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5 questions for Florida college football’s spring games this week

The Gators, Bulls, Seminoles, Hurricanes and Knights all have exhibitions in a 3-day span.
 
The Florida Gators and football coach Billy Napier will have their spring game Thursday.
The Florida Gators and football coach Billy Napier will have their spring game Thursday. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published April 11, 2023|Updated April 11, 2023

Florida college football ends one phase of its offseason this week with a jam-packed three days of spring games. The Florida Gators host their Orange and Blue Game on Thursday night, with USF, UCF and Miami kicking off Friday and Florida State ending the festivities Saturday.

Here are five pressing questions we’re looking to answer from these glorified scrimmages.

Will the Florida Gators’ defense rebound in Billy Napier’s second season?

Florida Gators linebacker Shemar James will be in line for a bigger role this season.
Florida Gators linebacker Shemar James will be in line for a bigger role this season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times (2022) ]

The obvious intrigue around UF centers on the quarterback competition between Las Vegas Bowl starter Jack Miller and Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz. But the defense’s evolution will be just as pivotal to whether Billy Napier sees a big Year 2 bump or another mediocre season.

Last year’s Gators had the program’s worst third-down defense on record and tied for the sixth fewest sacks (23) in the last four decades. Since then, UF has lost at least five defenders with realistic shots to get drafted (led by Day 2 prospect Gervon Dexter), plus coordinator Patrick Toney.

Though we aren’t expecting wholesale changes under new coordinator Austin Armstrong, we are scouting players ready for bigger roles or more production this fall. Among the most intriguing candidates: linebacker Shemar James, defensive back Jason Marshall and Memphis transfer Cam Jackson.

What does the USF football offense look like under Alex Golesh?

New USF football coach Alex Golesh has installed a fast Bulls offense.
New USF football coach Alex Golesh has installed a fast Bulls offense. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Bulls’ quarterback battle is still worth monitoring, but it’s incomplete until last year’s first starter, Gerry Bohanon, returns from a shoulder injury. In the meantime, we’re interested in an initial overview of first-year coach Alex Golesh’s offense. If it’s anything like the Tennessee offenses he coordinated under Josh Heupel, it will be fast and explosive.

“We see the highs,” pass game coordinator Joel Gordon said. “We see the opportunities to grow still.”

The opportunities for growth also include filling voids at skill positions after 1,000-yard rusher Brian Battie left for Auburn and leading receivers Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn transferred to Colorado. Which players leave Friday as leading candidates to replace them?

How’s the FSU football transfer class?

We know plenty about Florida State football star Jordan Travis. But what about the Seminoles' transfers?
We know plenty about Florida State football star Jordan Travis. But what about the Seminoles' transfers? [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
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We don’t need to see much from returning stars like Jordan Travis, Jared Verse and Trey Benson. But if the Seminoles are going to improve from their breakthrough 2022 season, they’ll need a boost from an elite transfer class.

Mike Norvell deserves the benefit of the doubt for how he has developed previous transfers (including Verse and Benson). This is our first glimpse at the next crop. How does Norvell use Jaheim Bell, a versatile tight end from South Carolina? How much does tight end Kyle Morlock elevate the red-zone offense? Does Virginia’s Fentrell Cypress look like the next great Florida State defensive back? And which newcomers will contribute on a deep offensive line?

Will the Miami Hurricanes offense recover?

Miami Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal had a rough first season but looks to have a more explosive offense in Year 2.
Miami Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal had a rough first season but looks to have a more explosive offense in Year 2. [ AL DIAZ/ADIAZ@MIAMIHERALD.COM | Miami Herald ]

Miami’s 5-7 record in Mario Cristobal’s first season was one of the biggest disappointments in the nation. With a quarterback (Tyler Van Dyke) who earned NFL buzz in 2021 and the nation’s top assistant (Josh Gaddis), the Hurricanes’ offense ranked 97th in scoring (23.6 points per game).

Van Dyke is back, but Gaddis is not. His replacement, Shannon Dawson, leads an offense that appears to be more explosive than the one last year. It better be, if Miami is going to start to look like Miami again.

Is UCF ready for the Big 12?

UCF football is moving to the Big 12 this summer and looking to win more trophies there.
UCF football is moving to the Big 12 this summer and looking to win more trophies there. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]

The Knights get their wish this summer when they officially move from the mid-major AAC to a Power Five conference, the Big 12. UCF earned the promotion thanks in part to five seasons of double-digit wins from 2012-19. Since then, however, the Knights haven’t finished better than 9-4 — and now they’re joining one of the most competitive leagues in the country.

We don’t yet know how UCF will handle the jump. But we’ll get a better gauge about their talent and depth after Friday’s spring game.

Spring games

Florida

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN+ and SEC Network+

USF

7 p.m. Friday, Corbett Stadium

TV: ESPN+

UCF

7:30 p.m. Friday, FBC Mortgage Stadium

Miami

7:30 p.m. Friday, DRV PNK Stadium

TV: ACC Network Extra

Florida State

4 p.m. Saturday, Doak Campbell Stadium

TV: ACC Network Extra

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