A Quick Look Ahead

Lets take a quick look at what's in store for next season for the Florida Gators.

With most of the dust of the defectors and newcomers starting to settle now, it is becoming clearer and clearer what 2003 will look like for the Florida Gators:

  • New quarterback (Rex Grossman and Ed Zaunbrecher were a bad marriage from the start)
  • New defensive coordinator (a clear upgrade with Charlie Strong)
  • New trouble making, never quite sure-when-eligible defensive end (one less headache)
  • And, I say this hopefully, a new attitude from the Zooker (does Alpha male mean anything to you?)

The most clear fact that Gator Nation will have to face is that for the first time in many years Florida will enter a season with virtually no chance of being an elite team. That's right, no dreams of the Sugar Bowl or of even an SEC title. Next year, the Outback Bowl will be the goal, not the consolation prize. Mark this down, if UF is playing on New Year's Day 2004, Ron Zook should be a lock for National Coach of the Year, not to mention a contract extension.

      Now, I'm not being a typical gloom-and-doomer here. I'm just facing the facts. Florida will be replacing all three of their best offensive weapons in Grossman, Earnest Graham and Taylor Jacobs with players who all have something to prove. While the offensive line should be better and deeper next year, the defensive line will be lucky if an injury or two doesn't force Gus Scott to man the middle. There are currently two scholarship tackles and at least one or two true freshmen will likely be called on to play significant roles on the d-line. The Gators also lose their two best linebackers as well as their most consistent performer in the secondary if not the whole defense in Todd Johnson.

      While Ran Carthon has proven to be a solid back and Ciatrick Fason's potential is exciting, and there should be no shortage of capable receivers next year, the most worrisome hole to fill is the quarterback spot. Yes, Gavin Dickey, Chris Leak and Justin Midgett are all talented and exciting prospects, but does anyone think a freshman, true or redshirt, is going to be able to consistently play at a high level from start to finish? While Dickey's raw talent and Leak's polish and comfort in this offense make them great sources of hope for the future, this year is still ultimately about finding out who can play for the future. You know, that time when the Gators may actually compete for something. 

            The greatest hurdle Florida will have to overcome this year will be a mental hurdle. Ron Zook has to make these players believe in him the same way Jim Tressel made his team believe in him. Ohio St. played with confidence when facing adversity, making good things happen and not waiting for bad things to happen, as it appeared Florida did at times this year.

 If a team is a reflection of their coach, then Zook better start giving his team a reason to reflect him, especially in the confidence department. Zook seemed unsure of himself for much of the year, which was no better illustrated than by his unwillingness in the Outback Bowl to drop the hammer on Zaunbrecher's very suggestion of "the Call" that will live in infamy. Zook will have to be more assertive and realize that double-reverse passes ultimately get the head coach fired, not the coordinator.

 Zook's ability to identify his mistakes as a first-year coach and, God help me, "correct" them will determine if he will be around for the next stage of the rebuilding process.



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