It was a difficult first season for Billy Napier and the Florida Gators in 2022.
The Gators finished 6-7 for the second consecutive year. It didn't help when many key players opted out of the Las Vegas Bowl, including quarterback Anthony Richardson, leading to an Oregon State blowout.
Now the Gators will put that behind them and look to improve and contend in the SEC again. Despite many changes on both sides of the ball, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Florida's chances in 2023 as spring practice is underway in Gainesville.
Florida finished with the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation for this latest cycle after Billy Napier and his coaching staff signed another top-20 class (18th) the previous year. This means another infusion of incoming talent to the roster.
Among the early enrollees are defensive lineman Kelby Collins and cornerback Ja'Keem Jackson. Both are 4-star recruits and top-10 at their respective positions, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Napier also did some work in the transfer portal this offseason, adding former Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and Kentucky offensive tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin to the roster, among others. Goodwin is a massive (6-8, 351) offensive lineman who was the sixth-best recruit at his position and No. 38 overall in the 2022 class, according to 247Sports. Goodwin and the additions of fellow transfers Micah Mazzccua (Baylor) and Damieon George Jr. (Alabama) should restock an offensive line that was hit by departures via the portal and to the NFL draft.
2. New defensive coordinator calling the shots
Just days before the start of spring practice, the Gators named Scott Armstrong as their new defensive coordinator.
He spent the last two seasons as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss, where in 2022, the Golden Eagles ranked third nationally in tackles for a loss per game (8.3), fourth nationally in sacks (3.39 per game), and seventh in interceptions (17). Southern Miss also was third in fourth-down conversion defense (.231).
Armstrong replaces defensive play-caller and safeties coach Patrick Toney, who left Florida to become the defensive backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Last season, the Gators ranked 97th in the country in pass defense (411 ypg). The hope is that Armstrong, who will have better talent than he had at Southern Miss, will make an immediate impact.
3. Familiarity should pay off for Napier and Co.
If his time at Louisiana is any indication, the Gators could have a huge 2023 season in Napier's second year in charge. For the Ragin Cajuns, Napier's team finished 11-3, a year after going 7-7 in his 2018 debut.
Florida struggled with consistency in 2022, and a lot of that was because Napier was still trying to implement his philosophy strategies into the new program. With a year under their belts and another recruiting cycle for Napier and his staff, the Gators should look and function even more like Napier's team this fall. And if his tenure at Louisiana is an indicator, there's a chance that Florida will surprise some people.
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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders, and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.