Gators ranked 25th; logical, but they’re better

The Associate Press football poll for the 2016 season was released on Sunday and the Florida Gators are probably where they are supposed to be when looking in from the outside. The AP placed the Gators 25th, and not so coincidentally the Gators are also 25th in the Amway Coaches Poll that came out on August 4. As a closer observer of this team, I believe they are better than that.

First let’s look at the ranking reasonably.  Florida lost their two best pass rushers on defense on the line in Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister, their leading tackler in linebacker Antonio Morrison and two first round draft picks in the secondary in Vernon Hargreaves and Keanu Neal.

On offense, they are replacing the quarterback. A thousand yard rusher, a drafted receiver, and their top tight end in terms of passes caught from the 2015 season.

Knowing all of that, it is reasonable to think that the gators would be ranked 25th, or really not at all.

But this season and roster go much deeper than that.

AP Top 25

Rank

Team (1st place votes)

#1

Alabama (33)

#2

Clemson (16)

#3

Oklahoma (4)

#4

Florida State (5)

#5

LSU (1)

#6

Ohio State (1)

#7

Michigan (1)

#8

Stanford

#9

Tennessee

#10

Notre Dame

#11

Ole Miss

#12

Michigan State

#13

TCU

#14

Washington

#15

Houston

#16

UCLA

#17

Iowa

#18

Georgia

#19

Louisville

#20

USC

#21

Oklahoma State

#22

North Carolina

#23

Baylor

#24

Oregon

#25

Florida

 

Florida won 10 games a year ago when they were supposed to win possibly seven. Everyone knew that the defense would be strong again and it showed throughout the season. Everyone thought the offense would struggle mightily, but they surprised many when they had a quarterback at the helm that was able to run the Jim McElwain / Doug Nussmeier offense.

They won 10 games despite having the least experienced and youngest offensive line in decades up front. They won 10 games with having the worst field goal kicking situation in Gator history. They won 0 games with maybe 2-3 receivers that should have been playing on any SEC roster; this after Brandon Powell was subjected to playing hurt during the last half of the year.

The changes on the roster have been fast and furious, especially at the offensive skill positions.

Outsiders may not see it yet, but they will.

Adding talent to the receiver unit like Dre Massey, Tyrie Cleveland, Joshua Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Rick Wells along with a healthy Powell changed the dynamic play making ability of the offense in a huge way. The ever-dependable Jake McGee is gone to try his NFL fortunes, but the guys left behind are more physically talented and now more mature to take on bigger loads in the offense.

The Gators don’t have either quarterback that took all the snaps in 2015, but a lot of folks will now tell you they are better off with Luke Del Rio at the helm than either of the last two. Hard to believe a former walk-on at Alabama who transferred to Oregon State only to walk on at Florida this year could be THE guy for the Gators. But, he has now earned a scholarship and has been really good since practice started in spring and it carried over to the fall.

While I believe the offensive line will be better, I do think it is a year away from being good. But, with all the parts around the line improved, it should pay dividends with how they play as well. Short yardage situations are going to be a struggle again, but we should see improvement.

On defense, they lost so many. But, this is a group that still has a lot of talent. The two stars up front seemed to be the biggest loss, and although it will be super hard to replace the quick pass rush from Bullard and McCalister, this deep and strong unit will make up for it in different ways. Remember, they said that about the loss of Dante Fowler the year before.

Alex Anzalone and a quartet of freshmen look to make up for the loss of Morrison at linebacker. Again, people haven’t seen a lot of Anzalone because of injury a year ago, but he’s ready to turn heads. Jarrad Davis should be an All-American this year. 

Hargreaves and Neal were gamers. But Jalen Tabor, minus a one game suspension, is bound for an All-American season. Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, and Tabor will likely form one of the best trios of corners and NICKEL players in the entire country.

Marcus Maye had various All-American tags to his name a year ago and is back to lead the defense at safety.  The Gators feel real comfortable with Marcell Harris and Nick Washington as his counterpart and a couple of freshmen in Jeawon Taylor and Chauncey Gardner have played above their heads since arriving on campus.

Finally, the last piece could be the most important. As the season wore on in 2015, the Gators found themselves in bad in-game situations because they didn’t have a dependable field goal kicker. Games were made closer because of chances they had to take or because they had to punt the ball instead of going for points, or just flat missing the field goals and coming up empty.

Eddy Pineiro was brought in to solve that problem. They feel like they have the answer here and that one spot could make a big difference in the flow of a game or the outcome altogether. Again, Pineiro has never kicked a field goal in a college game, so he has to prove it.

That is really what the mantra should be of this entire team. They don’t feel like they are #25, they feel like they are much better. But, they have got to prove it.

I think they will.

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