Florida Gators Mailbag Monday: Sugar Bowl opponent FAQ, UF as 2013 preseason No. 1?

Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

Who will Florida play in the Sugar Bowl? Who's likely to go pro early for the Gators? And will Florida be No. 1 in the 2013 preseason? The answers to those questions and more in the first-ever Alligator Army Mailbag Monday.

Remember when I said I would take questions and write a mailbag? This is that, except we finally got a bunch of questions this weekend. I'd love to do this weekly, so hit @AlligatorArmy up or drop a question off on Facebook, and I'll get it answered.

Who will Florida play in the Sugar Bowl?

Let's be clear on this: Florida's going to the Sugar Bowl. It will have first pick of all of the non-committed BCS-eligible teams with an SEC champion making the title game, and needs an SEC team to sell tickets regionally. The Sugar almost assuredly won't take Georgia off a loss in the SEC Championship Game, probably won't take Alabama off a loss ('Bama fans went to New Orleans last year for the national title game), and can't take LSU if Florida assures itself a BCS game by finishing in the top four of the final BCS standings, because the SEC will have filled up its two spots in BCS bowls with the Alabama/Georgia winner and Florida. (And Florida not finishing in the top four or the Alabama-Georgia loser not falling past Florida are both so unfathomable as to not be worth considering.)

Also working in Florida's favor: The Gators haven't been to New Orleans since the 2010 Sugar Bowl, and UF fans are both currently very interested in their team and better on cash than they were in the middle of the year after saving a lot of money at the end of this season with the last five games of the Gators' year all not requiring airfare for locals. New Orleans doesn't, either, and it fits Florida well.

There's just too much logic on Florida's side, even before considering that Jeremy Foley's certainly got enough sway to get Mike Slive to assure Florida of the spot. Put it this way: If Florida isn't Sugar-bound, a lot of people are going to be shocked about it.

But Florida's opponent is still up in the air. Let's sketch out the BCS bowls.

  • National Championship Game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama/Georgia
  • Rose Bowl: Nebraska/Wisconsin vs. Stanford/UCLA
  • Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Big East champion OR at-large
  • Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State/Oklahoma vs. Big East champion OR at-large
  • Orange Bowl: Florida State/Georgia Tech vs. Big East champion OR at-large
  • I think Kansas State's going to beat Texas on Saturday to free up Oklahoma (No. 11 in the BCS standings) as an at-large team (Oklahoma has to beat TCU in Fort Worth, but it's never lost to the Horned Frogs there), and I think Oklahoma is Florida's most likely Sugar Bowl foe. Oklahoma travels better than the competition for that spot, hasn't been to New Orleans since the 2003 season's Sugar Bowl, and has some buzz potential in a game against Florida: Former UF defensive coordinator Bob Stoops is still at the helm for OU, and the Sooners would present a rematch of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game for the Sugar to sell.

    The Fiesta, with the first pick among at-larges this year, won't make a Big 12 rematch if Kansas State wins the conference and its automatic berth, and will opt for Oregon if Stanford makes the Rose Bowl or Stanford if UCLA makes it. That would get the Sooners to fall to the Sugar. And the Fiesta might even trade the desert-weary Sooners to the Sugar if Kansas State loses and OU wins the Big 12, reportedly.

    They make a lot more sense there than any other Big East or at-large team, because Florida just blasted a team that blasted BCS No. 14 Clemson, and appears to be a lot better than any of the potential Big East champs (Louisville and Rutgers have realistic BCS shots, but neither is all that appealing, and Cincinnati and Syracuse have long shots that would pay off with them becoming the BCS booby prize and falling to the Orange Bowl) or Kent State and Northern Illinois, possible MAC BCS busters.

    So prepare to see Big Game Bob again, basically.

    Other things worth noting:

  • If Texas beats Kansas State, Oklahoma will win the Big 12; legendarily well-traveling Kansas State would likely be Sugar Bowl-bound if so, but there's a chance that Texas, which could move into the BCS top 14 with a big win over K-State, could be available. And the Sugar would make a Florida-Texas game in a heartbeat.
  • Nebraska won't be eligible to be an at-large BCS team if it loses the Rose Bowl, so there's no chance of a 1996 Fiesta Bowl rematch in New Orleans. That's a shame, sort of: Florida would be heavily favored to get sweet revenge.
  • Oregon (if Stanford wins the Pac-12) and Stanford (if UCLA does) are technically possible as Sugar Bowl teams if the Fiesta doesn't want them, and the Sugar would probably take them over a bad Big East team or Kent State if the Fiesta shocked the world by not taking a Pac-12 team to match with the Big 12 champ. But those teams make far better sense for the Fiesta, despite the incredible interest I think a Florida-Oregon or Florida-Stanford Sugar Bowl would generate.
  • Don't worry: The Sugar isn't going to screw Florida over and take a non-SEC at-large team with its replacement pick, even though it has that option. That is not how this works.
  • (Thanks for asking, half of my Twitter feed.)

