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2021 Florida college football preview: Jones to pilot Gator offense

The primary playmakers of Florida’s explosive 2020 offense have departed for the NFL, but fourth-year QB Emory Jones takes the reigns to lead the Gators into the 2021 season.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Oklahoma v Florida Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With an array of offensive weapons at their disposal, the Florida Gators rode one of the nation’s most explosive attacks to an SEC East title in 2020, their first division crown since 2016.

The year displayed the continuing potential of what Dan Mullen had been building in Gainesville since his arrival in 2018. Future 2021 early-round NFL Draft picks Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney dominated in a vertical offense that led the nation in passing (378.6 yards per game) and mostly covered up for a defense that was prone to giving up explosive plays themselves.

Entering the month of December as College Football Playoff contenders with an 8-1 record, UF stumbled to end the year, infamously losing to LSU via thrown shoe and falling 52-46 to Alabama in an SEC Championship shootout before completely no-showing the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.

Mullen’s Gators now enter the 2021 season with the goal of maintaining their spot on top of the SEC East with new personnel on both sides of the ball including a new QB running the show.

2020 Season Review

  • 8-4, 8-2 SEC, Conference runner-up, Lost 55-20 to Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl
  • Florida played up to to its competition well on offense, going 4-0 on overs in games against ranked opponents and 3-0 as underdogs.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 12th
ESPN Returning Production: 55% overall (108th): 41% offense (125th), 70% defense (67th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 9th
Returning starters: 5/11 offense, 4/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Emory Jones (Junior)

Replacing Kyle Trask under center for the Blue and Orange in 2021 will be Emory Jones, who was one of Mullen’s first signature signees when first arriving to Gainesville.

Coming out of a loaded state of Georgia QB recruiting class that included both Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, Jones bided his time in Gainesville as a backup for three years, familiarizing himself with the program, the surrounding personnel, and the Gators’ scheme on offense. As a result, he enters the fall already entrenched as a locker room leader.

The former Heard County High School standout has been sporadically used in special packages throughout his time in Gainesville, amassing seven touchdowns as a passer and notably, 6.4 yards per carry and six touchdowns as a runner over the past two seasons. His dual-threat abilities will be utilized as Florida changes of pace from the pass-dominant offense under Trask and should Florida maintain their explosiveness on offense, he could quickly emerge as one of the most dynamic players in all of college football this season.

Offense (non-QB): RB Dameon Pierce (Senior)

Florida’s lethal pass attack did just enough to cover for its pedestrian run game, an attack that averaged just 131.2 yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry.

Dameon Pierce was the leader of that group, starting 10 games and racking up 503 yards and four touchdowns throughout the 2020 season. With a mobile QB like Jones taking snaps, Mullen along with Co-OC’s Billy Gonzales and John Hervesy want to get more production out of their ground attack and that opens the door for a veteran like Pierce to thrive.

Defense: DL Zachary Carter (Senior)

Florida’s 2020 defense gave up almost as many yards as their offense gained and much-maligned coordinator Todd Grantham needs to see improvement in his units in 2021 or face a pink slip in the near future.

That improvement starts on the line where Zachary Carter is set to be the leader of the front. The Tampa native started 11 games at defensive tackles for the Gators in 2020, coming away with 36 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and five sacks along with a scoop-n-score touchdown.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 6th overall: 4th offense, 33rd defense, 2nd special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 12th overall: 5th offense, 29th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +4000
To win SEC: +1400
Win total: 9 (Over +100, Under -125)

2020 Against The Spread: 5-7
2020 Point Total: Over 8-4

2021 Florida Schedule

2021 Florida Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Florida Atlantic 7:30 pm/SECN UF -24.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 at USF 1:00 pm/ABC N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 Alabama 3:30 pm/CBS UF +13.5
Saturday, Sep. 25 Tennessee TBA UF -15
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Kentucky TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 Vanderbilt TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 at LSU TBA UF +1.5
Saturday, Oct. 23 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 Georgia (TIAA Bank Field, Jax) 3:30 pm/CBS UF +7.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 at South Carolina TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 Samford TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 at Missouri TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 Florida State TBA N/A