Marcus Maye ready to help lead another potentially strong Florida defense

Marcus Maye ready to help lead another potentially strong Florida defense

July 20th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida players including defensive back Marcus Maye (20) celebrate after defeating Georgia 27-3 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. Florida won 27-3. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Photo by John Raoux

Florida coach Jim McElwain, right, talks with defensive back Marcus Maye (20) during the first half of Florida's spring Orange-Blue college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, April, 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Florida coach Jim McElwain, right, talks with defensive...

Photo by Phil Sandlin

Florida

› Last season: 10-4 (7-1 SEC)

› Opener: Sept. 3 vs. UMass (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network)

› Fun fact: Since the SEC implemented a championship game in 1992, Florida has won the most league titles (seven), followed by Alabama (six), LSU (four) and Auburn (three).

› Coming Thursday: Georgia

SEC logo

SEC logo

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The Florida Gators will enter the 2016 college football season as the reigning Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions and having won 10 games a year ago.

They also come in on a three-game losing streak.

"We know we dropped a few games at the end of the year," Gators fifth-year senior safety Marcus Maye said last week at SEC media days. "We weren't sad or hanging our heads, but it was frustrating. It didn't take the fun out of winning the East or going to Atlanta."

Florida blended dominant performances (38-10 over Ole Miss and 27-3 over Georgia) with close calls (28-27 over Tennessee and 9-7 over Vanderbilt) under first-year coach Jim McElwain in winning 10 of its first 11 games. The Gators climbed to No. 8 nationally before plummeting when a lackluster 20-14 overtime escape of Florida Atlantic was followed by lopsided losses to Florida State (27-2), Alabama (29-15 in the SEC title game) and Michigan (41-7 in the Citrus Bowl).

In its last three games, Florida managed just two offensive touchdowns, including one in the waning moments against Alabama inside the Georgia Dome.

"I was really excited for not only our players, but our organization, just to be able to experience that event, because that is one of the greatest events there is," McElwain said. "It was a lot of fun, yet I was very disappointed in how we finished. It's not something that we're proud of and not something that I take very lightly.

"It was an opportunity for us to kind of learn. By no means can you ever be satisfied or say that we exceeded expectations and can call it good. That wasn't good."

The Gators were never the same offensively following the suspension of quarterback Will Grier, who tested positive in mid-October for a performance-enhancing substance and transferred out of the program. Treon Harris replaced Grier and struggled, and he was moved to receiver not long after the Citrus Bowl debacle but was suspended as well and has yet to be cleared.

Former Alabama and Oregon State quarterback Luke Del Rio and former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby are the veterans vying to start this season, while freshmen Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks are also in the mix. Del Rio is considered the favorite after completing 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

Florida has just four starters back offensively but returns six quality defenders, with Maye being joined by linemen Bryan Cox and Caleb Brantley, linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. The secondary will move on without cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal, who were top-20 selections in April's NFL draft.

"I think we'll be just as good," Maye said. "I feel like we're just as talented as we were last year. We lost Vernon but still have Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. We lost Keanu but still have Nick Washington, Marcell Harris and a couple of young guys stepping up, so we can be just as talented."

Maye was overshadowed at times a year ago by Hargreaves, Neal and Tabor, but the 6-foot, 210-pounder from Melbourne, Fla., repeatedly produced. He racked up 82 tackles, six pass deflections and two interceptions, earning USA Today first-team All-America honors.

His five forced fumbles ranked second nationally, and he is ready to wreak additional havoc in what could be yet another stout Florida secondary.

"It's always been strong since I've been here," Maye said. "When I got here in 2012, we had Matt Elam and Josh Evans, a couple of guys who went early in the draft. We had great corners then, and each year we seem to have at least one or two in the secondary who stand out."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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