For a guy that is seemingly criticized for everything but the form on his bow movements, its sometimes easy to forget that the former demoted Florida assistant has still led the Gators to two New Years Day games; narrowly missing an opportunity to return to the SEC Championship game a year ago.
These days are quite different for the former NFL assistant.
Anti-Ron Zook Fans have suddenly turned quiet despite the many rumors of a Steve Spurrier return. That's because while Zook's abilities as a coach have been questioned, his ability on the recruiting front has been near perfect the past three years. Three top ten recruiting classes has bought the Florida head man some more time and with his team being so young, the Gator faithful have bought into the idea of giving him the leeway to groom them.
If the group of high school superstars can mold together and fulfill their potential, the year ahead could bring something Coach Zook and his staff has longed for since their arrival three years ago: stability.
This year's version of Gator-ball is an almost replica of last years group, only this time a new man will patrol the reigns of the offense. Larry Fedora was promoted to offensive coordinator, taking over the position after former Marshall offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher was demoted, in the off-season. What Fedora will have to work with this year is perhaps the most talented group of youth and overall athletic ability that has ever been seen at Florida. Some have even compared the "young-guns" to the early years of Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes of the 1980's.
Offensively, sophomore Quarterback Chris Leak returns and along side of him is a plethora of wide receiver targets. There aren't any obvious stars among the receiving corps, but there are enough good options to make Leak look good.
Dallas Baker, whom was charged with a controversial penalty that would cost the Gators the football game a week ago against Tennessee, is the leader of the group. Chad Jackson and Andre Caldwell are two youngsters whom anchor the unit. Unlike the days of old though, the talent lies in the backfield with three backs capable of playing for any football team in the country in DeShawn Wynn, Ciatrick Fiason and Skyler Thorton.
Defensively, the Gators are not lacking talent or future stars, but they are in desperate need of experience as defensive coordinator Charlie Strong's defense returns just three starters from a year ago. Being Florida, there are athletes and prospects galore, but little overall proven production and enough question marks to make life scary for the Gator faithful. After showing the country how poor they are in the secondary after the first two games of the season, the Gators will need a better pass rush to rattle Shane Boyd and the UK offense in order to keep them out of the game. The Gators have given up close to 230 yards through the air this season. If they can't stop the Cats in the air, the Wildcats will have plenty of opportunity to move the football.
There is no early indication on how Florida will come out following their devastating loss to Tennessee a week ago. Zook continues to stress that this is an angry football team and they will be ready to fight come Saturday. But logic says to expect some sort of let down considering the magnitude of the previous game in comparison to now. The Wildcats should be able to move the ball if they continue to focus on the basics that made them so successful a week ago. With a relatively weak secondary, Shane Boyd showed have an opportunity to throw the ball down field. If Kentucky's receiving corps can make some plays, it would be not farfetched to see the Cats within striking distance in the fourth quarter. If that happens, this game could go either way.