De'Ante Saunders among 2 leaving

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida safety De'Ante Saunders and offensive tackle Matt Patchan are transferring out of the program, coach Will Muschamp said Thursday, marking the Gators' second and third defections since the regular season ended.

"Really appreciate their time at Florida. We wish them the best," Muschamp said shortly after the third-ranked Gators (11-1) arrived in New Orleans for their matchup with No. 21 Louisville (10-2) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. "I think they just needed a fresh start, both guys and both situations. That's all I've got to say about it."

Saunders, a 5-foot-8, 186-pound sophomore, missed four games this season. He started seven of the eight games he played at either nickelback or safety and had 18 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and four pass breakups.

He sat out the first two games of the season for what Muschamp said was a hamstring injury and didn't play in the final two games for what Muschamp said was a knee injury.

His departure is significant because the Gators are expected to lose both starting safeties in 2013.

Josh Evans graduates, and All-American Matt Elam, who started at nickelback in three games and safety the other nine, is considering leaving early for the NFL. Saunders, who started nine games as a freshman, likely would have inherited a starting spot next season.

Patchan, a 6-6, 279-pound redshirt junior, has been hampered by so many injuries throughout his career that the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. He missed this season with a strained pectoral muscle. He missed nine games in 2009 with a knee injury and the 2010 season with a wrist injury but played in 12 games in 2011 (seven starts) at right tackle. He played defensive tackle in 2008 as a freshman because of depth issues on the defensive line.

Patchan didn't figure into the Gators' plans on the offensive line next season. Freshman D.J. Humphries, junior college transfer Trenton Brown, Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore, Maryland transfer Max Garcia and redshirt sophomore Chaz Green are expected to battle for the two tackle spots.

Patchan will be eligible to play at his new school because of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule. Patchan received his undergraduate degree earlier this month.

Defensive back Willie Bailey, a freshman who redshirted this season, left the program earlier in December.