HOOVER, Ala. — Jeff Driskel knows the critics are out there watching.
The Florida junior quarterback is well aware that the Gators' 4-8 record and his early season-ending knee injury have left many wondering whether this is a team on the rise with a brand new offense or one that's about to completely crumble.
And that's quite all right with Driskel. For him, it just comes with the territory, all part of being the quarterback at Florida.
"I typically don't let it get to me," he said during Florida's appearance at Monday's SEC media days. "I don't want to play well because others are down on me or anything like that. I want to play well because that's why I was recruited, that's why I'm at the University of Florida is to play football and play at a high level. So I don't let fans or anything like that get to me. It's internal. I want to be a good quarterback, and I plan to show everyone that that's what I am."
Driskel started three games in 2013 before fracturing his leg Sept. 21 against Tennessee. He passed for 477 yards (42-of-63) before the injury. The Gators won that game, but they earned just two more victories without Driskel, who spent the rest of the season watching helplessly.
"That is the hardest part, not being able to help," Driskel said. "When you're just sitting there on the couch watching away games, you kind of feel bad. You feel like you should be doing something, when you can't. And you feel like you're letting people down. But at the end of the day, that's football. Rest was what I needed to do to help the team out. I did that, and now I'm 100 percent. I'm good to go."
Enter new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. The Gators used the spring to implement a new spread offense, which not coincidentally is more suited to Driskel's skills and why he was recruited out of Hagerty High in Oviedo.
"I think what we're doing now offensively fits him better," said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who added he believes it's unfair to judge Driskel based on two games last season. "There's no question that's one of the reasons why I hired Kurt.
"His development of the quarterback at the position speaks for itself."
Driskel, who will graduate this summer with a degree in sports management, will attend graduate school in the fall. He spent part of his summer working at a local barbecue restaurant, where stunned fans offered encouragement, concern and sometimes humor, including Driskel's favorite line: "Can I get a brisket sandwich with a side of a national championship?"
While Driskel prepares to prove the naysayers wrong, he has already made believers again of his teammates since his return.
"Jeff had a great offseason and a great spring," defensive lineman and Lakewood High graduate Dante Fowler said. "Being able to see Jeff in the spring — being in his comfort zone in the shotgun — and just being able to play again. Once you get an injury and you sit out that long, you're just ready to play again, and you're hungry. I think that was a time for him to sit back and realize things that were going on, and it helped him get better as a player in my opinion. He looked better, this is the best I ever saw him.
"He's a student of the game, he's a very smart player. In my opinion, I think he's the best quarterback in the SEC."
The Gators can only hope Fowler's assessment is correct.