The 2018 season kicks off with Charleston Southern traveling to the Swamp. The Buccaneers will receive a large paycheck for their troubles – and a beatdown.
Most of the attention of Gator Nation will be given to the performance of the offense – again. It looks like Feleipe Franks will get first shot at the starter’s role at QB, but I’m hopeful the offense plays well so Kyle Trask and perhaps even Emory Jones can get their first experience. We should see fairly early how comfortable the QBs are in the new scheme.
The running game should have success against an outmanned CSU D-Line. Jordan Scarlett comes back from his 2017 suspension and should be anxious to show what he can do. I expect the rest of the rotation – Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, and freshman Dameon Pierce to all share the load.
There will be new faces to watch for at WR. Transfers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes join Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Dre Massey to form what could be a strong WR corps. That will (hopefully) be proven out with better coaching and improved QB play. In the new spread scheme the WRs will be expected to block even more than before, so the guys that buy in will have the advantage in terms of playing time.
TE is a mixed bag right now, and no one has a feel for how the rotation will eventually shake out. C’yontai Lewis will start, but after him there are simply more question marks than answers. I’m hoping that one of the new arrivals, maybe Lucas Krull or Kyle Pitts, shows some early promise.
The O-Line will have a new look, and is being counted on to improve. Martez Ivey finally gets to play his natural position at left tackle. Jawaan Taylor returns as the right tackle, but needs to improve his pass blocking. The guard position will be a mixed bag until performance and health shake out who the starters will be. Brett Heggie is the best guard or center on the roster, but is returning from knee surgery and likely won’t be 100% for another month or so. Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson, and Nick Buchanan will all play, with Buchanan getting the start at center.
The Gator defense should have little trouble dominating the game, and it will fun to watch how the players are adapting to the new scheme that should feature more aggressive play.
The D-Line could develop into one of the best in the SEC this season. Elijah Conliffe, Tedarrell Slaton, and Khairi Clark make up a solid rotation at tackle. The DEs could become dominant as the season progresses – Cece Jefferson, Jachai Polite, and Jabari Zuniga each have all-SEC ability.
At LB, David Reese, Vosean Joseph, and Kylan Johnson all return, with young players Ventrell Miller, James Houston, and Jeremiah Moon pushing for snaps. The secondary features great starting CBs in Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson, Chancey Gardner-Johnson in the slot or ‘star’ position, with Brian Edwards and freshman Trey Dean getting an early look at cornerback. The safety position is filled with question marks – Jaewon Taylor, Brad Stewart, Donovan Stiner, and Shawn Davis will all play, but none of them have shown consistency yet.
Special teams will also hold the interest of the fans, as there will be a new placekicker and punter. Freshman Evan McPherson gets first crack at placekicking duties, while Tommy Townsend replaces his brother as the punter. Each has huge shoes to fill, as Florida likely had the best kicking duo in the nation last season. Coach Mullen has renewed the emphasis on the coverage and return units, and knows that this phase of the game can win a few games with field position or a big return in close games.
CSU should pose little challenge, as they are overmatched physically and in skill level. Hopefully the Florida offense is provides an early and expanding lead – this will allow the staff to rest starters on both sides of the ball and to get a lot of guys on the field to gain experience and develop depth. Plenty of young guys will get their chance to prove they belong in the rotation at various positions, especially at OL, LB, and the secondary.
This should be a glorified scrimmage before the SEC season begins. I expect a vanilla scheme on offense and defense that allows the players to get game reps in the base formations and looks that will be relied upon the rest of the season. As always, the mantra for this kind of game is, “no injuries!”.
Prediction: Florida 41 CSU 10