On Christmas morning as you tear open the gifts under your tree, let’s look at some Christmas wishes for members of the Gator sports programs.
For head football coach Will Muschamp an offensive line with size and strength to power his downhill running game
The Gators showed glimpses of it this season against LSU and FSU with guys who weren’t recruited to be maulers but zone blockers in a spread offense. With four commits and two transfers who average 305 pounds, including big JUCO transfer Trenton Brown at 355, Muschamp should get his Christmas wish. Maulers, road graders, call them what you will, but these guys should provide instant impact as starters or providing depth. The running game should be a strength for years to come with these guys.
For offensive coordinator Brent Pease, a quarterback and wide receivers that can make plays in the passing game.
Last season with a young qb and literally no experienced talent with little depth at wide receiver the Gators were very pedestrian in the passing offense. They had a three game stretch where they passed for under 100 yards each game and averaged less than 144 passing yards per game overall for the season. Not exactly what Pease was expecting when he took the job at Florida.
With four wideouts with varying skill levels committed in this year’s recruiting class and 2014 top level qb Will Grier in the fold, Pease has some reinforcements on the way. Throw in new receiver coach Joker Phillips and the passing game looks like it should improve by leaps and bounds in the coming seasons.
For defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the return of Matt Elam, Dominique Easley, and Jelani Jenkins.
If the Gators can get three of the four defensive juniors who are testing the NFL draft waters to stick around that should be the best Christmas present of all for Quinn who has some depth coming but can’t replace the experience of those three. Asking for Sharrif Floyd, the toughest of the four to replace, to return might be asking just a little bit too much. However, getting the other three back might be the best recruiting job Quinn can do in the offseason.
For head basketball coach Billy Donovan, Kenny Boynton to shake off the shooting slump he’s currently in.
Since Boynton started his poor shooting streak the Gators are 2-2 and playing very inconsistently on the offensive end. While they have other good shooters who can knock down shots it seems as if they are out of rhythm now with Boynton struggling not quite sure who should take the shots or when they should come. Basketball is a rhythm sport especially on the offensive end and when the main guy is struggling the whole rhythm of the offense is affected and it gets out of synch. The biggest Christmas wish Donovan could hope for at this point is for Boynton to get his shot back before the start of SEC play.
For Gator baseball head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, his #7 ranked recruiting class gels quickly with returning players.
After three consecutive trips to Omaha for the College World Series, the Florida Gator baseball team lost a ton of players to graduation and to the major league draft. The guys they have returning are talented as are the guys they have coming in with a recruiting class ranked number seven in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. The big question is can the new guys not necessarily replace the guys who left, that might be a little much to ask. But can they fill in well enough with the returning players to give the Gators a chance at a fourth straight CWS berth. If so, then O’Sullivan will certainly be happy with that as a Christmas present.
For quarterback Jeff Driskel, the ability to see the field quicker and make quicker decisions in the pocket.
There’s no denying Driskel’s raw talent as a passer and as a runner, however, he didn’t get a great chance to hone his vision and decision-making skills in high school as he played at a school where he was THE offense. Like Tebow, he spent more time making quick throws or running a version of the veer and as such the only skills he developed strongly were his running skills. In his first season as a starter for the Gators he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to hone those decision-making skills either with the staff making conservative play calls and utilizing his talented running skills.
Too often he was unable to go through his progressions quick enough to find receivers downfield, often settling for his check down options or holding the ball too long and taking a sack. If the offense is going to improve in the offseason, then Driskel will have to get quicker in his reads, and make quicker decisions as to when to stretch the play, when to dump, and when to run. If he can improve those skills then Gator fans will finally see the upside that made him the top quarterback recruit in the nation as a high school senior.
For Loucheiz Purifoy, the opportunity to showcase his offensive skills.
