(Part 9 of a 14-part SEC preview series)

Florida is counting on improvement from a veteran offense as it seeks its third straightSoutheastern Conference East Division championship.

Third-year coach Jim McElwain welcomes back 15 returning starters, including eight on offense.

Offensively, the Gators (9-4, 6-2) ranked an anemic 107th nationally in scoring (23.9), and dead last in the SEC in both rushing (128.2 yards per game) and total offense (344 ypg). In another telling stat, Florida was the league's most heavily penalized team (58.3 ypg).

Luke Del Rio had his moments as a sophomore, completing 114-of-201 passes for 1,358 yards with eight touchdowns and eight picks in six games. After missing spring drills with an injury, Del Rio goes into camp listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.

Florida returns its top three rushers and top seven receivers.

Junior Jordan Scarlett (179 carries, 889 yards, 6 touchdowns) is joined in the backfield by sophomores Lamical Perine (91-421-1) and Mark Thompson (68-299-2). Perine also averaged nearly 18 yards per catch with nine receptions for 161 yards and a score.

Junior Antonio Callaway (54 receptions, 721 yards, 3 TDs) and senior Brandon Powell (45-387-2) return at wide receiver, along with senior DeAndrew Goolsby (38-342-2). Doubling as a return man, Callaway averaged 8.4 yards on 26 punt returns.

Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland (14-298-2) averaged a staggering 21.3 yards per catch in a reserve role last season. Junior Dre Massey, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1, and sophomore Josh Hammond (14-177) add depth to the receiving corps. Junior C'yontai Lewis (18-184-2) gives the Gators another proven option at tight end.

Buoyed by junior left tackle Martez Ivey, the offensive line is looking to make significant strides. Rounding out the four incumbents are junior left guard Fred Johnson, junior right guard Tyler Jordan and sophomore right tackle Jawaan Taylor. Sophomore center T.J. McCoy is the lone newcomer to the starting interior.

Randy Shannon was hired away from Miami as the new defensive coordinator when Geoff Collins took the head coaching gig at Temple. Florida has ranked in the top 15 nationally in total defense for the past nine years, but Shannon must replace six starters, most notably two-time, first-team All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor.

Last year, the Gators ranked No. 2 in the nation in pass defense (148.5 ypg), No. 5 in total defense (293 ypg) and No. 6 in scoring (16.8 ppg).

Both ends return in sophomore Jabari Zuniga (25 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and junior Cece Jefferson (30 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks). Juniors Khairi Clark (16 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) and Taven Bryan (17 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack) move into the starting tackle slots.

Sophomore David Reese (49 tackles, 2 TFL), who ranked fifth on the team in tackles, is the lone holdover linebacker. He will be flanked by sophomore Kylan Johnson (39 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sacks) and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Moon, who was limited to two games due to an injury.

Senior free safety Marcell Harris, who logged a team-high 73 tackles to go with two interceptions in 2016, returns along with senior strong safety Nick Washington (45 tackles, 1 INT). Senior Duke Dawson (24 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT) and sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. (45 tackles, 1 INT) are first-year starters at the corners.

The kicking game should be strong, once again. Junior Eddie Pineiro made 21-of-25 field goals, with a long of 54, and booted 48 of his 66 kickoffs for touchbacks. Meanwhile, senior Johnny Townsend led the nation in punting with 64 attempts for a 47.9-yard average.

2017 FLORIDA SCHEDULE

(All Times CST)

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Sept. 2 vs. Michigan (at Arlington, Texas) 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 Northern Colorado TBA

Sept. 16 Tennessee* 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Kentucky* TBA

Sept. 30 Vanderbilt* TBA

Oct. 7 LSU* (HC) TBA

Oct. 14 Texas A&M* TBA

Oct. 28 vs. Georgia* (at Jacksonville, Fla.) TBA

Nov. 4 at Missouri* TBA

Nov. 11 at South Carolina* TBA

Nov. 18 UAB TBA

Nov. 25 Florida State TBA