We are now full steam into that time of the year when everyone under the sun breaks out their college football previews and claims they are an expert. Most of it is never any good, because they have to cover 100+ teams instead of just one. But every once in a while, one jumps out and surprises you.
Alan Matthews of Doc's Sports Service gave his own prediction on where he sees finishing this year. Among other things, he says the Gators are the third best team in the state (give me a break), the running back position should be the strength of the offense, the secondary is going to be the weak link of the defense, and the Gators will lose to the Florida State Seminoles at the end of the regular season.
After the jump, are my opinions on his opinions. Along with a few other thoughts and observations conjured up by his comments.
His epilogue of sorts:
The Gators looked very mortal last year, especially with a Tebow-less offense. And now Florida comes off an 8-5 season, including a 4-4 mark in the SEC that saw South Carolina take the East Division away. Oh, and Meyer is now in a TV booth after retiring for real this time – he could be on the sideline in Columbus, Ohio, next season. The 2011 Gators not only aren’t the best team in their own division, they are probably only the third-best team in their state.
Maybe it is just me, but that last sentence is hilarious. I'm not trying to purposely knock UCF, USF or Miami by any means. And I really hope he isn't referring to FIU or FAU. But seriously, I don't care how bad the Gators are playing and taking the teams exactly how they are, there is no way that the Gators lose 51 times out of 100 to either UCF, USF or Miami. It just isn't going to happen. Call me biased all you want, but I just don't see it.
Sure UCF had a pretty decent year last year. They won eleven games and won the Liberty Bowl, but let's think about this for a second. They didn't defeat a quality opponent until they defeated Georgia in that aforementioned Liberty Bowl. Now I don't get the "well, we beat so-and-so, and they beat them, so we are better than they are" argument and all of that, but are you really going to sit there and say that UCF in 2011 beats the Gators 51 out of 100 times? I sure hope you don't.
As for USF, well, the Gators had their worst season since Ron Zook was coach last year and still beat USF 38-14. If the score was somewhat close, I might consider USF being the second best team. But that is more than a 3 touchdown difference.
Miami? Well, for the past half a decade it seems that every time they take a step forward, they take two steps back. They also aren't doing themselves any favors when they lose to USF like they did in 2010.
On Will Muschamp:
Will Muschamp has to fill Meyer’s very big shoes. Muschamp comes to Gainesville from Texas, where he was defensive coordinator since 2008. The Longhorns liked him enough to name him Mack Brown's successor, but apparently Muschamp didn’t want to wait that long. The former Gainesville resident finally got his first head coaching job after 16 years as an assistant.
Muschamp is considered a tireless recruiter and has previous experience in the SEC, playing four years as a safety at Georgia in the early 1990s. He was also defensive coordinator at Auburn and LSU. In eight seasons as a defensive coordinator, Muschamp’s teams have allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. In the previous three seasons, Texas ranks No. 1 with 119 sacks for 949 yards lost. During the five years Muschamp worked as an SEC defensive coordinator, his defenses ranked among the nation's top 10 in total defense each year.
So you can perhaps see why the Gators say he was the only guy they interviewed. But it still surprised some that he landed one of the Top 5 jobs in the country without head coaching experience.
Of course this was an excellent hire. There was never any doubt about that. The fact that he was one of the few that could consistently shut down the spread offense, just proves that he was one of the top defensive minds in college football. The fact that he is a great recruiter is just an added bonus. Florida is a program that recruits itself. Not quite Texas level recruits itself, but then again, there isn't another program in the country on Texas' level in that regard. Muschamp also assembled what appears to be a fantastic coaching staff lead by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Everything looks good so far.
This unit was a massive disappointment last year, especially former five-star quarterback recruit John Brantley. Heading into last season, many thought Brantley would have better passing numbers than Tebow ever did because Brantley was considered the picture-perfect pocket passer. But Brantley clearly wasn’t a fit in Meyer’s spread offense.
New UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has installed a pro-style offense that has worked well in the NFL and at Notre Dame, where both of his starting quarterbacks – Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen – put up great numbers as Heisman candidates.
