SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Florida Gators

 
The Lowdown
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)
Projected Starters
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  Ciatrick Fason  So. 
TB  33  Ran Carthon  Sr. 
Defense (3)
DE  86  Darrell Lee  Sr. 
DT  91  Sylvester McGrew  So. 
DT  58  Kenny Parker  Jr. 
DE   57   Bobby McCray   Sr.  
SLB  Brian Crum  Fr. 
MLB  47  Todd McCullough  Jr. 
WLB  Channing Crowder  Fr. 
CB  24  Deshawn Carter  So. 
CB   1   Keiwan Ratliff   Sr.  
SS   9   Guss Scott   Sr.  
FS  34  Daryl Dixon  Sr. 
Special Teams
14  Matt Leach  Jr. 
92  Sean Morton  Sr. 
KR  33  Ran Carthon  Sr. 
PR  Keiwan Ratliff  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  San Jose State 
Sept. 6  at Miami 
Sept. 13  Florida A&M 
Sept. 20  Tennessee 
Sept. 27  at Kentucky 
Oct. 4  Ole Miss 
Oct. 11  at LSU 
Oct. 18  at Arkansas 
Nov. 1  #Georgia 
Nov. 8  Vanderbilt 
Nov. 15  at South Carolina 
Nov. 29  Florida State 
   #Jacksonville, Fla. 
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.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

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.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

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.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Florida's 2003 hopes hinge on so many variables, so it's difficult to project the Gators as anything more than a darkhorse 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 shotputters.

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?

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