SEC Quarterback Power Rankings: Day 8

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMay 27, 2014 

Quarterback Jeff Driskel was lost for the season last year after injuring his leg versus Tennessee. If he doesn't help turn Florida's offense around this fall, it might cost coach Will Muschamp his job.

WADE PAYNE — AP

Editor's note: The 2013 season was an incredible year for quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. There was a Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel), the conference's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns (Georgia's Aaron Murray) and a two-time national champion (Alabama's AJ McCarron). Then there was Auburn's Nick Marshall, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Nearly all of those aforementioned signal-callers have departed, however. Still, someone will rise to the occasion to fill those spots, and that's why we're here to take stock of them as we head into the summer, counting them down from 14 to 1. Note that proven performers, even if they were not the unquestioned starter last season, figures heavily into these rankings. We continue with Day 8 of the countdown.

7. Florida

It's now-or-never for Jeff Driskel.

Now in his fourth season with the Gators, he's already working with his third offensive coordinator. There was Charlie Weis in 2011, followed by Brent Pease in 2012-13. And this spring brought Kurt Roper, a finalist for the Broyles Award last season at Duke. He helped the Blue Devils win a school-record 10 games as well as clinch a spot in the ACC championship game last year.

Everywhere Roper has coached — be it Duke, Tennessee, Ole Miss or Kentucky — he's been part of offenses that could move the ball and put up points. Which, putting it kindly, didn't describe the Gators last season. Florida ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in both total offense (316.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (18.8 points per game).

Driskel was absent for the majority of it, injuring his leg against Tennessee and missing the rest of the season. From there, things only continued to get worse. The low point was losing to then-Football Championship Subdivision member Georgia Southern — at home, no less — and eventually ending the year at 4-8. It marked the worst season for Florida since it went winless (0-10) in 1979.

With that, Pease was given his walking papers and Roper was brought in to install an up-tempo, spread scheme. It appeared to sync well with the unit, as the Gators ran 111 plays during the spring game and put up more than 600 yards of total offense. Driskel was efficient, though not spectacular, completing 18 of his 32 attempts for 167 yards and a touchdown. He also had 34 rushing yards.

If nothing else, Roper is sold on his new signal-caller's abilities.

"He has everything physically. He does have great size, but he can really run. He's a fast guy. He can start quickly. He can change direction. His top-end speed is really good for a quarterback," the coordinator told CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman. "He has a really good arm. He's accurate. I like his throwing motion. It's fast-twitch. He possesses everything.

"His touch throws and his down-the-field throws are our focus fundamentally right now. If you were building a quarterback, you'd start with what this guy has."

That's certainly good to hear from Florida's standpoint.

But here's the rub: If Driskel doesn't match Roper's rave review this fall, it might mean his coordinator's tenure in Gainesville is short-lived. Florida (and its fan base) won't tolerate another campaign like it suffered through in 2013.

Despite the incredibly stingy play of its defense — which ranked among the top three in the SEC in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense — it didn't matter. (Yes, Florida was really that bad offensively.)

That's why it can't be said enough: The Gators' offense has to play better, not only to avoid a repeat of last season, but to potentially keep Will Muschamp and his staff from getting fired.

And it all starts with Driskel.

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