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August 28, 2014

10 Fearless Predictions

A lot of unexpected incidents - mostly injuries - prevented many of the fearless predictions published in 2013 from actually occurring. With a healthy Florida Gators football team set to enter The Swamp on Saturday and plenty of expectations thrust on the team ahead of this season, here are 10 more fearless predictions for the 2014 campaign.

Jeff Driskel will throw for more than 2,500 yards, net more than 500 yards on the ground and combine to score 25 touchdowns.
Why: If Driskel has actually improved as much as the coaches say, and if Roper plans to use him similarly to how he played his quarterbacks last season, Driskel should not have much problem eclipsing these numbers. During his only full season as a starter in 2012, Driskel registered 1,646 yards through the air, 408 on the ground and 16 total touchdowns. He did all that with the Gators calling plays at nearly a 2-to-1 rush-to-pass ratio per game (538 runs to 288 attempted passes). Playing in the shotgun for offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Driskel will be able to use his legs to supplement his strong arm. Last season, Duke's two main quarterbacks totaled 3,472 passing yards, 551 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns. Read that line again if you need to. Even if freshman Treon Harris does wind up with a package to supplement Driskel, there is no question that the redshirt senior will get the vast majority of the snaps. Totaling 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in this offense with these playmakers should be do-able.

Florida will beat Georgia.
Why: For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, Florida has lost three-straight games to Georgia. The Gators are 18-6 against the Bulldogs since 1990 and something has to give for UF in the series, which has been decided by three, four, eight and three points, respectively, in the last four meetings. The last two seasons have been toss-ups, and Muschamp absolutely has to beat his alma mater. Should he lose this game, not only may he be out of a job, he will once again reach deep into the record books by being the first coach to lose four-straight games to UGA since UF dropped six in a row from 1978-83.

Andre Debose will break the SEC kickoff return touchdown record - by two scores.
Why: Debose opens the 2014 season as one of the best kickoff returners in Southeastern Conference history. Already having brought back four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, he is currently in a three-way tie for first place in that category and can have it all to himself with one more game-breaking play. But with Debose healthy and focused, and new special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler taking over, there will be plenty of focus on creating unique blocking assignments to free Debose and help him not only break the record but shatter it as he explodes toward the end zone.

Freshman Brandon Powell will outgain redshirt senior Mack Brown in combined rushing and receiving yardage.
Why: With both Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones healthy, the Gators simply do not have much of a need for Brown, who impressed with 112 yards and two touchdowns in the 2013 season opener and remained effective during the season but did not blow anyone away. Powell, on the other hand, is a perfect change-of-pace back for Roper's offense, a speedy and shifty pass-catching rusher who provides great burst and is still a bit of an unknown to opposing defenses. While Brown will likely pick up the occasional carry and some garbage-time rushes, Powell has the opportunity to carve out a spot all his own.

Roderick Johnson will start at least four games this season.
Why: This spot was reserved for Kyle Koehne last year, and he came through to start more than four contests by the time the season was done. This year, Johnson has been praised more by head coach Will Muschamp than any other offensive linemen. Couple his drastic improvement with some other factors - such as the lackluster play of D.J. Humphries and his penchant for injuries - and Johnson could wind up not only seeing plenty of playing time but doing so in a starting role. He is currently listed behind Chaz Green as the second-string right tackle, but Johnson can play both positions and likely will before the year is out.

Roper will only be with the Gators for one season.
Why: The 2014 season will likely go one of two ways - either Florida drastically improves its offense, shocks many across the country and makes a huge leap from its disastrous 2013 campaign or the team barely takes a step forward and once again finishes in the bottom half of the SEC. In the former scenario, Roper will get a ton of credit for UF's resurgence and could be in line for head coaching jobs at some smaller programs in power five conferences throughout the country. He was already being looked at before taking the job with the Gators as many have seen the success his mentor, David Cutcliffe, has had with Duke. In the latter scenario, Muschamp would be fired and a new head coach would certainly choose his own coordinator. Either way, Roper may wind up being yet another short-term offensive coordinator at Florida.

Quinton Dunbar will have a 100-yard game.
Why: This may not sound like a major feat, but Dunbar has played three seasons with the Gators and never eclipsed the century mark in a game. Just as he was starting to break out last season, setting career-highs with seven receptions and 98 yards at Miami, Dunbar saw Driskel go down with a season-ending injury. Though he only has two 90+ yard games and six career touchdowns under his belt, Dunbar will be a prime target for Driskel this season. Finding the end zone after not doing so in 2013 is almost a sure bet, but he should be equally capable of eclipsing 100 yards in a game for the first time in his career.

Three different Gators will account for 5+ sacks each.
Why: Florida amassed 19 sacks as a team in 2013, placing it 94th nationally despite the Gators having one of the top 15 defenses in the country. A number of factors contributed to that deficiency including the loss of Dominique Easley on the interior of the defensive line, other injuries and players being overly tired after getting stuck on the field most the game due to the offense's inability to sustain drives. Dante Fowler Jr., who finished second on the team with 3.5 sacks last season, returns for his junior campaign and is looking to put together a tremendous year in order to potentially leave early for the NFL Draft. Muschamp has also praised UF's young backup pass rushers as being one of the most improved groups of players on the team. With an inexperienced secondary needing as much help as it can get, especially early in the season, the onus will be on Florida's front seven to knock down the opposing quarterback as much as possible in 2014.

Johnny Townsend will not see the field in 2014.
Why: If the battle between Townsend and Kyle Christy truly is neck-and-neck like Muschamp claims, there is no reason Townsend should play this season as long as Christy does not revert to struggling like he did in 2013. Townsend was recruited to be Florida's punter of the future, not the present, but he was thrust into action during his freshman campaign after Christy floundered coming off one of the best punting seasons in school history. Instead of earning the redshirt that he and the coaching staff desired to put some separation between the players, he started the final half of the year. This season is the last chance to get the most out of Townsend by letting Christy take the starting job and saving three years of eligibility for the youngster.

Florida will lose a game by missing a game-ending field goal.
Why: While there have been plenty of concerns raised in the off-season about Muschamp, Driskel, the young secondary and many other facets of the team, UF's kicking game continues to be a major issue - one that may very well cost the Gators victories in 2014. Florida does not yet have a starter entering the season as redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin has been unable to pull away from redshirt senior walk-on Francisco Velez. The duo split kicking duties last season with Hardin, supposedly the better long-ball kicker of the duo, going 4-for-12 on the year and 0-for-6 from 40+ yards. Velez finished 6-of-8 overall, and he and Hardin combined to go just 3-for-6 from 30-39 yards. Simply put, Florida does not have a trustworthy kicker; there is no one that could take the field at the end of the game and truly have the team's complete confidence. And if UF faces such a situation, forced to take a game-deciding field goal of any length late in a contest, are the odds better that Hardin or Velez would make or miss that kick?

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