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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Know your foe: Week 8, Florida

Kurt Roper is Muschamp’s third offensive coordinator in as many years.

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Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel talks to members of the media on Monday, July 14, 2014, at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

Maneater File Photo

2013 Record: 4-8 (3-5)

Series History: 2-1 (MIZZ)

Last Meeting: W 36-17 (2013)

Players to Watch: Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.

2014 Projection: 7-5 (4-4)

The heat is really starting to crank up down in Gainesville. Even as the tortuous Florida summer begins to wind down, Florida coach Will Muschamp’s seat remains hot.

The Gators finished Muschamp’s third season at the helm with an ugly 4-8 record and finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.

The season marked the worst finish by a Florida team since 1979 and also snapped the school’s 22-year streak of consecutive bowl game appearances, the then-longest active streak in all of college football.

In an embarrassing loss to Football Championship Subdivision team Georgia Southern, the Gators gave up 429 yards on the ground en route to a 26-20 defeat. The Eagles managed to beat Florida without completing a single pass attempt; the Gators’ front seven was just that porous.

But even worse than the defense was the offense. The Gators ranked dead last in the SEC in scoring offense (18.8 ppg) and total offense (316.7 ppg), which cost them dearly in close contests with conference rivals Louisiana State, Georgia and South Carolina.

But talent was not the problem in Gainesville in 2013 — it was the injury bug, and it bit the Gators hard.

A grand total of 29 scholarship players missed snaps in 2013 due to injuries, 23 of whom missed entire games while recovering. The worst number of them all for the Gators last season was the amount of season-ending injuries: 17.

Expect a different set of Gators to take the field in 2014. Florida returns 13 starters for this rebound campaign, including eight to a defense that was at the top of the SEC despite massive attrition.

The Gators have two preseason first-team All-SEC selections: sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.

And there will be a new no-huddle spread offense. Kurt Roper, who was the offense coordinator at Duke before coming to Gainesville, is Muschamp’s third offense coordinator in three years. Roper’s offense will be piloted by junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is returning from injury.

“Offense, I feel like everybody is comfortable,” Fowler said at SEC Media Days in July. “Everybody’s comfortable, everybody’s happy. That’s just what we need.”

This will be a hungry, talented squad led by arguably the most desperate coach in the SEC.

“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business,” Muschamp said at media days. “That’s part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we’re going to do.”

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