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2016 SEC football season preview: Florida Gators

The Gators surprised many last year when they won the SEC East. With stiffer competition coming in 2016, do they have the chops to repeat?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Record Last Year: 10-4 (7-1 SEC; 1st in SEC East)

Key Departures: Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison

Key Arrivals: Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks, Tyrie Cleveland, Chauncey Gardner, Antonneous Clayton

What Happened Last Year

The 2015 season for the Florida Gators should be considered a success. They were one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference even when it wasn't something to be expected. But as the season started, Florida dug in and came out swinging, starting the season unbeaten through their first five games. Most notably, their 38-10 win over the No. 3-ranked Ole Miss Rebels jumped off the page.

Although having a few near misses to Tennessee and Kentucky early in the season, it wasn't until week six that UF showed any real signs of weakness, taking a one-score loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. After their loss to the Tigers, Florida would go on to win their next four, with significant wins against Georgia and South Carolina. They would also have a couple of real scares, including a narrow two-point victory against Vanderbilt, and a one-touchdown win over Florida Atlantic in overtime.

As for the rest of the season, it was all downhill. The Gators took three devastating losses to in-state rival Florida State, SEC powerhouse Alabama, and Citrus Bowl opponent Michigan. All three games would be lost by more than two touchdowns.

3 Players to Watch

Luke Del Rio

The son of former Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio joins Florida at quarterback this year after starting his career as walk-on at Alabama before heading to Corvallis to play for Oregon State. After last year's suspension of starting quarterback Will Grier, the Gators seemed lost at the position. With the addition of Del Rio, UF has a solid option at quarterback that has already played against high-level NCAA talent. As of now, the position seems to be the young Del Rio's to lose as it seems he will enter week one as the starter. But, it will be interesting to see if he will be able to handle the pressure as he has two strong options behind him in Purdue transfer, Austin Appleby, and freshman Feleipe Franks.

Feleipe Franks

Next on the list, is someone we may or may not see any of this season. As of right now, it looks like the freshman Franks is going to be taking the third spot at quarterback, but it's debatable that the second QB spot on the roster is a tied between Feleipe and the Purdue transfer Austin Appleby. These two can easily see some playing time this season if Luke Del Rio isn't what Florida coaching staff would've like him to be. And out of the two, it is completely possible that the six-foot five-inch Franks can be the pro-style quarterback Florida fans have been dreaming about. If Luke Del Rio starts to slip, keep your eye on this young Florida native.

Jalen Tabor

Jalen Tabor, although extremely talented, was in the shadow of some great defensive players last season. But, it’s a new season, and with that comes new and rising stars, one of those being the young cornerback. Last season, he took two of his four interceptions to the house, and recorded 40 tackles. Tabor will be the face of the defense for UF this season, and major reason why Florida opponents avoid one side of the field. Without a doubt, he will be a first round pick in next year's NFL Draft if we see the award-winning season Jalen is capable of achieving.

Worst Case Scenario: 5-7

Although their schedule is not the toughest in their conference, we could see a Florida team lose seven of their twelve games if they fail to pull through against opponents they stole victories from last season. The Gators had a lot of close calls against conference and non conference opponents last season, and if the fail to pull through when the game is on the line we could see their only victories coming by way of UMass, KU, UNT, Arkansas, and Presbyterian Blue Hose. That being said, it will most likely be their stability at the quarterback position that ultimately decides how this season will go.

Best Case Scenario: 10-2

The best case scenario this season is that Florida goes on to win ten of its twelve games with their only foreseeable losses coming from SEC rival LSU and in-state rival Florida State. These two teams are strong and full of momentum, and even though juggernauts’ can still fall, it is unlikely, given the state of these to two teams, that UF will be able to pull off the victory against them. This record would still lead to a conference title game that the Gators could win and catch a high-level bowl game.

Prediction: 9-3

In all reality, the most likely scenario for UF is winning nine of their twelve games, losing just one more than they did the year before. The Gators are fierce competition for most of college football and given the teams improvements, they will most likely win by more convincing margins than they did last season. That being said, it is likely that LSU and FSU will serve them two loses and leaving room for one more to be sprinkled in there as well, odds are by either UGA, Tennessee, or Vandy.