SEC Media Days kicks off from Hoover, Ala. next week, and Florida football, along with the other 13 teams that will be in attendance, will have a lot of questions heading into the 2016 season. Without further ado, here the biggest questions that both head coach Jim McElwain and his players will likely be asked next week.
1. Who will be the starting quarterback for the season opener?
There’s been so much inconsistency at this position in Gainesville that we’ve seemingly been asking this virtually every offseason since 2012. In case you forgot, in 2012 it came down to Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Driskel eventually was named the starter, and Florida hasn’t been able to find a true leader under center until 2015, and that didn’t last long at all once Will Grier was suspended indefinitely by the NCAA for performance enhancing drugs after Week 6. Florida Faithful’s chances for their QB savior was crushed with Grier’s announcement to transfer being the final nail in the coffin.
So who is it in 2016? Most fans are clamoring for redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio, who completed 10-of-11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns during Florida’s spring game. Given that he seems to have the best handle on McElwain’s offense, and the fact that he’s a true pro-style quarterback, don’t be surprised if he starts week one. Behind Del Rio is Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, and true freshman early enrollee Feleipe Franks, who could likely redshirt in 2016. Having these two guys is very positive for the depth at QB this season.
2. What’s the biggest challenge entering year two after a 10-win inaugural season?
We saw Florida fall victim to letting early success go to the head even before their 2015 season was over — the back-end of the Gators’ season was pretty embarrassing. It featured a lackluster offense that barely beat Vanderbilt, almost lost to FAU and got whipped by rival Florida State and capped off with a 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
So, this question in part has a couple of follow-ups: How much of the success was having Grier running the offense? Can the players view 2015’s 10-win season in a vacuum — in a ” one game at a time” element? Whether or not last year was just a fluke or not (reminiscent to that 2012 Florida team, right?) will be answered on the field this season.
But it’s up to McElwain to have the returning players put 2015 in the perspective of ‘yes, we won ten games, but there was, and still is a lot left to accomplish’. McElwain wasn’t hired by Jeremy Foley to just compete for/win SEC East titles. He was brought to Gainesville to win championships — both SEC and national ones — not participation ribbons. Mac made Florida history by becoming the first Gator head coach to win ten games in his first season. It’s up to him to prove that that’s just the beginning.
Is winning the SEC East a goal or a requirement in 2016?
Given the current state of the SEC East, this should probably be a requirement, especially given that Florida, realistically, has to just get past two legitimate teams to make this a reality. Tennessee has emerged as the preseason SEC East favorite, and rightfully so — Jalen Hurd and Josh Dobbs look like an incredibly formidable offensive unit behind an experienced offensive line. Not to mention they came incredibly close to beating Florida both in 2014 and 2015.
Georgia has fell victim to preseason hype in my opinion, but you can’t blame the Dawgs for having high expectations after hiring Kirby Smart and managing to keep five-star quarterback Jacob Eason, who is looking like he could make the start under center for week one. So technically speaking — Florida just has to get past two teams and take care of Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina to make it to Atlanta again. It sounds easier to do on paper, obviously, but circling two big games — Georgia and Tennessee — on the schedule to clinch the division barring chaos inside the division, is a much easier task than those who are inside the SEC West.