GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is losing a lot of talent from an 11-2 team that came within one game of winning the SEC's Eastern Division title and possibly playing for a national championship.
Gone will be the team's leading rusher, receiver, scorer and tackler. Plus the left side of the offensive line. And two of the team's top defensive players, as well.
That's a lot to replace in 2013, and Gators fans inevitably will spend the next eight months talking about how that's going to happen. They'll mention RB Matt Jones, LB Antonio Morrison, and DB Brian Poole, all of whom had solid freshmen seasons in 2012. All three will get the opportunity to win starting jobs next season.
But there will be other players who must step up, too. Here are five (ok, six) more players who didn't exactly earn raves in 2012 but who could prove to be significant contributors for the Gators in 2013.
What they did in 2012: We've lumped these two together because they were essentially the same person this past season. They played more in the second half of the season but combined to catch just four passes and were used primarily as blockers. Pittman was an early enrollee about whom the coaches raved in the spring, but the staff was careful how much they fed him in March, and he was overwhelmed in August when he had to absorb the entire offense. Andrades enrolled in July and impressed his teammates with his route-running, but he also needed more time to pick up the offense.
Possible impact in 2013: The Gators' deficiency at wide receiver is well-documented, and the staff is desperate for someone -- anyone -- to emerge and become a consistent playmaker. Pittman and Andrades have had a year in the system and because of that are in a better position to contribute than any of the freshmen receivers. Of course, that's if you believe the offense is going to make the same kind of jump in year two under offensive coordinator Brent Pease that the defense did in the second season under Dan Quinn. Neither player has to have an All-SEC kind of season, but catching 30-35 passes would be a huge benefit to a passing offense that finished 2012 ranked 114th nationally out of 120 teams.
TE Kent Taylor
What he did in 2012: Taylor was supposed to help in the passing game, but a concussion early in the season caused him to miss too much time, and he was unable to make an impact. He did end up catching two passes for 5 yards and a touchdown, but the Gators were hoping he could have been a factor in the red zone because of his size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and leaping ability.
Possible impact in 2013: Jordan Reed is leaving early for the NFL, and Taylor is the Gators' top pass-catching option at the position. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Colin Thompson are better blockers, although Thompson is someone who could be a red zone target. Taylor is built more like former Gators TE Tate Casey than a true tight end, so he could be used as a flex tight end and line up at receiver. The Gators need to find weapons in the passing game, especially in the red zone, and Taylor will be one of the first options.
LB Neiron Ball
What he did in 2012: The 6-2, 222-pound Ball played a lot in 2012 after missing the 2011 season because of bleeding in his brain, and while he didn't compile a lot of stats, he did always seem to be around the football. He made just 10 tackles, but had one interception, two fumble recoveries, a pass breakup, and two quarterback hurries. This past season was good in gettting him acclimated to the game after a year off.
Possible impact in 2013: With Jon Bostic graduating and Jelani Jenkins leaving early for the NFL, all three linebacker spots are wide open. Ball will be in the mix to be a starter at strongside linebacker. The Gators need playmakers at linebacker. Bostic and Jenkins did a better job of that this past season, but more big plays need to come from this unit. Ball had a hand in three turnovers last season. Maybe he can be one of those playmakers.
What he did in 2012: The 6-3, 310-pound junior college transfer had 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 10 games. He was a significant part of the rotation on the defensive line, playing behind Sharrif Floyd.
Possible impact in 2013: Floyd, who is leaving early, was a disruptive player whom teams needed to double-team. Jacobs isn't at that level, but he is a solid pass rusher for an interior lineman. He's able to get push up the middle and cause the quarterback to move. He likely will step into the starting job alongside NT Leon Orr. UF needs him to be able to hold up at the point of attack to allow the linebackers to roam and make plays. He has the size and strength to do it.
CB Cody Riggs
What he did in 2012: Riggs was part of the four-man competition for the two starting cornerback spots, along with Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins. He started the Texas A&M game but suffered a broken bone in his foot and missed the rest of the season.
Possible impact in 2013: The 5-9, 180-pound Riggs again will be in the competition to start at corner, but he also will have to deal with Vernon Hargreaves III, provided the nation's No. 1 cornerback does sign with UF in February. Riggs has added value in that he also can play safety, and that spot is a huge question mark because of the departure of Matt Elam and Josh Evans. Riggs isn't that big, but he does have experience back there and might be a good option to pair with Poole.