2021 wasn’t the year Gators fans hoped it would be. After three consecutive New Year’s Six bowl appearances, Florida football took a backseat to Texas A&M and Ole Miss, as SEC powerhouses Alabama and Georgia battled it out in the national championship game. Florida finished 6-7, which was just the third losing season for the program in the last 41 years.
With new head coach Billy Napier (not the only former Ragin Cajun mentioned in this article) and a strong LB core and NFL prospect at quarterback, the Gators hope to right the ship and get back to national college football relevance after a seldom seen off-year. Here are the Gators players we think can help them along the way.
Anthony Richardson, QB
The redshirt sophomore Anthony Richardson steps into the full-time starting role in Gainesville this year. At 6-4, with strong downfield awareness, Richardson will be the key to the Gators’ success through the air in 2022, as he looks to find Justin Shorter in the Flordia aerial assault.
On the ground, after Dameon Pierce was selected in the NFL Draft, Richardson will be working with any one of the following running backs: redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard, redshirt sophomore Demarkcus Bowman, and sophomore Montrell Johnson, each player a former transfer to the Swamp. There’s also a chance that Florida could see the emergence of Trevor Etienne, the brother of former LSU rusher Travis Etienne.
Regardless, Richardson will have his hands full. ESPN’s Todd McShay is already projecting Richardson as a top 10 pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. If he lives up to his full potential, you could hear his name up there with CJ Stroud and Bryce Young. If he doesn’t, we may see Ohio State transfer Jack Miller under center before the season is done.
Ventrell Miller, LB
Ventrell Miller’s 2021 campaign was lost due to injury after just two games, but he returns this season for his sixth and final year. In 2020, Miller led the Gators with 88 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss. He projects as one of the top linebackers in the SEC if he can remain healthy.
O’Cyrus Torrence, OG
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound O’Cyrus Torrence is a former Louisiana stand-out who comes to Florida via the transfer portal. The right guard will be tasked with going up against a series of dangerous SEC EDGE rushers. He excelled in the Sun Belt, winning All-Sun Belt honors the past two seasons. But we all know the SEC is a different kind of animal. The Florida scouts must have liked what they say from the former Ragin’ Cajun because you don’t see midmajor talents make the jump to starting in the SEC very often. Could this be his path to the NFL? Sun Belt to SEC to NFL could very well be in O?Cyrus’s future with a successful year in the Swamp lined up next to Kingsley Eguakun.
Brenton Cox Jr, LB
Brenton Cox Jr delivered big in his last two seasons for the Gators. 41 tackles and 8 sacks, which led the Gators last season despite being at less than 100 percent for much of it. In 2020, he earned All-SEC honors. The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Cox gives Florida an explosive playmaker off the EDGE.
Gervon Dexter, DT
Gervon Dexter may well be one of the most dominant players for the Gators this year. With 50 total tackles last year and 2.5 sacks, Dexter was ranked as one of the best interior defensive linemen in what most called a learning year for the sophomore. Now as he settles into a full-time role, PFF has him ranked in the top five in the country. No doubt, plenty of NFL scouts will have their eyes on Gervon Dexter this season.
With Dexter and Princely Umanmielen up front, Cox Jr. patrolling the flats, and defensive backs like Rashad Torrence, Jason Marshall, and Trey Dean in the secondary, UF is well equipped to shut down SEC offenses. Even after losing Kaiir Elam to the Buffalo Bills, the Florida Gators’ secondary is still a tough place to find open receivers.