Florida's 8-5 record in 2002 was its worst since 1989, the year before the Steve Spurrier era began. Ron Zook threw himself into recruiting this past off-season with zeal and hauled in a boatload of riches, but the Gators are a year or two away from returning to top-five status.
Chris Leak, the headliner of this year's recruiting class, could shake things up at quarterback, where sophomore Ingle Martin finished spring practice No. 1. Redshirt freshman DeShawn Wynn could explode onto the scene at tailback. Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight highlight a receiving corps that incoming freshman Andre Caldwell will be highlighting before long.
The offensive line is one of the SEC's best, particularly the left side, where tackle Max Starks and guard Shannon Snell are stationed. Junior college All-Americans Eric Holcombe at tackle and Reynaldo Hill at cornerback could be of immediate help in a defense gutted by graduation and NFL defections. Keiwan Ratliff is a lethal weapon on offense, defense and in the return game.
Go for it: Florida finished 106th nationally last season in net punting (36.1 yards).
No fly zone: Florida had the seventh-best pass defense in the country last year, allowing 162.4 yards per game.
Both ways: Keiwan Ratliff was the only player in the nation to score on a pass reception and an interception return.
2002 results: 8-5 (6-2 SEC)
Bowl Game: Lost 38-30 to Michigan in the Outback Bowl
Returning starters: 6 offense, 3 defense, both kickers
A. 30 San Jose State
S. 6 at Miami
S. 13 Florida A&M
S. 20 Tennessee
S. 27 at Kentucky
O. 4 Ole Miss
O. 11 at LSU
O. 18 at Arkansas
N. 1 #Georgia
N. 8 Vanderbilt
N. 15 at South Carolina
N. 29 Florida State
Schedule Analysis: Florida did not pick a good time to have Miami return to its slate, losing to the Canes last year and facing long odds again this year. Playing Miami and Florida State non-conference, in addition to the SEC schedule, is not what you want with a young team. Still, the Gators home slate looks do-able, even with Tennessee and Florida State. Road games with Miami and LSU will be rough, as will the battle in Jacksonville with Georgia.
Final Word: The Florida quarterback situation is unfamiliar territory for Gator fans. While Steve Spurrier had his share of controversy there, he usually had talent and/or experience. This year, there is no telling what the Gators will get out of the position. Defensively, Florida is very young, and there is only so much cornerback Keiwan Ratliff can do on his own. Still, a powerful running game and a strong home-field advantage will have the Gators in the hunt for the SEC East crown.