Bowling Green-Florida Preview

Florida heads into this season determined to rebound from last

year’s lackluster performance, but it will have to overcome some

absences in the early going.

The No. 23 Gators seek a 23rd consecutive season-opening win

Saturday against visiting Bowling Green.

Florida (7-6) began the 2011 season with four straight victories

but ultimately needed a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl to

avoid its first losing campaign since 1979. The Gators’ troubles

began in October when they faced four consecutive Top 25 teams –

including eventual BCS title game participants Alabama and LSU –

and lost all four games.

They suffered another defeat to then-No. 15 South Carolina in

November and fell to rival Florida State two weeks later, souring

coach Will Muschamp’s first season in Gainesville.

“You never put last season behind you. It is what it is and you

have to learn from it and move forward and let it motivate you.

That’s what we’ve done as a staff,” Muschamp said. “I’m really

pleased with what we’ve done as a football team and look forward to

seeing us play on Sept. 1.”

He should immediately find out how much depth the Gators

have.

Linebacker and 2011 sack leader Ronald Powell is out for at

least the first month of the season as he continues to recover from

a torn right ACL. Defensive lineman Nick Alajajian is gone for the

year after fracturing his right knee and Kedric Johnson is out

indefinitely because of a knee injury.

Safety De’Ante Saunders won’t play in the first two games for an

unspecified reason. It’s unclear if he was suspended, but he might

have missed those contests anyway because of a hamstring

injury.

On offense, freshman tight end Colin Thompson, who was expected

to play a key role, is out for at least two months after undergoing

surgery on his right foot, and offensive linemen Matt Patchan

(pectoral) and Tommy Jordan (shoulder) will also miss this

game.

The Gators haven’t settled on a quarterback and plan to

alternate between sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel

through at least the first half of Saturday’s game and perhaps

beyond.

“They both deserve the right to play,” Muschamp said. “Both guys

are very even, and our football team’s got great confidence in both

of them. I told both of them today: The last position I’m worried

about is quarterback. I feel very comfortable about both guys.”

Florida is also trying to replace its two top rushers from a

year ago, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

That’s now part of Brent Pease’s job. The former Boise State

assistant is the team’s new offensive coordinator after Charlie

Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas.

He’ll be looking to improve a unit that gained 328.7 yards per

game last year – 105th in the FBS. The Gators’ 25.5-point average

was 71st.

“That’s not what we came here for, to go 7-6. We want to get

back on top,” wide receiver Frankie Hammond said. “We came here to

win championships and get rings. That’s the standard here. We

definitely have a chip on our shoulders.”

Florida’s first step is to continue one of the nation’s longest

streaks of season-opening wins. Only Nebraska’s is longer at 26 in

a row.

“(The game against Bowling Green) is very important,” Hammond

said. “It’s the first game of the year, and we want to get things

going.”

Bowling Green returns 20 starters, including 3,000-yard passer

Matt Schilz, from a team that went 5-7 in 2011. The Falcons also

bring back leading rusher Anthon Samuel (844 yards), but will have

to find replacements for top receivers Kamar Jorden and Eugene

Cooper.

Linebacker Dwayne Woods (111 tackles in 2011) and defensive

tackle Chris Jones (8 1/2 sacks) anchor the defense.

Bowling Green is 1-3 all-time against SEC opponents but has

never faced Florida. The Falcons are 3-9 in their last 12 matchups

with ranked opponents and recorded their most recent upset Aug. 30,

2008, at then-No. 25 Pittsburgh.