Probably the most versatile player on the team, Loucheiz Purifoy is a starting cornerback, a gunner on special teams, and plays some receiver part-time. He is one of the Three Amigos at corner, along with Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson, who helped the Gators lead the nation in pass efficiency defense. He has made a name, and a national reputation, as a speedy headhunter on special teams who catches punts to down them inside the ten yard line, knocks the block off of returners who fail to fair catch, and makes big plays blitzing and blocking kicks. He also is a pretty good wide receiver. In high school he played more offense than defense as he was a quarterback in their veer offense as well as a wide receiver and has always been a playmaker at every level and every position he has played. Next season hopefully the staff will give him more of an opportunity to make plays on offense for a team that has been searching for offensive playmakers since Tebow, Hernandez, and Percy left the team. Watch out for Purifoy.
For Sharrif Floyd, a big, fat NFL first round pick contract.
Floyd is a stud at the nose tackle position and has done just about all he can at the collegiate level. As Gators we should thank him for his time, effort, and leadership helping bring this program back from a two year combined 15-11 record and wish him well at the next level. He has little left to prove at this level and now the only question is where he will be drafted and by whom. So long mr. Floyd, thanks for your service, and see you next season on Sundays. Hopefully, you’ll be playing for one of my two favorite teams the Green Bay Packers or the New England Patriots, a team which tends to like Gator defensive lineman by the way.
For the Gator football team, a Sugar Bowl victory over coach Strong and the Louisville Cardinals.
After a couple of down seasons, getting lucky enough to play in lesser bowls, the Gators are back in a BCS game, albeit not the BCS title game they had hoped for, but a big game nonetheless, their first since playing in this same game following the 2009 season. While they don’t get to play Bob Stoops Oklahoma Sooners like many fans and media were hoping for, Louisville is a decent second choice with the added incentive of playing against former Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and his team which features some former Gator players who transferred there after Muschamp took over. After an 11-1 season which saw the Gators fall just short of playing Alabama in Atlanta for the SEC title and a likely bid to the BCS title game, a twelve win season is in sight and the chance to go out on a high note is in front of this team. Hopefully, they will continue the solid play they showed in the season finale against FSU as they shoot for another Sugar Bowl title.
For the Gator basketball team, another Elite Eight NCAA tourney appearance which finally leads back to the Final Four.
After consecutive Elite Eight appearances for the Gator basketball team where they were a few minutes away from the Final Four, the Gators have started strong and showed depth and balance they haven’t had the last five years or so. With solid post players, good perimeter shooters, and some talented freshman providing depth, the Gators might have a stronger lineup top to bottom than either of those last two Elite Eight teams. If they can get back on track, they are the odds on favorite to win the SEC, and realistically have a shot at a number one or two seed in the tourney. If they can get back to the Elite Eight, hopefully they will be able to play a complete game and actually make it back to the final four for the first time since the 04′s won back to back NCAA tournament titles.
For the Gator baseball team, a fourth straight trip to Omaha and hopefully a title.
Gator baseball has made three consecutive trips to Omaha for the College World Series but came up just shy of winning a championship all three times. There’s no doubt the program is on solid footing under coach O’Sullivan with better recruiting than the Gators have ever had overall and last season they had more draft picks in one year than ever before. Maybe with an infusion of new talent and their returning players they can get over the hump and not just get there but bring back the tournament trophy.
For Gator Nation, the opportunity to see their football team play in a BCS game, their basketball team to play in the Elite Eight, and their baseball to team to compete in the College World Series in a calendar year.
Oh wait that just happened? Yes the Gators became the first NCAA school to have their football team play in a BCS game, the basketball team play in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, and the baseball team to play in the College World Series in one calendar year. With basketball playing at a high level, baseball ranked in the top twenty five in the preseason, and the football team starting to come into it’s own with some solid high level recruits coming in to provide depth and competition, there’s a great chance they could repeat that success and possible go even further with a championship, or two, or three. That would be the best Christmas present of all for the Gator Nation.
Merry Christmas and Go Gators!