The Gators are young team with as many as forty-six players on the squad who have never taken a snap in a college game. The other members of the SEC are licking their chops and boosters are going to be calling for Coach Zook's head. Yet this will be a fun team to watch this fall. The expectations of last year have left and gone to Chicago. This season if a quarterback throws four interceptions in a game it will because of a lack of experience not because he had to learn a new offensive system.
Expect to see at least eight true freshmen getting significant playing time with as many as six starting by the fourth game. The feeling here is that Chris Leak will be the starting quarterback by the Tennessee game, however Leak will have to adapt to playing at this level. All indications from the fall scrimmages are that he’s the real deal (this coming from a skeptic who perceived his NC High School numbers as irrelevant).
Coach Zook knows that he has to perform the miracle and win this year and not just be respectable. With the new expansion of the stadium (at $23,000 a seat) the Swamp must be full every game to provide revenue to all the Gator sports programs. Having recruited some of the best talent in the country… will the boosters and higher-ups allow him the opportunity to cultivate that talent? If the Auburn defender had knocked down that fourth down pass in the Georgia game then Zook would have been only the second coach at Florida to win an "official" SEC crown (Florida would have beaten Arkansas). If that had happened then Zook would have been given the time to build his program, however it remains to be seen if patience is truly a virtue.
The Gators should have a record of 7-5 this year. Anything better than that will be a credit to Coach Zook. The bad news is that there is a lot of inexperience on this team; the good news is that there is a lot of raw talent on this team as well. The early schedule should be murder, however if Zook can keep the players together as a team then in the second half of the schedule he should have some success. That said Florida will beat Georgia and Florida State.
The offense needs to play within their strengths: the running game opening up the long play to Dallas Baker. Florida has a stable of horses in the backfield that can all run, be smart take some time off the clock and allow the defense to get some rest. Coach Zook’s coaching legacy at Florida will be determined how he handles his young but talented group of Quarterbacks.
The front line is basically gone with the exception of Bobby McCray. Darrell Lee and Travis Harris could have huge years, my feeling is that Travis Harris is going to have an All-SEC type of season after being injured last year; Lee will have to do something to impress me before I can get excited about his play. Mo Mitchell in the middle? and a bunch of true Freshmen all wanting a chance.
Linebackers are also very inexperienced, with Todd McCullough a Junior from Jacksonville getting the nod at Middle Linebacker. Matt Farrior, who was expected to perform last year has been moved to an outside spot and Channing Crowder set to man the other Outside Linebacker spot.
The strength of this year's Gator Defense is the Seconadry. Keiwan Ratliff, Guss Scott, and Daryl Dixon all return. The second Conerback position may be filled by Reynaldo Hill a Community College transfer.
Darrell Lee(6-4, 267 SR #86 ) and Travis Harris(6-2, 239 JR #27) are vying for the starting position at one Defensive End spot, while Bobby McCray(6-6, 245 SR #57) is slotted at the other Defensive End position. That means two players with all the potential in the world and a player adjusting to a new position. Now that’s the good news the bad news is: Who is going to step up and play Defensive Tackle? Kenny Parker(6-2, 293 JR #58) and Ronald Dowdy(6-4, 276 JR #62) are the top of the depth chart. This is easily the weakest part of the defense and in the SEC it’s the position that wins championships. Maybe an unexpected player a Mo Mitchell(6-7, 340 JR #61) or Eric Holcombe(6-2, 296 JR #56) (Juco transfer) can push for playing time Big questions on the front seven.
Todd McCullough(6-5, 225 JR #47) is the most experienced Linebacker of the crew with the exception of Matt Farrior’s play in the first two games of last season. The Linebacking corps suffers from inexperience just as the Defensive Line does. Any coach will tell you that the key to winning football games is to stop the run first.
Slated to start the Sam position is Channing Crowder(6-2, 236 FR #55) from Atlanta who will have to sit out the San Jose State game. Dwright Jackson(6-2, 216 SR #29) backs him up another inexperienced player who has played bit roles the past three years.
The Mike Linebacker is manned by Todd McCullough who is a solid player but can he be the man-in-the-middle that Farrior couldn’t be last year? McCullough is an aggressive player who has a nose to the ball but he would’ve benefited greatly from have more experience around him to take some of the pressure off of him. His make or brake game of the year will be Miami (Can he play solid in the middle with Frank Gore coming right at him all night long?) Reid Fleming(6-0, 233 SR #40) backs him up, so far he has shown little along with most of the remaining #1 recruiting class of Brock Berlin’s class.
