Cold, hard truth

Here I answer ten football and recruiting questions asked of me from Jason Higdon regarding the University of Florida football program.

1. Things have been very tense in Gainesville the last several months. From coaching changes to injuries, things have not gone Florida's way this season. If you were the head coach of this program what would be your first priority, assuming the staff changes are already made?
It's all about recruiting. That would be my battle cry. In short, Florida must recruit and sign some explosive play makers on the perimeter. To state the obvious that's what this program is missing and has been missing for some time. At a school like the University of Florida, smack dab in the middle of the Sunshine State, it's inexcusable that the Gators severely lack big play talent on the offensive side of the ball.

The other thing I would say is that Florida doesn't need to drastically change their offense. To go from a pro-style run oriented team to a spread team virtually overnight will prove difficult. Most Gator fans are screaming that Florida must evolve offensively to a spread system. I don't fall in that line of thinking. To me, the Gators must truly become multiple. Alabama doesn't run the spread nor does LSU. So why is it Florida needs to become a spread team from this season to next?

My favorite offense to watch was the Bobby Petrino teams. Why? He's multiple. On one play its smash mouth football and the next he's running four wide receivers and attacking a defense down field. To me, if I were a coach of any program, that's what I would want to become offensively.

I have always been a firm believer it's about execution and talent. To me, you can be successful running any offense if you execute and have the players to run what you want to run. Look around college football. There's a wide-array of teams that run different style offenses that are successful in what they do. Heck, just look at the history of this program since 1990. No one in the SEC threw the ball and ran a wide open style until Steve Spurrier. It was a defensive minded league with teams that strived to run the football. Spurrier changed that and won big in Gainesville. He transformed this program and had a great run. No one said Urban Meyer would win in the SEC running his spread style system. Yet he won two national championships. What made Spurrier and Meyer win? Talent and execution.

When you talk about the most successful programs these days they are more or less balanced in their offensive attack. Sure schemes are different but at the end of the day they are effective at running and throwing the football.

2. With the talent on the current roster and based off what those players bring to the table, which direction do you see them going in on the offensive side of the ball? Do you think they have enough fire power to be competitive on that side of the ball with their third offensive coordinator in four years?
A good coach will cater their schemes to the players' talents on their roster. For Florida, at least in the short term, a variation or elements of the spread attack would probably be beneficial to quarterback Jeff Driskel because of his ability to run and create plays outside the pocket.

But does Florida have the necessary talent to transform themselves overnight to a spread offense? I am not so sure about that. The whole philosophy around a spread attack is getting the ball to your playmakers in space so they can make plays. That's where I have questions. I don't see a Percy Harvin, Jacquez Green, or even a Riley Cooper type on this roster. Certainly the recruits they brought in last season at the wide receiver position have talent and will get their opportunities. Who's ready to step up? Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fullwood, Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins and Chris Thompson are all unproven commodities at this point.

Demarcus Robinson

Of course for this to happen it starts up front. A new offensive line coach will take over and they have to play better here. Certainly injuries took their toll, but that's no excuse. Florida had all kinds of issues across the offensive line and that has to be corrected.

As an offense, you have to have an identity. What are you and what do you do best? For Florida, it's been all about the run game. Moving forward, they have to become a team with a balanced identity. Sure, pound the rock and run the ball. That's never going to change with Will Muschamp. He is who he is. But they have to figure it out the passing game and become effective and dangerous going down field.

Lastly, stability is huge for a team. To now move to their third offensive coordinator in four years does not bode well. Charlie Weis was a disaster and I think Brent Pease was the scapegoat. This hire will make or break next season and what ultimately happens to Muschamp and his regime in Gainesville.

3. The meat of Florida's schedule is home games with LSU, Missouri, and South Carolina and road games at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Florida State. Of course they play Georgia in Jacksonville. What is your early prediction for Florida's 2014 record?
Ouch. That's impossible to predict. In today's game, you just never know. I mean no one would have imagined this program going 4-8. Did anyone predict Auburn and Missouri playing for the conference title? Duke won the Coastal Division of the ACC. UCF became (arguably) the second best program in the state of Florida. And I don't think too many people had Florida State ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season three months ago.

The point is this is a crazy game and anything can happen. Heck, Florida won 11 games a year ago. Looking ahead,the defense should still be strong. More than anything, this offense needs to make huge strides next year. They need better quarterback play. They need a solid run game. I don't care what kind of offense you have but you better be sound in the run game in this league or winning will prove difficult. Where Florida needs to make leaps and bounds improvement is the passing game. Yeah, I am brilliant and stated the obvious. But it's that simple. They have to be able to consistently throw the ball down field. Wide receivers must step up. If they do that and become a balanced offense, there's no reason why this team can't win next season. How many wins? That's way too difficult to tell at this point.

4. Who do you think is the best player on each side of the ball right now for the Gators, excluding incoming freshmen and why?
Sadly, that's hard to say on offense. Seriously. So many of Florida's better offensive players went down with season ending injuries. But the best player next season needs to be Driskel. There's no ifs, ands or buts. He has to be that guy for Florida to have success in 2014. I thought he made big improvements from his freshman to sophomore season. But I didn't see anything in his limited play this fall.

Vernon Hargreaves
The defense is a different story altogether. They will likely lose some guys to the NFL. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley already declared for the draft. A few others could follow suit like Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.

So I would say the best players are Dante Fowler and Vernon Hargeaves. I think they are both first round talents blessed with so much ability. Fowler had a good year and should have a chance to really excel. Meanwhile, I truly believe that Hargreaves has a chance to be something very, very special as a cornerback.

