There isn’t just one present Florida coach Jim McElwain needs from Santa to make 2016 a better year from than this season, as impressive as it was.
The Gators obviously have to find a kicker, and they’re losing their top running back, wide receiver and tight end. UF also has to replace five starters defensively, including Jonathan Bullard, Vernon Hargreaves III and Antonio Morrison.
Florida signed junior college prospects Eddy Pineiro and Mark Thompson to help fill the void at kicker and running back, and current players on the roster should be able step in at the other openings.
But arguably Florida’s most important need is also its biggest question mark heading into 2016 — quarterback. By next fall, UF could have a completely different depth chart at the position.
This season, the Gators had Treon Harris, Will Grier and Josh Grady as their options. Grady and Grier won’t be back next year, and there’s a strong possibility Harris will lose the starting job and/or transfer by the end of preseason camp.
That would leave McElwain with three new quarterbacks to work with in transfer Luke Del Rio and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, both early enrollees.
Del Rio played in a reserve role at Oregon State in 2014 and spent the past year learning Florida’s offense while sitting out due to transfer rules. Those factors have him pegged as the early favorite to become the starter, and McElwain is excited about what Del Rio has shown in practice.
In the first half of 2015, Grier averaged 200 yards passing per game and had the highest completion percentage (67.5) in the SEC, leading UF to a 6-0 record. With Harris under center full-time, Florida went 4-3 and the passing game seemingly regressed each week.
For the Gators to have success in 2016, they need a competent quarterback who can give them consistent production.