Matt Farrior(6-1, 233 SR #43) has been given the starting nod at the Will Linebacker spot. He will be pushed by Brian Crum(6-2, 217 FR #13), who can really fly to the ball. All these players with the exception of McCullough need time to grow as a unit and develop as a force. This is a tall order considering Miami and Tennessee are both on the schedule in September.
The strength of the defensive unit. It now appears that Johnny Lamar(5-10,181 SR #31) has played his way into a starting position on one corner opposite of Keiwan Ratliff(5-10, 178 SR #1). Lamar has been an excellent Special Teams player the past two years and has earned the right to be given a shot. He will be backed up by Juco transfer Reynaldo Hill(6-0, 180 FR ) and Jermaine McCollum(5-8, 179 SO #26).
Matt Jackson(5-10,198 SR #19). and Tremaine McCollum(5-8, 161 SO #23). will back up starter Keiwan Ratliff at the other Cornerback position. Keiwan has been sensational at times on the corner but also has been beat on the long ball a few times. Reports from practice say the Matt Jackson is tearing it up.
Guss Scott(5-11, 195 SR #9). is the best player on this team and he will start at the Strong Safety position. The Georgia Game. He will be pushed by Cory Bailey(5-11, 185 JR #7)who is a darn good player himself unfortunately only one can start.
Free Safety will be Daryl Dixon(5-10, 190 SR #34). from Oak Hill, an All Freshman SEC performer a few years back Dixon should make an impact on this young club. He will provide leadership in the clubhouse and direction on the playing field. His backups are Jarvis Herring(5-11, 190 SO #46). and Zephrin Augustine(5-11, 182 JR #20). (who may surprise some folks if given the chance).
Coach Zaunbrecher's offense is not Coach Spurrier’s offense. The jury is still out on if his style of ball can play in the SEC. The feeling is that the deliberate execution of his plays takes too long to develop in the quick-hitting SEC. The counter screens and reverses need to be successful before they can take the plays of the 15-yard out in the minds of Gator fans. Coach Zook needs to put his fiery brand of play on the Offense this year , have the Ends block downfield, have the Running Backs lower their shoulders for that extra yard, and have the O-Line is shape to play four strong quarters.
On this young talented and unproven team the Offensive Line is the strength, hopefully that’s not like saying the Titanic had a great Lounge Band. It is the one area on the team other than Running Back that has a little bit of depth.
The scramble on the Offensive Line now has Taveres Washington(6-4, 295 JR #76) starting at the Left Tackle position. He has impressed Coach Wickline enough to move Max Starks. The Junior hails from Mississippi Delta Junior College, either he is that good or O-Line has been that lacking. The problem with the O-line as with any other year is depth, keeping enough people to provide a fresh rotation.
Left Guard is Shannon Snell(6-4, 310 SR #75), a solid performer last year who will provide leadership. Yet another Juco transfer backs him up, Anthony Guerrero(6-2, 315 JR).
The Center will be Mike Degory(6-5, 309 SO #68), who played outstanding last year as a Freshman (he did have that one snap over Rex’s head in the Outback Bowl).He is backed up, by yet another Juco transfer, Billy Griffin(6-3, 285 JR #65).
Max Starks (6-8, 345 SR #77) is the Right Guard who is expected to have a big season. A solid pass blocker Starks need to improve upon his run blocking. Ryan Carter, a Freshman, spells him, Mo Mitchell has hopefully found himself a new life on the Defensive Line.
The starting Right Tackle is a toss up between a pair of Sophomores Randy Hand(6-6, 309 SO #74) and Lance Butler(6-7, 311 SO #72). Jonathan Colon(6-7, 310 JR 78) needs to decide if he wants to play football at the University of Florida before he will be given consideration here.
Ran Carthon (6-0, 212 SR #33) is the starter. He has the potential behind this mammoth Offensive Line to be that rare combination of speed and strength at Running Back. Ran is an experienced back and a team player, make no mistake this is Ran’s team.
DeShawn Wynn(5-11, 218 FR #21) has been getting most of the attention in the preseason press based upon his performance in the scrimmages. The Freshman tailback can move a pile and before anyone has noticed has rushed for over seventy yards. The other name that keeps coming up is Jimtavis Walker(5-9, 207 FR #24) from Georgia he is sneaky and is fluid, he may develop into a third down go-to guy out of the backfield.
Jacksonville’s Ciatrick Fason(6-0, 211 SO #4) is the dark horse who may end up as the starter and contend for the SEC rushing title, he is that good.
