GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- This is one of the more peculiar season openers in recent Florida football history.
Some say the Gators can be really good, perhaps even make it to Atlanta as SEC East champions. Others predict that if Florida can add a win or two to its 7-6 record of a season ago, the Gators can call it a successful season.
The wide range of opinions on the No. 23-ranked Gators is attributable to various factors. The defense should be good with 10 starters returning. It could be really good if the young players who gained valuable experience last season continue to improve.
The offense is somewhat of a mystery. That is always going to be the case when the starting quarterback remains unknown the week of the season opener.
Here is what is certain: Florida opens the 2012 season today against Bowling Green. The Gators want to put on a much better show in front of their fans than the last time they played at The Swamp, a 21-7 loss to Florida State.
There is no better way to do that than with a convincing win over the Falcons of the Mid-American Conference.
"It’s very important,” receiver Frankie Hammond said. "It’s the first game of the year. We want to go out and get things going. We’ve been in camp going against each other for Lord knows how long. We want to go against an opponent and see, finally, all the hard work we put in pay off and finally get things going into the season."
Florida fans couldn't agree more.
As the Gators get ready to run out of the tunnel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time this season, let's take a look at 10 things to keep an eye on in today's game:
SHOCKER ... THE QUARTERBACKS
Why waste any time. We all know we want to see how sophomore quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett perform today.
Gators coach Will Muschamp's plan is to use one in the first quarter -- if the Gators are driving when the first quarter ends, expect that quarterback to remain in the game to finish the drive -- and one in the second quarter.
They will be re-evaluated at halftime and go from there. There is no way to know how they will do, but we do know they are much more prepared than a year ago when both were tossed into the fire as true freshmen.
BRENT PEASE'S OFFENSE
The first-year offensive coordinator replaces Charlie Weis after six seasons at Boise State. Pease's pro-style offense is designed to keep defenses guessing right up to the snap with heavy use of shifts and motion. He calls it a lot of "mental gymnastics."
The Gators say the offense will definitely look different than a year ago. Florida fans hope they are right. Florida finished 105th nationally in total offense and finished with only 13 touchdown throws.
Pease's track record is impressive and he has SEC experience at Kentucky, which caught Muschamp's attention when the Gators beat Alabama for Pease's services in the offseason.
A BIG, BAD D
You get the sense that coaches and players feel Florida's defense can be special. The Gators return 10 starters and that includes injured defensive end/buck Ronald Powell, who is not expected to play until midseason due to a knee injury suffered in the spring game.
Still, while Powell will be missed, with players like Jon Bostic, Matt Elam, Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd back, Florida's talent on D is impressive.
Mix in true freshmen like Dante Fowler Jr., Jonathan Bullard and Antonio Morrison, and the defense is also much deeper.
Photo: Senior running back Mike Gillislee takes over as the No. 1 tailback.
The Gators' running game has a new look. Gone are speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Say hello to bigger and bruising backs like Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown and true freshman Matt Jones.
We are familiar with Gillislee as a backup the past three seasons, but the senior from DeLand opens the season as the featured tailback and based on reports from fall camp, he looks ready to carry the load.
Muschamp said on his radio show Thursday night to look for Gillislee to set new career highs in rushes (11) and yards (84) quickly. That could happen today.
Trey Burton and Omarius Hines are F-Backs in Pease's offense. They can line up at running back, fullback, receiver and tight end.
That offers a lot of challenges for defensive coordinators. Both are talented but had trouble finding a place to play in Weis' offense. That doesn't appear to be a problem with Pease calling the plays.
A TURNOVER PLEASE
The Gators forced only 14 turnovers last season -- six fumbles and eight interceptions. They want to see that number increase significantly in the second season of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's complex scheme.
Quinn and Muschamp emphasized a need for more turnovers all of fall camp, so now it's up to the Gators to go out and cause them. They had their chances last season but dropped more than 10 potential interceptions. They hope to catch them this season.
SPECIAL PLAYS FROM SPECIAL TEAMS
Florida special teams coach D.J. Durkin is one of the best in the business. The Gators regularly block punts and have big returns in the kickoff game. They also have senior kicker Caleb Sturgis, one of the best in the country.
Look for a big play here and there from guys like Solomon Patton (punt block), Andre Debose (kickoff returns) or maybe punt returner Marcus Roberson, who takes over that role to start the season.
ROOM UP FRONT
As much as Florida is emphasizing a power running game, that won't happen unless the offensive line is doing its job.
Here's my first prediction of the season: Florida will be better up front in 2012. The unit had major depth issues a year ago, hence why the Gators added sixth-year senior Dan Wenger at the last minute and he ended up playing regularly.
New offensive line coach Tim Davis has veterans like Jon Halapio, Jon Harrison and Xavier Nixon back, as well as newcomers D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker to provide depth.
Let's face it, the last time we saw the Gators in The Swamp it wasn't pretty. They held FSU to 95 yards of total offense and still never seemed to have a chance to win.
They walked off the field a deflated team and shortly afterward Muschamp challenged them by calling the Gators "soft." They ended the season on a high note with a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. Not long after that strength-and-conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman arrived to recharge them in the weight room.
It shows. The Gators do look like a bigger and tougher team. We finally get to see how that translates on the field.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ... A WIN
The Gators have never faced Bowling Green. The Falcons have talent, most notably quarterback Matt Schilz and defensive tackle Chris Jones.
They also have a coach in Dave Clawson who is familiar with the SEC -- he was Phil Fulmer's offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008. But the Gators clearly have more talent and they also have a lot of motivation coming off last season.
Muschamp won't care if the Gators win 3-0 as long as they walk off the field with a W. Gator Nation hopes it's not that close. If Florida can play well and come away with some of their questions answered, it will be a good start for the Gators.
Bowling Green at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)
Records: Bowling Green 5-7 in 2011; Florida 7-6
TV: ESPN -- Mark Jones (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst), Jessica Mendoza (sideline)
Bottom line: The Gators open Coach Will Muschamp's second season with a chance to extend their win streak in season openers to 23 in a row. With SEC road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee on tap the next two weeks, a victory over the Falcons would serve as a good launching pad.