Head Coach: Jim McElwain
2015 record: 10-4 overall, 7-1 SEC East
2015 Postseason results: Lost to Michigan 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl
2016 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 55/1
Odds to win 2016 SEC Championship Game: 15/1
Odds to Win 2016 SEC East Division: +480
Regular season wins: under 8 1/2 -150 /over 8 1/2 +120
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The Florida Gators began last season 6-0 before a 35-28 loss at LSU. The Gators would win another four games and were thinking playoffs. However, then came the last three games of season. The Gators were humiliated by rival Florida State 27-2, overmatched against Alabama in the SEC Championship game 29-15 and crushed by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl 41-7.
Only 11 starters are back for coach Jim McElwain. Still, Florida should battle Tennessee and Georgia for the East title and a berth in the SEC Championship game.
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The Florida offense was anemic at best, especially in the second half of the season. It is a testament to how good their defense was that this team won 10 games last season. The Gators averaged 334 yards a game including 227 passing and 127 rushing yards per game. Florida scored just 23 points a game. The Gators were #87 or worse in all four categories. Six starters are back for coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
The offense started off pretty well under quarterback Will Grier. They scored 38 points in an upset over Ole Miss. However, Grier was suspended midway through the season after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. He threw for 1,204 yards with 10 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and rushed for 116 yards with 2 touchdowns. He has since transferred to West Virginia. Treon Harris took over and the offense sputtered. Harris threw for 1,676 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and rushed for 238 yards. After Harris became the quarterback, Florida never scored more than 28 points in any game. He was going to move to wide receiver but decided to transfer to another school instead in July.
So the quarterback battle will come down to a pair of transfers, Luke Del Rio from Alabama and Austin Appleby from Purdue. Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack, will likely start. Since Tim Tebow graduated in 2009, he will be the ninth starting quarterback at Florida.
Running back Kelvin Taylor is now with the San Francisco 49ers. He had 259 carries for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with 17 catches. Florida will go with a trio of backs to replace the work horse Taylor. Jordan Scarlett had 34 carries for 181 yards and a touchdown last year. Jordan Cronkite had 44 carries for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. JUCO transfer Mark Thompson will also get plenty of carries.
Receiver Antonio Callaway is back after making 35 catches for 678 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Gators do lose receiver DeMarcus Robinson and tight end Jake McGee to the NFL. The duo combined for 90 catches and 6 touchdowns. Receiver Brandon Powell had 29 catches for 390 yards and 3 touchdowns. DeAndre Goolsby had 17 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown. He becomes the starting tight end. Ahmad Fulwood will move into the starting line-up at receiver after making 6 catches last year.
Last season, Florida started three true freshmen on the offensive line. The kids struggled allowing 45 sacks. That experience should help them this season. Left tackle David Sharpe should anchor the group.
Florida allowed 310 yards per game last year on defense, including 182 passing yards and 128 rushing yards. Florida allowed 18 points a game. Those were pretty incredible numbers when you consider the defense had to stay on the field for long periods of time because of the inept offense. The Gators were in the top 25 in all defensive categories nationally. Coordinator Geoff Collins gets 5 starters back.
CeCe Jefferson and Bryan Cox, Jr. will start at the ends. They combined for 19 tackles for loss last year. Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga will also contribute at end although both are very young. Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie will start at the ends.
Linebacker Jarrad Davis had 98 tackles last year including 11 tackles for loss. He will be in the NFL soon. Daniel McMillian and Alex Anzalone will also start at linebacker.
The cornerbacks will be Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Jr. Tabor was first team All-SEC with 40 tackles and 4 interceptions. Marcus Maye and Nick Washington will start at the safeties. Maye had 82 tackles and 2 interceptions last year. The secondary will be among the best in the SEC again if not the country.
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Eddie Pineiro takes over as the kicker for Austin Hardin. Pineiro kicked a 77 yard field goal on a YouTube video. Johnny Townsend averaged 45 yards per punt. Calloway averaged over 15 yards per punt return and took two for touchdowns. Brandon Powell will return kicks again and averaged over 21 yards per return.
Schedule and Outlook
Florida opens with home games against Massachusetts, North Texas and Kentucky. Then comes road games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. LSU and Missouri come to the Swamp, before the Georgia game in Jacksonville. The Gators travel to Arkansas before home games against South Carolina and Presbyterian. Florida travels to Florida State to close out the season.
The schedule is very tough and there are a lot of questions on offense. If they can get anything at all out of the offense, then this team could compete for the East title. There should be a little dropoff in defense losing so much talent. Still, I think this team can win 8 or 9 games.
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