On a team with 46 players who have never taking a snap in a college game the Running Back position epitomizes this team. A wealth of talent yet only very little of it battle tested.
That is what separates the college game day experience between the four QB candidates. Gavin Dickey(5-10, 195 FR #17) may be the most athletic, Justin Midgett(6-3, 180 FR #14) may have the most Gator spirit, Chris Leak(6-1, 205 FR#12) may have the most talent, and Ingle Martin(6-3, 219 SO #10) may know the experience of playing in the SEC best.
The season will start with Ingle Martin and Chris Leak, the two Quarterbacks who had the best scrimmages rotating the position. The full time starter should emerge from the first three games to prepare the Quarterback for the SEC schedule. The feeling here is you select one of the young QBs and get him as many reps with the first team as possible and go from there. The battle for the starting Quarterback position cannot be allowed to split the team into separate camps based upon their own favorite.
Gavin Dickey is just too good an athlete as is Ingle Martin to not get on the field. The best thing now is to allow Justin Midgett a Red shirt year and allow him time to develop to lead the team in the future.
Ben Troupe(6-5, 253, SR #84) may be one of the top five Tight Ends in the country. He has a flair for the dramatic and he should be a preseason All-American just for his play last year against Georgia and Michigan. Big players play big in big games , that my friends is Ben Troupe.
David Kenner(6-3, 269 JR #88) and Darrell Carpenter(6-3, 219 JR #83) two Sophomores are the backups, solid players just not of the caliber of Troupe’s playmaking ability.
Starters as of now are Kelvin Kight(6-0, 200 SR #2), Carlos Perez(5-11, 193 SR #23), and OJ Small(6-1, 225 JR #11). All this is subject to change game-to-game. The three most talented players have never played a down on the college level. Andre (Bubba) Caldwell(6-2, 188 FR #5) is the most talented, Dallas Baker(6-3, 196 SO #81) is also very talented and has a nose for the end zone, and Chad Jackson(6-1, 200 FR #8) is going to be special.
That doesn’t include last year’s recruits Kenneth Tookes(6-2, 202 FR #3) and Reggie Lewis(5-10, 191 FR #22) who both have received excellent reviews in practice. Once again the recurring theme of talent over experience.
The kicking game in 2003 was the biggest disappointment of the year. With Coach Zook’s experience as an excellent Special Teams coach the expectations were high yet the results were low.
This year’s Punter will be Eric Wilbur(6-2, 190 FR #10), just about anything will be an improvement!
Matt Leach(6-1, 190 JR #14) is the Place-kicker, he has had some good practices let’s just hope that he is consistent on his field goals and extra points
Matt Piotrowicz(5-11, 199 JR #38) does the kick offs and he is as solid a tackler as you’ll see on kick coverage.
After the Long Snapper quit just before the season last year Casey Griffith(6-1, 226 SR #69 ) is set to do the job.
Florida - Push out the jive ... Quick, name three players on the Gators. Oh sure, the average SEC die-hard could do this, but most college football fans probably couldn't name one Florida player much less three. This is the first season in a very long time that the Gators don't have a marquee name at quarterback or a receiver that's going to make many All-America lists. Head coach Ron Zook is going to have to do a great job of mixing in the young superstar talent with the veterans. Is he really ready to come up with a great second year? What'll happen is he loses five games again? The defense will really miss several of the starters of the last year, but it'll miss defensive coordinator John Thompson even more.
Bring in the love ... The SEC focus lately has been all about Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, the Alabama soap opera and Eli Manning with Florida being sort of swept aside. I kind of like the Gators in the underdog role. This is a program about two years away from being in the hunt for the national title, but I still think it can end up in the SEC title game. The offensive is going to surprise a lot of people even if it isn't going to remind anyone of the Wuerffel fun 'n' gun days.
Coach: Ron Zook (2nd year, 8-5)
2002 record: 8-5 (Lost to Michigan 38-30 in Outback Bowl)
SEC finish: 2nd (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 136.2 ypg (10th in SEC, 73rd in nation)
Pass: 270.7 ypg (1st, 20th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 163.2 ypg (8th, 68th)
Pass: 162.4 ypg (4th, 7th)
Offense (6 returning starters in bold)
WR 23 Carlos Perez Sr.
WR 2 Kelvin Kight Sr.
LT 77 Max Starks Sr.
LG 75 Shannon Snell Sr.
C 68 Mike Degory So.
RG 64 Anthony Guerrero Jr.
RT 74 Randy Hand So.
