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3 Florida players who need to have breakout seasons in 2017

Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks
Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Every college football team needs new stars to emerge each season. So who are the top-three Florida players who must deliver a breakout season for the Gators to achieve their goals? If this trio stumbles, it’s hard to see UF winning a third consecutive SEC East title.

QB Feleipe Franks

The buzz: Florida is desperate to finally develop a highly recruited prospect into an All-SEC performer. Franks doesn’t have to become the SEC’s best quarterback this season, but he needs to be in the conversation among the top four.

Franks, a redshirt freshman, was far from perfect in the spring game, but he did enough to take some momentum into the summer. He was 8-of-14 for 119 yards with one touchdown, consistently moving the offense with scoring drives on three of four possessions.

Franks also was put in a position to succeed. He couldn’t be hit and was operating against the second-team defense. It won’t be that easy against Michigan on September 2.

It’s hard to envision Florida being able to reach elite status this season if Franks can’t secure the job and perform at a quality level.

RELATED: Feleipe Franks in lead in Florida QB race: ‘There’s no doubt about it’

MLB David Reese

The buzz: Florida’s defense will greatly be shaped by the contribution Reese can make. He looked impressive as a true freshman last season when he filled in for injured standout Jarrad Davis. Reese started four games and finished the season with 49 tackles.

Reese missed the spring with a wrist injury, so fall camp will be vital for him. New defensive coordinator Randy Shannon needs Reese to be productive and to master the ability to communicate and lead the defense.

Reese also needs to become a bigger factor when it comes to big plays. He made just two tackles for loss last season.

The Gators have little proven depth behind Reese, so his health and improvement are paramount to UF’s success on defense. He needs to be in the All-SEC mix.

RELATED: Deep end of the Swamp: Freshmen must sink or swim, fast, for Florida defense

G/C Brett Heggie

The buzz: UF finally believes it has a line that could be excellent. The tackles and center spot look strong with Martez Ivey (left tackle), Jawaan Taylor (right tackle) and T.J. McCoy (center). The key will be in the interior and Heggie will be an important cog.

McElwain praised Heggie throughout spring drills. Heggie, who was a star center in high school, redshirted last season but appears to be in position to win the job at left guard. If Heggie can deliver, UF has an enviable starting five with Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan battling at right guard.

New offensive line coach Brad Davis described Heggie as a “gym rat” during spring and praised him for his performance.

Franks, or whoever starts at quarterback, would benefit greatly if Florida’s line can have its best season since the Urban Meyer era. The line can’t reach those heights without Heggie breaking out this fall.

RELATED: Florida actually looks to have playmakers, and here is how the touches should be divvied up

(You can email Hays at email hidden; JavaScript is required and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)

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