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.