TE 84 Ben Troupe Sr.
QB 10 Ingle Martin So.
FB 4 Ciatrick Fason So.
TB 33 Ran Carthon Sr.
DE 86 Darrell Lee Sr.
DT 91 Sylvester McGrew So.
DT 58 Kenny Parker Jr.
DE 57 Bobby McCray Sr.
SLB 7 Brian Crum Fr.
MLB 47 Todd McCullough Jr.
WLB x Channing Crowder Fr.
CB 24 Deshawn Carter So.
CB 1 Keiwan Ratliff Sr.
SS 9 Guss Scott Sr.
FS 34 Daryl Dixon Sr.
K 14 Matt Leach Jr.
P 92 Sean Morton Sr.
KR 33 Ran Carthon Sr.
PR 1 Keiwan Ratliff Jr.
While hobnobbing with reporters at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this past spring, ex-Florida head coach Steve Spurrier blurted out a concise, candid assessment of the state of his former program.
"I didn't realize we had that many seniors [in 2002]," said the Washington Redskins' coach, in Gainesville attending a combine of draft-eligible former Gators. "Who's going to play next year? I'm glad they signed a lot of guys. They've got to play a lot of youngsters."
Spurrier, who still rarely misses a Gator game on television, hasn't lost touch with what's transpiring in Gainesville. Florida lost its best passer (Rex Grossman), rusher (Earnest Graham) and receiver (Taylor Jacobs) from last season's 8-5 club, plus eight defensive starters and defensive coordinator John Thompson (the new head coach at East Carolina).
Second-year coach Ron Zook's optimism is boundless, but the Gators' inexperience suggests they'll struggle to match last season's record, which AD Jeremy Foley has said is "not what we want around here" on a consistent basis.
Now that Grossman has followed Spurrier to the NFL, Florida's running game could evolve from mere component to cornerstone of the Gators' offense in 2003. Though four promising youngsters are vying to replace Grossman at quarterback, only one of the four -- sophomore Ingle Martin -- has taken snaps in a college game. Incoming freshman Chris Leak should challenge for the starting job. Meantime, senior Ran Carthon leads a stable of tailbacks as talented as any in the SEC.
The receiving corps includes a blend of veterans and heralded youngsters led by seniors Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight, who teamed for 43 catches in the final four regular-season games of 2002.
Sophomore Dallas Baker, who sat out last season as a partial qualifier, and incoming Parade All-Americans Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson, could overshadow the veterans -- if someone can get them the ball.
The offensive line, last season's liability, could be this year's strength. There's experience and depth galore.
The Gators lost eight starters and Thompson from last year's unit. Former UF assistant Charlie Strong, who spent the past four seasons running Lou Holtz's defense at South Carolina, replaces Thompson as defensive coordinator.
Strong, a prime head-coaching candidate whose tenure in Gainesville is expected to be brief, will enter the season with two new tackles, one rookie cornerback and potentially three freshman linebackers.
The interior linemen on Florida's roster have combined for one career tackle. While veteran ends Bobby McCray and Darrell Lee are solid, depth at the position is suspect. Two true freshmen could get extensive time at linebacker. The projected free safety, fifth-year senior Daryl Dixon, missed the entire 2002 season recovering from shoulder surgery.
Florida's special teams were a laughingstock last season. Exemplifying the mess was the 41-34 home win against Kentucky, when the Wildcats scored on a punt and kickoff return, and had two other touchdowns set up by a fumbled long snap and blocked punt. Martin, who averaged 35.2 yards on 46 punts, is out. Walk-on punters Sean Morton and Jason Hunter, both of whom struggled last season, battled for the job in the spring but could be overtaken by incoming freshman Eric Wilbur.
Junior placekicker Matt Leach, who missed five extra points and converted only two field goals longer than 40 yards last season, also returns.
Florida's 2003 hopes hinge on so many variables, so it's difficult to project the Gators as anything more than a dark horse in the SEC race. First, a quarterback must not only separate himself from the pack of contenders, but he must also emerge in time to get the majority of preseason snaps. Additionally, a go-to receiver must step up, the young defensive front must jell in a hurry and the punters must prove they can get more distance than Florida's shot-putters.
Then there's Zook, a second-year head coach frequently questioned for his game management last year. Zook's decision-making will be scrutinized more heavily this season -- by more observers. A $50 million renovation to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium recently was completed. Question is, can the product Zook puts on Florida Field keep those new skyboxes filled?
2003 Florida Fightin' Gators Schedule
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