There’s no other way to say it, folks.
The 2017 Florida football season was an absolute s--- show.
The Gators finished with a losing record for just the second time since 1980, fired coach Jim McElwain two and a half years into his six-year, $26.9 million contract, and saw nine of their players receive recommended third-degree felony charges for alleged credit card fraud.
Lost in the shuffle of that train wreck, however, was an important bright spot for UF: the emergence of talented underclassmen like running back Malik Davis, receiver Kadarius Toney, defensive end Jachai Polite and cornerbacks Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson.
Davis and Toney came out of nowhere to provide a spark for Florida’s lifeless offense, while Polite, Wilson and Henderson quickly materialized as playmakers on an otherwise mediocre defense.
Looking ahead to 2018, who will be the next unproven talent to burst onto the scene for the Gators? Who will rise up the depth chart and take control of a starting job?
Here’s a list of the four most likely candidates to become household names for UF next fall:
1. Matt Corral – QB (Fr.)
Let’s be real here. After completing a meager 54.6 percent of his passes and averaging only 130.7 yards per game this year, Feleipe Franks is not the answer under center for the Gators.
Enter incoming freshman Matt Corral, a four-star, pro-style quarterback who’s expected to sign his national letter of intent next month.
Corral is one of the nation’s top recruits and should easily dethrone Franks this offseason as the leader of Florida’s offense.
While fans shouldn’t anticipate a Heisman-Trophy-winning campaign from the Long Beach, California, native in 2018, he definitely has the tools to make UF relevant again in the SEC very, very quickly.
2. Adarius Lemons – RB (So.)
It took Adarius Lemons almost the entire season to find a role in the Gators’ ground attack. But when he finally did, he didn’t disappoint.
In the team’s final five games, the running back from Clearwater, Florida, registered 136 yards on 19 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per attempt.
He was also clocked running over 21 mph on Nov. 18 against UAB during a 62-yard touchdown that was called back due to holding. That’s pure speed right there. Pure, pure speed.
Lemons is arguably the most explosive back on UF’s roster and should compete with Davis and Lamical Perine for lead ball-carrier duties next fall.
3. Tedarrell Slaton – DT (So.)
Tedarrell Slaton, the 6-foot-4, 358-pound behemoth who’s affectionately referred to as “Shrek” by his teammates, appears primed for a big 2018.
Taven Bryan is all but gone for the NFL, while Khairi Clark was largely ineffective this season with only 13 tackles in 11 starts.
Playing limited snaps behind Bryan and Clark this year, Slaton looked like an absolute wrecking ball at defensive tackle, swallowing running backs whole like the eggs he’d eaten for breakfast that morning.
Expect Slaton to play a big role and take up a whole lot of space in the trenches next season on the way to a solid sophomore campaign.
4. Tommy Townsend – P (R-Jr.)
#TownsendTime isn’t going away anytime soon, ladies and gents.
After a solid four-year run from redshirt senior Johnny Townsend as the Gators starting punter, his younger brother, Tommy, is ready to follow in his footsteps.
Tommy was rated as the No. 1 punter in the country coming out of high school, according to both Kohl’s Kicking and Chris Sailor kicking, and should fill in nicely in 2018.
Dylan Dixon is the Alligator’s assistant sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
In the team’s final five games, UF running back Adarius Lemons registered 136 yards on 19 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per attempt.