Florida can compete in SEC East

Will Muschamp's Florida Gators had a disappointing season in 2011. AP Photo/Phil Sandlin

The 2011 season was one of the most difficult Florida Gators campaigns in recent memory. They won only seven games under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, thus making him the first Gators coach since Charley Pell in 1979 to win fewer than eight games in his first full season as Florida head coach. Last year's squad also posted a losing record in SEC conference play, which is something that had not occurred since 1986.

Those lowlights might make it seem like the Gators are headed for a longer-term downward slide, but the reality is that this team could be primed to compete for conference supremacy as soon as this upcoming season.

There are nine reasons to think this is the case.

1. The makings of a dominant defense

The Gators' defense may not have been quite up to the class of the Alabama Crimson Tide or LSU Tigers last season, but its 4.59 yards per play allowed mark ranked eighth in the FBS according to the site cfbstats.com. That total improves if the sampling is limited to games against FBS-caliber opponents, as Florida's 4.44 mark in those games ranked sixth nationally.