    Any recruits committing soon to the Gators? (@BrianStark16)

    There's one who should be donning a blue cap before the end of the week. Four-star Orlando Dr. Phillips safety Marcell Harris has been considering Florida and Texas for much of the fall, and recently added Florida State, but he's a Florida legacy and has been pegged as a Florida lean for a long, long time.

    Harris will announce on Thursday, November 29, on ESPNU's Recruiting Nation show, and it'd be a bit of a shock for him to pick anyone but Florida at this point. He'll also give Florida the last piece of a ridiculous defensive backfield in this class, joining five-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and fellow four-star players Nick Washington and Keanu Neal.

    Harris is the only recruit who is likely to commit in the next few weeks, because Florida's mostly set at this point and because the big fish won't commit until around National Signing Day, and Gators coaches will spend much of the next few weeks visiting committed recruits. But Harris is especially big, because...

    Do you think Matt Elam is gone? (@Gatrbate)

    ...Matt Elam is totally going to enter the 2013 NFL Draft.

    Here's an Elam tweet from Sunday:

    Elam's got great coverage skills, fantastic instincts, and a mean, ruthless edge that cannot be coached; he's a fringe first-rounder at worst. And Will Muschamp told reporters today that he'd tell projected first-rounders to go pro, which means he'll probably give Elam a handshake, a hug, and a "Good luck" at some point after the Sugar Bowl.

    Even more likely to go pro? Sharrif Floyd. Floyd's got better circumstances than most college players now, obviously, and he seems to love Florida, but he's an even better NFL prospect than Elam, and should be in the top 20 of the 2013 NFL Draft. Muschamp wouldn't begrudge Floyd leaving for a nanosecond, either.

    Also possibly leaving early:

  • Dominique Easley, who is now a father, but would probably be going in the third round or below because his production has not matched his talent thus far. Easley would be smart to come back, try to win a title, get a degree, and get better, but money matters to parents. (And yes, I've seen that Gator Country article that says Easley and Elam told teammates they're going to come back. a) Players tell teammates this thing all the time, and that doesn't make it true. b) People change their minds all the time, too.)
  • Jelani Jenkins, who will have his degree very soon and who has NFL-caliber athleticism. Jenkins, like Easley, would probably boost his stock greatly with a senior season at Florida, but he's been hurt over and over (I've got "Jelani Jenkins will have surgery, may miss Florida's bowl game" open in another tab), and will wow some scouts with his speed. Jenkins would be smart to stay, I think, but he wouldn't necessarily be making a mistake by going pro.
  • Jordan Reed. Reed's got an NFL tight end's body, but lacks some of an NFL tight end's skills, and his blocking being subpar at Florida is a red flag that scouts probably already see. His production isn't tremendous, either, and that's a combination that should hurt his draft stock ... but the NFL can always use more tight ends, as the league morphs more and more into a game that requires passing offense and pass rush more than anything else. I think Reed is likely to stay after hearing "Nah, man, learn to block first" from evaluators, but he could make a mistake and take the leap.
  • Beyond that, I don't see any Florida underclassmen leaving for the NFL.

    Now where can alumni donate to the Keep Matt Elam Another Year Fund? (@KathyBurstein)

    I kinda wish this were a thing that existed. But college sports are pure!

    Do you think Florida will be preseason No. 1 next year? (@BrianStark16)

    The easy answer is maybe. There's a chance that Floyd, Elam, and the rest could come back and form an absolutely incredible defense (only key losses: Jon Bostic, Omar Hunter, and Lerentee McCray), and that the Gators' offense could show out in a bowl blowout that impresses a lot of people.

    The main competition for that spot: Alabama, which would still lose less even if every UF junior came back, and could be coming off two straight titles; Notre Dame, which will lose Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert, among other stars; LSU, which is going to lose some defensive players; Oregon, which may be out of sight, out of mind; Ohio State, which, ugh; and Stanford, which loses Stepfan Taylor. Florida would need to get all of its players back to earn that spot, I think, because its strength is its defense, and losing almost half of it would diminish that strength significantly among pundits.

    So it's not a good chance, but it's a chance.

    But the honest and right answer is no. I don't think I would rate Florida as the No. 1 team in the preseason next year, personally, and you're not going to find a bigger believer in these Gators and/or Muschamp's coaching staff. There's going to be a slight ebb on defense, even if it's brief, if any of the underclassmen defenders leave, and I can't imagine that Mike Gillislee's departure won't at least briefly hamper the offense.

    More importantly, though: I don't think anyone in the Florida football program really and truly cares where the Gators are in August 2013. They're focused on where they'll be in January 2014.

    And they should be.

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