GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the 2012 season officially in the books, GatorBait.net begins a two-part series that will examine each position group for the Gators. We'll take a look at how the position group fared during the season, improvements needed and how the position looks going forward into the 2013 season. Today, we begin with a close look at the quarterbacks.
Could an improved offensive line lead to another quarterback battle between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett?
Florida went into the year with a seeming quarterback battle on its hands, but it became very clear after Jacoby Brissett took just 11 snaps in the opener that the job was Jeff Driskel's to lose.
Driskel cemented the job in the first three weeks, leading come-from-behind victories against Texas A&M and Tennessee. His progression through the first three weeks was remarkable, with many analysts suddenly pointing to him as one of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.
The sophomore continued his steady play throughout the season, leading the Gators to 11 wins in the regular season while throwing just three interceptions.
However, Driskel struggled in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He completed just 55.2 percent of his passes (second-lowest of the year) and threw two interceptions.
Driskel enters the offseason with a firm hold on the starting job. That said, his grasp on the job isn't nearly as firm as it was following the Tennessee game, because Driskel didn't show much improvement over the final three months of the season.
The majority of the evaluation here falls on Driskel, since he played in all but one game in 2012.
Driskel was Florida's best option at quarterback thanks to his ability to run -- a much-needed ability behind an offensive line that really struggled to pass block. His ability to run helped ice a handful of games and win at least a few, something that Florida might not have been able to do with backup Jacoby Brissett at the helm.
The strongest area of Driskel's game this year was running the zone-read effectively. He made good decisions and great reads for much of the year, in no small part leading to Mike Gillislee's 1,000-yard rushing season.
Driskel's passing was adequate, but left something to be desired. He had very few "wow" plays throughout the season. In fact, two of his best throws all year were negated touchdown passes deep down the middle of the field.
The sophomore quarterback still struggles with timing the most in the passing game, frequently holding the ball too long in the pocket. He seldom leads receivers open, but when he does, the results are excellent (see Jordan Reed's touchdown catch vs. Tennessee).
The next step in Driskel's progression will be getting better at scanning the field and quickening his release. Driskel also has a tendency to roll right whenever he feels pressure, and often he runs right into that pressure. Getting more comfortable in the pocket and improving his footwork will also be essential.
Brissett really didn't play enough this year to make a firm evaluation, but when he did play it was evident he was rusty. His accuracy down the field leaves a lot to be desired, as he threw into double and triple coverage a handful of times.
That said, Brissett has a slightly better feel for the pocket than Driskel and could become a more attractive option than he is now in the event Florida's offensive line learns how to pass block more consistently.
Driskel will enter spring practice as the starter, and he should. But the spring could tell us a good bit about whether there's any chance Brissett could get back into the mix.
With three starters returning on the offensive line, the January enrollments of Tyler Moore and Trenton Brown, Maryland transfer Max Garcia becoming eligible and the redshirt season for Jessamen Dunker being over, the Gators will look drastically different up front.
There's a good chance that core will be better than the offensive line the Gators fielded this year, and if so, what the coaches decide to do moving forward will be interesting.
Muschamp and Pease both said earlier this year that they needed Driskel's mobility to win games this year. But if that mobility is less important, can Brissett get back into the mix?
Chances are that competition won't open back up -- at least not publicly -- this spring. However, Driskel is going to have to show more improvement than he did in the second half of the year to avoid the coaches at least thinking about giving Brissett a shot if he ends up staying in Gainesville.
Should Brissett decide his future is brighter elsewhere, Driskel's hold on the starting job is firmly cemented, with Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver battling it out for the backup job in the offseason.
In terms of what Florida has at quarterback right now, the Gators are probably looking at a middle-of-the-pack ranking in the SEC. Driskel simply has too much to work on to be considered an elite quarterback heading into the offseason.