2019 College Football Preview: Florida Gators

Big South Tournament

Florida Gators

Head Coach: Dan Mullen

2018 Record: 10-3, 5-3 Conference

Bowl: 41-15 Win over Michigan at Peach Bowl

O/U 9 wins (O +125, U -155)

Will UF make Final 4? Yes +2500, No -10000

After a return to double-digit wins, the expectations in Gainesville are higher than ever, in recent history, anyway. Head coach Dan Mullen is fine with those expectations, but he also realizes the leap from very good to great is no small one. Mullen was a play-caller on the 2006 and 2008 Florida Gators national title teams, so the success is something he is pretty used to. He says that standard is greatness, and he bleeds Gator. The Gators are back, but to what extent do the SEC powerhouses have to fear them?

Offense

Mullen is a former offensive coordinator, and he was by all accounts a great one. Feleipe Franks enters his junior season after an outstanding run last season, and his continued growth will be one of the keys to Florida’s offense. He threw nine TDs and eight INTs in 2017, but last year improved that to 24 TDs with just six INTs. That turnaround is impressive, but now it is time to make the jump to something even more substantial, and the Gators should have the receiving options available to make that possible. It begins with senior Van Jefferson and the 6’5” Kadarius Toney. Trevon Grimes is special, too. Tailback Lamical Perine sees his fair share of pass routes and he racked up 996 yards from scrimmage last year.

The offensive line has four starters to replace who combined for 141 starts. The Gators have only center Nick Buchanan returning on the line. He is surrounded by three junior and one freshman, Christopher Bleich. The Gators have its work cut out for it in forming a strong OL, and that has to be the primary concern of the offense at this point with so little experience to support the talent that surrounds it at the skill positions.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was retained after several NFL franchises flirted with him. His aggressive 3-4 scheme would have been a tremendous loss for UF, so giving him $300k more to retain his services only made sense. Grantham varies his coverage frequently, with plenty of blitzes and group coverages that leave offenses mostly to guess. The Gators were so strong defensively, though, that it stands to reason it will again be one of the top defensive units in the country.

The defense returns seven starters and it has plenty of depth. CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson were both great at cornerback, and David Reese II is a four-year starter at linebacker. Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Gerard are great playmakers on the edges. Nickel back Trey Dean III, linebacker Amari Burney, and safety Brad Stewart Jr. all could be even bigger monsters in 2019. Linebacker is one area where depth will have to be developed, but the Gators were so good defensively last year that it is nothing more than a small concern of Grantham’s. This will be a top defensive team.

Special Teams

The Gators have two great players in the kicking game: Punter Tommy Townsend and Placekicker Evan McPherson. Townsend averaged 45.4 yards per punt last year, and McPherson hit 17 of 19 field goals as a first-year freshman. Freddie Swain will return punts again, but the Gators are hoping for more from him after averaging 10.2 yards on 22 attempts last season.

Final Word

The Gators’ defense alone keep them among the teams to beat in the SEC. To be sure, it is the offense that keeps them a level below the likes of Alabama and Georgia. The goal is still to contend for the Conference, however heady that might be. The Gators are on the brink of becoming a Conference favorite, but it still has some areas to shore up before it can be considered more than a “pretender,” probably, at this point.

Prediction: 11 wins

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