Matt Ragland is back with a brand new bag.
1. All the Orange and Blue spectacle you can handle
I could list 13 bits of pregame awesomeness, like seeing the specialists prepare, players poke their heads out of the tunnel, and the smell of Newberry's BBQ wafting by Touchdown Terrace. Don't get me started on the entire team warming up, or the way my eyes get misty when they run out of the tunnel, or how I'm nearly hoarse after the first defensive series. Just treat all of the O&B blessings the same, and give thanks for this glorious day.
It's been a long time coming back for RoPo, but after missing last season and undergoing two major knee surgeries, he is understandably ready to return to action.
"It's like my dream is about to come true again. To run out there again."
The Gators are hoping Powell provides even more than his prodigious talents on the field. He's an experienced upperclassman who's been through emotional and physical challenges that can set him up as a team leader going in to this season. But how will he look in his first game action in nearly two years? Either way, it will be good to see him flying around today.
3. Matt Jones
No, he isn't going to play, but as any obsessed Florida fan will, see how he looks on the sideline. Does he look to have lost more/less than the reported 10 pounds? How energetic is he while cheering for his teammates? How long are the dreads? These are questions that need answering!
4. Kickoff Attendance
God love the students, and I know I wasn't always on time (though I was normally late to the November non-con game), but is the student section full and rowdy at 12:21 p.m. on a holiday weekend? Only time will tell...
Of course, I'm not only talking about students. How many fans and boosters are leaving their morning tailgates right on time?
5. Demarcus Robinson
He's had a great training camp and is one of the most talked-about players on the team entering the season. With a dearth of receiver production this year, can Real Deal Demarcus Robinson step up and be a legitimate threat for Jeff Driskel and the Gator offense?
6. Offensive play selection and pace
The Florida offense was nothing to tweet about for most of last season, playing to Will Muschamp's style and relying on a rock-solid defense and running game on their way to 11 wins. With Brent Pease and Jeff Driskel both in year two, and the aforementioned RDDR and Quinton Dunbar as receivers, will Pease be able to open the offense more? I will be very interested to see how often the Gators run without a huddle and from pistol, and to see whether their run/pass balance against a Toledo team that gave up 290 passing yards a game last season still edges toward the ground.
7. From Jeff Driskel: 250+ yards passing and a big play
I think that Driskel gets a lot of snaps this game, even if the Gators go up big early. Driskel still needs plenty of reps, and unless Florida is up really big, there's simply not a lot behind Driskel that can be relied on. As mentioned above and in Theater of Operations, Toledo comes in with a sub-par pass defense, so Driskel should have opportunities to hit a big play down the field. To qualify that last statement, I would like to see a big play where the ball itself travels 30+ yards down the field, instead of a screen that turns in to a 50-yard play.
But we'll take either one.
8. Two turnovers and three sacks
We've heard about the terror of Florida's pass rush in spring ball and training camp, so fans are very interested to see how Dominique Easley, Powell, and Dante Fowler wreak havoc on the opposing backfield. The Gators enjoyed a healthy turnover margin in 2012, and getting right back in to the groove this season will be crucial to the Gators' success. An extremely talented secondary should be key in creating a couple takeaways.
9. The fruits of the labor from D.J. Durkin and Joker Phillips
Durkin's promotion was bound to happen at Florida or another program, but it will still be interesting and compelling to watch him run his own defense for the first time, albeit with the watchful eyes and schematic ability of Muschamp by his side. Getting more and more comfortable with in-game calls will be huge for Durkin, and Toledo is no slouch to kick off against.
Joker Phillips and his many Twitter PhotoShops have been entertaining, and the coup of Robinson from Clemson was fantastic, but now we get to see how the receivers have developed after an entire offseason with a legitimate coach (no hard feelings Bush Hadman). I'm particularly interested in Quinton Dunbar, who's had a good camp and is the Gators' top returning wideout from 2012.
Remember, assistant coaches matter. A lot.
Florida's top recruit and the No. 1 corner in the nation in the 2013 class has shown his mettle in a crowded secondary, and is expected to see the field for plenty of snaps. This is of course barring a setback with his shoulder injury. Don't forget VH3's absurd performance in the Under Armour game. This guy is going to be special, and has performed well enough in camp to make Durkin think about using plenty of nickel packages.
11. 150+ yards rushing
Toldeo's defense also allowed nearly 190 rushing yards per game last season, and we all know power running is Muschamp's preferred method of victory. Even with Matt Jones out, look for the Gators to pound the rock with Mack Brown and whoever else they decide to run on the field for some carries. It will be an interesting assortment of players.
My guess is that with a shaky backfield and the opportunity to allow Driskel to use his arm more, the Gators are around 150 yards. If they do reach 200 team yards rushing, I think Driskel has at least 75 of them.
12. Healthy Gators
Please, it's already been a rough training camp for injuries. Let's stay healthy and spry going in to Miami.
13. Limiting Toledo's offense to 70 plays
As FlaGators chomped out this week, the Gators are expecting Toledo to attempt 80-85 plays on game day, a higher number than most SEC teams will ever run. If the Gators are controlling the tempo with defense and power running, expect this number to be much lower and Florida to be in the driver's seat.
If Toldeo does get going on tempo, Durkin says it's fine, his defense doesn't huddle either. So there!
14. The Pride of the Sunshine Band's post-game show at Turlington Hall
Turlington is the building with art that looks like french fries, across from University Auditorium, in case you somehow don't know that. And the band playing near the rock outside it is a great way to end the day. I always miss that little party.