Jim McElwain and the Florida football team make their appearance at the 2017 SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, but the Gators were a topic of discussion on the SEC Network on Monday.
ESPN senior writer Ryan McGee authored short essays about the state of each of the 14 SEC schools’ football programs that are set to air throughout the four days on SEC Network. Here is what he said about Florida:
“2016 in Gainesville. Another year, another trip to Atlanta. Now, it’s Year 3 for coach Mac. Ever since he became top Gator, he’s been chomping at the bit to get his offense in gear. Now, he might finally have the talent to say another year, another trip to Atlanta, but finally leave town with the trophy.”
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He’s right. Florida has a chance to make it back to the SEC Championship Game for the third straight season behind an offense that is as close to complete as it has been since McElwain took over the program and a young defense that has the potential to live up to Florida’s illustrious past.
“I like Florida,” said SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who played for McElwain for three seasons when McElwain was Alabama’s offensive coordinator. “I like their offensive personnel. I don’t care who their quarterback is. [The offense] isn’t going to be worse than it was last year, and it’s certainly not going to be worse than when Treon Harris was the guy.”
Florida returns nine starters on offense from last season, most notably running back Jordan Scarlett, wide receivers Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland, and four offensive linemen.
The big question mark, as it seems to always be with the Gators for eight years running, is the starting quarterback. The Gators are slated to start their 10th different quarterback since Tim Tebow’s final season in 2009. The likely candidates: Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire or redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.
SEC Network analyst Jordan Rodgers, a former quarterback at Vanderbilt, is optimistic Florida will make strides and should be the team to beat in the East. However, at the end of the day, he feels Florida’s solution at quarterback — whoever it is — won’t be enough to compete with the SEC West champion should the Gators once again reach the SEC Championship Game.
“If you’re McElwain right now, the stick is getting to the championship and winning the championship,” Rodgers said. “It’s not enough to get there. I don’t think whoever’s playing quarterback will measure enough.”
Fellow SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland, a former defensive lineman for LSU who spent nine years in the NFL, raved specifically about Florida’s offensive line led by center T.J. McCoy and the run game led by Scarlett. If both of those aspects of the game work out, McFarland said the offense will find a way to be successful.
“The offensive line, led by McCoy up front at center, is nasty and they’re good,” McFarland said. “Go back to the LSU game. Remember that game. Jordan Scarlett started running the football between the tackles, downhill, physicality at the line of scrimmage. Those guys gelled together that game. … The quarterback will figure out how to make a play.”