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I Wanna SEC You Up: The Florida Defense and Schedule

Category Rank
Scoring Defense 2nd
Passing Defense 6th
Rushing Defense 1st
Total Defense 2nd
Opp 1st Downs 5th
Opp 3rd Down Conversions 4th
Red Zone Defense 3rd
Last year's unit ranked in the top half of the conference in nearly every statistical category, but this year's squad will be lucky to match that kind of production. Only two starters return, and if last season's close wins and often times infuriatingly ineffective offense are any indication of how badly the Gators need a solid D to win, then this could be a tough year for Florida fans.

Starting up front, the line has a lot of question marks. DE Derrick Harvey is one of the returning starters from last year. He earned 2nd Team All-SEC Honors after recording 35 tackles and 11 sacks while starting only five. He was also the Defensive MVP in last year's title game, getting three sacks and a fumble recovery agains tOSU. Joining him at the end position will be either Jermaine Cunnigham or Lawrence Marsh. Neither has any starting experience, but Cunningham, a converted linebacker, impressed in the spring game with three sacks. In the middle, several freshman will likely see a lot of playing time. Senior Clint McMillan and Sophomore Brandon Antwine held the DT spots during the spring, but Redshirt Freshman Terron Sanders and True Freshmen Torrey Davis and John Brown will push for significant time. Davis was a five start prospect and the #2 rated DT in the country out of high school, while Brown was a four star recruit and the #10 DT in the nation.

Harvey closing in on one of three sacks against tOSU.
The Gators are similarly limited at linebacker, with no starters returning and only a pair of sophomores with game experience. Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes will occupy the WLB and MLB spots, respectively, while redshirt freshman AJ Jones will likely hold down the stongside. Also in the mix are sophomore Ryan Stamper, and true freshmen Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards. Both four star recruits, Edwards is the #6 outside linebacker prospect in the country, while Hicks is the #8.

The Gators are expected to play a lot of nickel coverage because of the inexperience up front, but only two spots in the secondary look to be secured. Tony Joiner, the only other returning starter, has a firm lead on the strong safety position, while sophomore Markihe Anderson will hold down one corner. Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markus Manson (a converted RB), Jacques Rickerson, and Joe Haden are all in the mix to play opposite Anderson. At FS is senior Kyle Jackson. Jackson started twelve games in his first two years as a Gator, but struggled and was eventually replaced by All-American Reggie Nelson. He's got another chance now that Nelson has moved on, but the Gators will sorely miss Nelson as he allowed Florida to play Joiner closer to the line in run support. This season he'll need to stay deeper to help out Jackson in pass coverage.

Date Opponent
09/01 vs Western Kentucky
09/08 vs Troy
09/15 vs Tennessee
09/22 at Ole Miss
09/29 vs Auburn
10/06 at LSU
10/20 at Kentucky
10/27 vs Georgia
11/03 vs Vandy
11/10 at South Carolina
11/17 vs Florida Atlantic
11/24 vs Florida State
The Schedule

For a team that will need some time to gel, this schedule certainly sets up nicely for the Gators. Again, I'm not going to make a lot of specific predictions since the SEC East is so topsy turvy and there's a lot of question marks for the Gators, but it's not outside the realm of possibility for the Gators to win the East again and end the regular season with double digits. Western Kentucky, Troy, and Florida Atlantic are all imminently winnable home games and the match up against Ole Miss, while in Oxford, should be another sure thing for the Gators. Road contests at Kentucky and South Carolina will be tough tests for the young Gator D, as will a visit from an always tenascious Vanderbilt, but they all come near the end of the season and should give them plenty of time to come together. They get Tennesse, Auburn, and Florida State in the Swamp, and rival Georgia in Jacksonville. The two most intriguing games on the schedule are, of course, at South Carolina and vs Florida State. South Carolina will be a strong team this year, and a blocked kick was the only thing that kept Spurrier from being 2-0 against his alma mater. Florida State's upgraded coaching staff will also pose a big test for the Gators after they won in Tallahassee last year by a single TD. In my estimation, the best case scenario for the Gators would be a 10-2 finish to the regular season with losses to UGA and LSU, while the worst case might find the Gator D on the receiving end of some big yardage games against Auburn, LSU, Kentucky or Vandy, UGA, and South Carolina. They'll likely finish in between though, and be playing pretty good football by the time Florida State comes to Gainseville.