SEC East: +350
SEC Championship: +1200
National Title: +3300
Projected Regular Season Win Total: 9, Over: +102, Under: -120
The 2017 Gators had a dismal season, especially for those accustomed to the winning ways of the past. But with the end of that season came a regime change and Dan Mullin taking charge of the storied program. The 2018 version of the Gators improved by 6 games to a 10-3 record while flipping their conference record to 5-3. Obviously, outside the conference Florida was solid; their last two victories were a 41-14 drubbing at FSU and a victory over a very good Michigan in the Peach Bowl. The three losses came against two underrated teams in Kentucky and Missouri with the third against Georgia, all at home. Felipe Franks took a big step forward and the offensive line was one of the best in the country giving up only 18 sacks which was 21st in the nation. The defense was only okay, but that’s being judged by SEC standards.
Offense: There are two big questions around the Florida offense that will dictate how the unit operates. The first is if Filipe Franks can take another step toward being a top quarterback and even into the Heisman conversation. The 6-6 junior improved his passing to the clip of 24 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He tacked on another 7 rushing touchdowns and was Florida’s 3rd best runner last season. If Mullin can help Franks become the elite passer that he has the potential, and weapons, to be, Florida will be in seriously good shape. If that passing touchdown total jumps to 35, Florida can have an offense that fans haven’t seen since the Tebow era.
The other big question is whether or not the offensive line can match last year’s output. 4 of 5 starters are gone so the group will need to regain its cohesiveness quickly. The run game has a lot of talent with leading rusher Lamical Perine returning and Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce forming a strong rotation, but none of that matters if the line can’t get a good first push. So if the line can replicate the last unit’s success, Florida will be hard to penetrate.
The biggest difference between this year and last year is the quality of the receivers. Van Jefferson, Treveon Grimes, Tyrie Cleveland, Kadarius Toney, and Freddie Swain all return. Jefferson will be the go to guy while Toney can line up anywhere and Grimes is a 6-5 matchup nightmare. If this group can take a collective step forward with returning tight ends Lucas Krull and Kyle Pitts, it will make things a lot easier for Franks and open up a whole new layer of the offense.
Defense: The defense looked really good at the end of last year when the Gators forced 5 turnovers and collected 10 sacks in the two games against FSU and Michigan. 7 returning starters and a returning defensive coordinator means there won’t be any learning curve this year and the defense can hit the ground running. The pass defense will be undoubtedly incredible. Jabari Zuniga not entering the draft was a pleasant surprise as he will be the best player on their line with Johnathon Greenard and Jachai Polite also playing disruptive roles. The linebacking corps is deep with veteran talent that can play any role. The secondary is what will make this team elite. CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson are one of the best cornerback tandems in the country and will cause fits for opposing offenses. The run stop leaves a bit to be desired, which could be problematic considering the state of the SEC (run, run, run), but the elite pass defense will allow DC Todd Grantham to focus improvement on the run defense. This group will probably help carry Florida to a few wins along the way.
Keys to the Season
As it was mentioned earlier, Felipe Franks is key on offense. The 3 losses last season were 3 of the 4 lowest scoring totals of the year for the team. If Franks can develop into a player that can beat defenses with his arm then Florida will have one of the better offenses in the conference. On the other side of the ball, all we can hope for is everyone playing to their expectations. There’s a boatload of talent on all three levels and if everyone lives up to the hype they could be the best defense not called Alabama or Georgia.
The schedule gods have not been kind to the Gators. The overall strength of schedule is 4th in the nation. Right out of the gate comes a ravenous Miami in the first game of the CFB season at a neutral site. Miami isn’t ranked but there’s no such thing as an easy rivalry game. After that there are a bunch of mean away games waiting for the Gators in the conference; at Kentucky, at LSU, at Missouri are all going to be tremendously difficult games to win and there’s a good chance they drop a couple of them. The home games aren’t nearly as bad, but there’s always Georgia on the schedule. Offensive line coach John Hevesy was quoted saying, “It’s a lot easier to go from 4 wins to 10 wins than it is to go from 10 to 11.” Not only is he correct, but he’s predicting the future. The Gators will improve as a unit but the tough schedule means that the team won’t improve in the win column. They’ll make a high profile bowl, but that’s all. As long as Georgia is in the East, Florida will have an otherworldly challenge to get into the SEC championship game. Considering how good Florida has been outside of the conference however, they will win their bowl game to bring their win total even to last years.
Projected Regular Season Record: 9-3, 5-3 in conference