Brantley ended up sharing the position with two other players for the last half of the season, but Muschamp says he is the clear-cut starter heading to the fall despite a wretched Spring Game. Brantley is one of six offensive starters back, but the line loses four starters. The strength should be at running back. Chris Rainey missed five games because of suspension last year and only had 366 yards, but he averaged 7.2 yards per carry. He will be featured in Weis’ offense in a Percy Harvin-type role. Rainey and Jeff Demps have to be the fastest pair of backs in the nation.
There is no question that offense was a massive disappointment last season. I don't think anyone will try and argue otherwise. I fully expect Charlie Weis to bring instant improvement to the offense this season. Whether or not that improvement is with John Brantley or not. Though I have my doubts that Brantley will be the starting quarterback throughout the season, especially if he struggles early.
The key here is the offensive line. Losing four starters hurts. Big time. They say the key to building a successful football team is from the lines out, and I fully believe that. This also raising up serious running game issues as well. And while Alan Matthews points out that Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are the fastest pair of backs in the country (I don't disagree), that speed isn't going to do a thing if the offensive line is garbage. You aren't going to be able to go sideline to sideline against the speed of the defenders in the SEC every single time. The Gators offense will be as good as the offensive line allows it to be.
Having Muschamp should help the fact that only four starters are back. This unit took a big hit when its best player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, was dismissed from the team. He might have been a first-round NFL Draft pick, but he decided to return before running into some legal trouble. None of Florida’s current corners can truly replace his ability to completely take one side of the field away.
The secondary looks like the weak part of the defense to start the season because that unit also lost safety Ahmad Black, who did everything for the secondary by making 108 tackles with five picks and 11 tackles for loss in 2010. Jelani Jenkins may be the key to the defense, because he’s got the talent to be an All-SEC player as a linebacker. And big things are expected of 2010 top defensive end recruit Ronald Powell.
The fact that the defense only returns four starters is somewhat of an issue. But it isn't like a lot of the freshman are untested. Many of them received substantial playing time. So I wouldn't be all that concerned about it.
As for the secondary, well, I've already touched on the corner-back position and given my thoughts on the secondary as a whole, so I won't get into again here. But the fact remains that out of all the positions on the defense and while I think the secondary will be just fine, it has to be considered the weakest unit at this point. While the defensive line has depth issues, the linebacker positions have ability issues, the secondary has all those questions and more.
I also think that the key to the defense isn't Jelani Jenkins, Ronald Powell or anyone else. I think the key to the defense is Sharrif Floyd. He has the talent to be not just be an All-SEC type of player, but an All-American. The Gators are going to need him to play like one as well.
Florida should enter an Oct. 1 home showdown with Alabama at 4-0 considering UF has Florida Atlantic, UAB and Tennessee at home and then visits a Kentucky team the Gators have owned for years. But following that Bama game comes a crushing four games out of five on the road stretch: at LSU, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. UF might not be favored in any of those. And Florida State is much better than past years and could come into Gainesville and win this season in the regular-season finale.
The Gators are 15/1 on Bodog to win the national title, according to BCS futures odds. That’s not going to happen. Look for a regular-season record of 7-5 and a third-place finish in the SEC East.
No doubt about it. The month of October is going to be brutal. But it isn't like this hasn't been brought to our attention already. I mean, I talked about it in March. I've also said that out of the Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina games, I don't expect the Gators to lose four of them, much less all of them. Simple math shows that this prediction has the Gators going 1-4 in those games. My gut feeling is that minimum, the Gators win two. I don't know at this point which two I would pick (more on that as fall practice nears), but I don't see them going win-less in the month of October. They may very well not be favored in any of those games, but that doesn't matter at all.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and say that the Gators are going to lose to Florida State either, but I'm not going to say they are going to win either. It is just too soon to tell. But that wasn't a luxury that Alan Matthews enjoyed when writing his piece. He simply had to make a prediction.
All in all though, not a bad effort. I was expecting a lot less. While he didn't get deep into anything, still a decent job at highlighting the major points for the Gators in 2011.