Florida Gators: What to watch for in season opener

The Florida Gators open the season in The Swamp Saturday as they take on the Toledo Rockets. Here are a few things to keep a close eye on throughout the game.

Running back Mack Brown has a big opportunity in Saturday's season opener. (Photo credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Running back Mack Brown has a big opportunity in Saturday’s season opener. (Photo credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Play of RB Mack Brown: Starting running back Matt Jones remains out as he continues to work his way back from a viral infection. He did practice in pads Tuesday and is expected to return against Miami. In his absence the Gators will likely rely on a few different backs. Redshirt junior Mack Brown will be the starter, with Valdez Showers and possibly Mark Herndon working their way into the rotation. This is a big opportunity for Brown. He came to Florida as one of the top running backs in the country, but after three years has failed to live up to the hype. He only has 40 career carries entering this season, and Saturday will be his first game as the “feature back” in college. If he plays well, the Gators could have a formidable one-two punch at the position when Jones returns.

Improvement of QB Jeff Driskel: It could be argued that the success of the Gators this season is tied largely to the health and play of their starting quarterback. And the last time we saw Driskel, in the Sugar Bowl loss against Louisville, his performance was not pretty to say the least. However, the coaches have talked all season about his marked improvement. He will have plenty of new weapons around him to help things out. Toledo ranked 116th in the country in pass defense last season, so Driskel has a chance to start the season off right and have a big game Saturday.

The return of Ronald Powell: It has been a long road back for the redshirt junior and former top recruit in the nation. After leading the team with six sacks in 2011, Powell missed all of last season after undergoing two separate knee surgeries to repair a torn ACL he suffered in the spring game. By all accounts he has been playing well all offseason and is more than ready to return to the field. He will start Saturday’s game at linebacker.

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