GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It wasn't all bad for the Florida football team in 2011.
The Gators did finish the regular season 6-6, their worst record since they went 0-10-1 in 1979, and they didn't beat a FBS team that finished with a winning record. But, believe it or not, there were some good things that happened on the field.
Like these five players. They were the biggest surprises in 2011. They played much better than last season or they exceeded expectations.
Regardless of the reason, they were a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season.
Enjoy these today, because on Thursday we'll bring you the five most disappointing Gators in 2011.
WR Andre Debose: The Gators desperately need a playmaker at receiver, and Debose is pretty much all they've got. He caught only 15 passes, but he averaged 28.2 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns -- all of which were between 64 and 80 yards. He had two long ones against Furman (64 and 80), but he also had 65-yard TD catches against Alabama and LSU. He's certainly not the kind of player everyone expected when he signed -- remember, former coach Urban Meyer called him the next Percy Harvin -- but he at least has shown the potential to get there. His biggest problem is consistency. He doesn't practice as hard as he needs to every day, and that keeps him from getting on the field. If he could fix that, he'd be an All-SEC player around whom opposing defensive coordinators would have to game plan.
G Jon Halapio: The offensive line has been a huge problem all season long and needs a serious upgrade in 2012, but Halapio has been the Gators' most steady player up front. He's the only lineman to start every game, and he's been a much better player in 2011 than he was in 2010. Every time you looked at the line at the end of a play last season it seemed like Halapio was on his back. He's not a mauler and he still needs to improve, but there's no doubting his effort. Plus, he took losing pretty hard, which is a trait that didn't seem to be present in enough players this season.
DT Jaye Howard: All the attention has been on LB Jon Bostic and S Matt Elam, but Howard quietly has had the best season of his career. His 60 tackles are almost as many as he had in his first three seasons combined (66), and his four sacks nearly match the 5.5 he had in 2008-10. Howard also has two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries, including one he returned for a touchdown against Kentucky. The defensive front has been manhandled at times, but Howard has been its most consistent player -- plus he's not creating the drama that Dominique Easley does by jumping offside and getting in small skirmishes with opposing offensive linemen.
FB Hunter Joyer: He has made the most impact of any freshman, including fellow starters CB Marcus Roberson and S De'Ante Saunders. Joyer plays much bigger than his size (6 feet, 237 pounds) and quickly adapted to being primarily a blocker after carrying the ball in high school. He is one of UF's strongest players, and he has had little trouble taking on linebackers in the hole and creating space for Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. He also has been pretty good the few times the Gators have let him carry the ball (82 yards on 17 carries, 4.8 yards per carry) in short-yardage situations. He was a pretty good pass-catcher in high school, and his role certainly will expand next season. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis even hinted that Joyer could become a full-time ball carrier if the Gators' incoming backs aren't up to the task.
K Caleb Sturgis: Sturgis always has had a big leg, but there were questions about whether he'd be able to come back from the back injury that cost him the final nine games of the 2010 season. He answered them pretty quickly, hitting a 51-yard field goal to open the season. He made his first 12 field goal attempts before missing a 52-yarder and finished the regular season 21 of 25. He's one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which annually goes to the nation's top kicker.
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.