Confident Gators eager to step on field and turn page in 2014

Michael Taylor and the Gators begin the season at home against Idaho on Saturday.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gators linebacker Michael Taylor listened to the question and then delivered a dose of his standard truth serum.

The question: Will Florida’s early season schedule be a sufficient test for a team set to face one of the nation’s most difficult schedules in 2014?

The background: Florida hosts Idaho on Saturday in the season opener, then welcomes Eastern Michigan to town before starting SEC play at home against Kentucky and then a trip to Alabama in Week 4. Idaho (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (2-10) combined to go 3-21 a year ago.

Taylor’s response: "We had four wins last year. They might have had three wins combined, but that’s not cake."

If the Gators can consider anything cake, perhaps it’s that none of those difficult games ahead are in 2013. They flipped the mental calendar months ago and finally get to put the past to rest on Florida Field come Saturday night.

"It’s a new year," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "I think it’s a good chance to start fresh and really showcase all we’ve done throughout the spring and summer. We’ve done some good things we just have to carry them over to the games."

The Gators returned to practice Monday night to prep for the Vandals following an upbeat camp.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp and his staff put their final touches on the depth chart over the weekend, the most notable decision naming true freshman Treon Harris as the backup quarterback behind Driskel.

Harris competed with fellow freshman Will Grier and redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg throughout camp and got the nod.

Crucial components

"There’s really no separation from the backup standpoint," Muschamp said. "[We] felt like Treon has some things he can provide for us offensively, but that’s nothing that’s made for the long term. No one’s been redshirted. No decisions have been made with Will Grier, Skyler Mornhinweg or anyone else.

"All of those guys did some good things and we’re going to move forward from week-to-week on that situation."

Muschamp said Harris showed a nice command of the offense in camp and could help the Gators in short-yardage situations and in the red zone with his dual-threat abilities.

The tone entering the opener is in stark contrast to a season ago when injuries to key players dominated the news in camp.

Safety Marcus Maye is the only player Muschamp listed as questionable against Idaho. Maye has been battling a hamstring injury and Muschamp is hopeful he might be able to return to practice on Wednesday.

Based on what was said Tuesday, the primary concern for the Gators is to get back on the field and get a win. Florida lost its final seven games last season to finish 4-8.

"Any time you go through a tough time in your life you reflect, you get humble, you work hard and you pull together and you understand the people around you are close to you," Muschamp said. "It’s been really a lot of fun in training camp. You could see the camaraderie and the togetherness in the football team.

"I’m looking forward to see them go and compete in front of our fans."

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While most of the starters are set, Muschamp said coaches will continue to review the kicking game this week in practice. Kickers Frankie Velez and Austin Hardin are competing for the starting job, and punters Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend are in a close race to be the opening-game punter.

Most of the attention since last season has focused on the offense and the addition of first-year coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper installed an up-tempo spread offense that keeps defenses off balance by rarely going to a huddle.

Driskel transitioned to the offense well during spring practice and enjoyed a healthy training camp after missing the final nine games last year with a broken leg.

Driskel is optimistic the Gators are in store for a turnaround season.

"I think we have the players to really flourish in the system that we’re running," Driskel said. "We have a lot of players that can make plays in space. Our confidence comes from making a lot of plays. In the spring, we made a lot of big plays and that carried over to the summer.

"During camp, we had a really great, great camp. We protected the ball and made big plays. When you put those two things together, you’re going to be looking at a pretty good offense."

Taylor, a fifth-year senior and one of the team’s leaders, sees a significantly improved offense since last season ended. He said the defense has improved, too.

The next step is to get a W.

"Definitely excited to get a victory because we haven’t had a victory in a while around here — on the road or here," Taylor said. "Too long."