5. Which players from last year's class would you expect to step up next season?
I would expect all those wide receivers (mentioned above) especially if the Gators move to more of a spread attack. I guess we will know a lot more once Muschamp names an offensive coordinator and they go through spring ball. But they need Robinson, Fullwood, Bailey, etc. to step up and play their roles and make their share of plays for that offense. Certainly they need Kelvin Taylor to become that 15 to 20-carry guy and burden the run game load with Matt Jones. If they can stay healthy that's a pretty solid one-two punch.

On the other side of the ball, they will need some of those red-shirt guys to play their roles in the two-deep, etc. like linebackers Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin. I really liked what I saw late in linebacker Jarrad Davis. Juco transfer Darious Cummings showed some nice flashes for that defense this season and will have a chance to be a good player next fall.

6. Which of the players in this year's recruiting class could you see making an early impact next season and what is the logic behind your answer?

Ermon Lane

The easy answer is wide receiver Ermon Lane. I think he becomes Florida's must important recruit in some time because of their screaming need at this position. The Gators need that go-to guy. He's a big, physical wide receiver with great ball skills. He needs to make an instant impact on that offense. But I have learned that doesn't always happen overnight with a lot of big name guys that make that transition from high school to college ball. But Florida needs that to happen with him and quickly once he gets on campus.

I haven't talked about tight ends yet but this is another huge need area for this offense. And because of this need DeAndre Goolsby's number could be called very early in his Florida career. But will he physically and mentally be ready? That's unknown, as he needs to bulk up and improve his run blocking skills.

Of course quarterback Will Grier could be a guy asked to play a role but will he to be ready? He's going from small ball in North Carolina to life in the fast lane in the SEC. That's not going to be an easy adjustment. But if Driskel can stay healthy and play well, sitting, watching and slowly transitioning might be the best thing for him and this program for the long run.

I like the ability of defensive tackle Khairi Clark. I just think he needs to play himself into better shape and shed a few pounds. If he does I could see him being a role player on the defensive front next fall.

7. Name three players that you would go after right now on the offensive side of the ball to add to the UF class (that they are not looking at now) and how they would fit in with this team?
That's hard to answer because you don't specifically know what they will ultimately do offensively. But I would go after some explosive players at running back and wide receiver.

The first guy that comes to mind is Dalvin Cook. Sorry, I know you said guys they are not looking at now but this kid is a huge priority. All signs are pointing that he backs off his Gator pledge and signs elsewhere. While Jones and Taylor have the potential to be good backs for the Gators neither bring that big play, explosive ability. That's what Cook brings to the table. So to me, he becomes priority No. 1. But things look very bleak on the Cook front right now. Muschamp and company have a few short weeks to keep him in the fold but that just doesn't look like it will happen at this point.

Tay Scott
So to really answer your question I would say wide receivers Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs East Lake) and Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland Kathleen) and maybe a kid like athlete Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation American Heritage).

These are three home run hitters. Scott and Harrison could fit into any system. I think Scott's game is more suited for a spread but he's a guy that can play on the outside or in the slot. He has ridiculous ball skills and plays bigger than his size. I also love his competitiveness and fire. This kid plays football with a passion. He's currently committed to Clemson. Harrison could be a big outside receiver. He too has excellent speed and good hands. Harrison has committed to Virginia Tech. McKenzie is a big play waiting to happen because of his outstanding quickness and speed. McKenzie plays with Sony Michel and you can make a strong case he's had the better senior season of the two. McKenzie could be that jack of all trades guy similar to Brandon James when he played with the Gators. He's also a terrific return guy. He's small but he will bring some lightning to his future team. And that team right now is Notre Dame. He committed to the Fighting Irish back in October.

8. Defense wins championships and offense puts fans in the stands? Where do you stand on this comment?
I am more in agreement with the late Al Davis – ‘just win baby'.

Now I do believe that defenses win championships but the game has changed. Teams are scoring at a higher rate and churning up more offensive yards than ever before. But look at the facts – the last seven national champions are from the SEC and each one of those teams were pretty darn good on defense.

In respect to this current Gator team and program they have to just find a multiple offense. Find a passing game, become truly balanced and I think you will see this team/program be successful again. But I know it's hard on the fans. It's been ugly offensive football over the past few years. And this comes after a lot of points, wins and championships under Spurrier and Meyer.

9. For Florida to turn this thing around next year what three things must happen?
First and foremost, they have to stay healthy. Sure, it's football and every team has their share of injuries. But what happened this season to this team was unreal.

Jeff Driskel
Second, Driskel has to play well. He needs to not only be the leader of the offense but the leader of this team. He's the quarterback. He will be the senior. He needs to make it happen and play much better than when he did play this past fall. Good quarterbacks make everyone around them better. Driskel needs to be that guy. If he plays up and down then Florida will be an up and down team in '14.

Lastly, who's going to step up on the outside at wide receiver? They have to find two or three guys to make plays down the field. Florida has to find a consistent passing game to compliment their run game.

10. How hot is the Will Muschamp seat right now?
I would imagine that it was scorching there for a while. I would suspect the noise will die down during the off-season. But the first sign of adversity, it's going to crank up again. More than anything, Florida has to show significant signs of offensive life next season. If they do that then more wins will come and perhaps that seat will cool.

Jamie has been covering college football recruiting since 1992 and is entering his ninth year with and He's currently a National Recruiting Analyst and Manager for the state of Florida. Jamie is also covering the NFL Draft for the network.
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