2018 Record: 10-3, 5-3 SEC
2018 S&P+ Rankings: Overall (9th), Offense (15th), Defense (17th)
The Florida Gators get the opportunity, nay, the privilege to kick off the 2019 College Football Season against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes in Week Zero. After a positive ending to their 2018 season, which saw 10 wins and a New Year’s Six Bowl win over the Michigan Wolverines, the Gators will be looking forward to getting out on the field to pick back up where they left off.
But are they capable of doing that? Can they build off their previous season and go even higher? Or are they poised for a step back?
That’s the keyword for this offense.
Florida returns the bulk of its skill talent, including its leading rusher in Lamical Perine and its top-7 receivers in one of the best all-around receiving corps in the country. On top of that there is excellent young talent in running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, tight end Kyle Pitts, and x-factor receiver Jacob Copeland.
There is potential for the skill positions to be some of the most dangerous and productive in the country, but that all depends on Redshirt Junior Quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Last year, Franks improved drastically in the last four games of the season. He went from being a replacement-level quarterback to a leader, dual-threat, and genuine play-maker. That all came after a benching in the loss to Missouri and a bruising come-back win against South Carolina where he hushed his own crowd.
Head Coach Dan Mullen gets a lot of the credit for Franks’ development, and in Mullen’s history of coaching his quarterbacks typically take a huge jump in their second year under him. If Franks can improve his downfield accuracy (currently his biggest issue) and ride the highs-&-lows of a season better than he has in the past, he could truly unlock this offense’s potential on both the ground and through the air.
It’s not all just him though. The offensive line, which gave up a sack only 5.16% of the time last season, only returns one starter in center Nick Buchanan. Offensive line coach Jon Hevesy has a good track record and the coaching staff has publicly stated that they like their starting lineman, but the position is still a massive question. Nothing quite destroy’s an offense’s success like a bad offensive line, and if the Gators field one they could be in for a long season spent wasting their skill talent.
While the defense lost star players in Jachai Polite, Vosean Joseph, and Chauncey Gaurdner-Johnson, the Gators actually return much of their talent.
The Florida defense was great last season at getting after the quarterback and creating turnovers, but was not as elite on a down-to-down basis as in years previous. But now, with another year under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s blitz-heavy system, the Gators should tighten up.
The biggest question for the unit as a whole has nothing to do with the starters. There is talent at all levels, especially on the line with pass-rushers Jabari Zuniga and Louisville transfer Jon Greenard, and in the secondary with shutdown corners Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson. The biggest question is not them. The biggest question is depth.
The Gators lack championship-level depth at most positions on defense, especially in their secondary. Part of this is due to an unusual amount of their latest recruiting class not actually sticking on campus. Several blue-chip prospects transferred and some signees were unable to academically qualify for the university.
That doesn’t necessarily define the Gators’ season on defense, but with a couple key injuries it very well could.
Kicker Evan McPherson and punter Tommy Townsend are two of the best in the country at what they do.
Just past midnight on Tuesday of the first game week means I've somehow found myself at this picture... pic.twitter.com/VlGJxnDXAu— Kassidy Hill (@KassidyGHill) August 21, 2019
And what they do ain’t pretty (because it’s special teams).
The Florida Gators, under Dan Mullen, have a seriously high ceiling compared to the Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain years. After a 10-3 season last year, the offense and defense could both improve immensely and propel the team forward. The lack of championship depth at this point in Mullen’s tenure, however, is going to hold this team back from everything it could be.
They will contend for the SEC East, but at some point they will slip up where they absolutely can’t. Probably to Georgia. Possibly on the road at LSU. Possibly when Auburn visits the Swamp. Possibly against South Carolina or Missouri.
The Gator faithful will have to wait one more year for a championship in Gainesville.
Prediction: 10-2, 6-2 in SEC play.