least at this point in time. Therefore, teams are really going to be leaning on the running game. The team with the best quarterback in the East is likely Tennessee and Josh Dobbs is a running quarterback… more tackles for Davis.

SAFE BET: Jarrad Davis will have at least 120 tackles in 2016. Only one Gator has surpassed that number in the last 10 years, Brandon Spikes had 131 tackles in 2007. Antonio Morrison had 101 and 103 tackles in the last two years. I think Davis surpasses that.

 

#3 Passing game to take a big step forward…

Logan Bowles / USA TODAY Sports
 To think that the passing game will make an improvement isn’t a big leap of faith here given the end of the season woes in the passing game. By the end of the year, Florida averaged just 207 yards passing per game, which was actually good enough for #7 in the conference.

That actually is pretty amazing considering the way things were going late in the year. The quarterback, offensive line, ad receiver positions are in so much better shape than they w ere at the end of the year, we feel confident that there will be a marked improvement.

SAFE BET:  We aren’t willing to go too far, but a 60 yard per game improvement would move the Gators from seventh to fourth last season in terms of passing yards per game in the conference. We will take those 60 yards and say Florida will average at least 267 yards passing in 2016.

 

#4 Pineiro will be the scoring leader…

Logan Bowles / USA TODAY Sports
 This is something that happens on most teams. The field goal kicker gets one point for every touchdown and then three points when he puts it through the uprights any other time. Quarterbacks don’t get credit for throwing touchdowns in scoring.

Having said that, Kelvin Taylor doubled up Austin Hardin in the scoring category last year for a 78 to 39 clip.

I think Florida is going to spread the wealth on offense to a great deal. Three to four running backs, four or five receivers will be big targets, new kicker Eddy Pineiro is going to benefit from all of those putting points on the board.

SAFE BET: Eddy Pineiro will be the team leader in scoring by at least 40 points. I believe a great deal of those will be extra points, even though we know about his distance exploits we saw in the spring. We will get into those at a later date.

 

#5 Fewer sacks than last year, but…

Scout
 Florida finished second in the SEC with 40 sacks in 2015. Florida had a pass rushing specialist at end  in Alex McCalister and a defensive tackle that could be a difference maker in terms of pass rush in Jonathan Bullard. They were the top two sack getters on the team in 2015 and both were just drafted to the NFL.

The Gators however are not lacking in personnel that can get after it up front, so we shouldn’t be alarmed at the losses.  Caleb Brantley can get up field fast inside. We will see CeCe Jefferson doing the same and playing a lot more inside. Bryan Cox and Jordan Sherit will hold their own outside as well.

SAFE BET: Gators will have less than 40 sacks on the defensive side of the ball, but have more than their opponents against the Gators. Florida finished last in the SEC in sacks allowed, but we should see much better quarterback and offensive play to help that line. Also back on defense, we get back to the running game factor in conference and that the league is not full of good quarterbacks meaning there are less sacks to be had. 


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