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Projecting the SEC East in 2013: At No. 1, Gators on top

After the smoke clears, Florida may well be sitting at the top of the SEC East ... and the nation.

Sam Greenwood

Florida hasn't won the SEC East since 2009. Neil sees that changing in 2013. For more on the Gators, click some of the other links on this page.

1. Florida

Starters returning: Seven on offense, four on defense.

The good: QB Jeff Driskel, a year older and hopefully a year better and smarter, returns to lead a very physical offense (the same one that Will Muschamp called soft after the 2011 season), while the Florida defense should continue to be as nasty as ever despite losing seven starters. Several of the guys who will step in on defense (Antonio Morrison, Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler) have already proven themselves in previous years.

The offensive line was much better a year ago, and Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor could form the best young running back duo in the SEC East, Also, never bet against the Gators' special teams. Kyle Christy was Florida's secret weapon last year, and while Caleb Sturgis is gone, Austin Hardin has a big leg. And, of course, with a heavy dose of speed on the special teams line, the Gators are always a threat to block a kick.

The bad: The Gators' leading receiver last year was Jordan Reed, a tight end, who is now gone. Also gone are Frankie Hammond Jr. and Omarius Hines. New receivers coach Joker Phillips will be counted on to turn it around, but it will be difficult to improve quickly. Another area of concern is the Gators' subpar play against subpar teams. The Gators got lucky against Louisiana-Lafayette, but if the playing to opponents continues it's only a matter of time before they don't get so lucky and a mid-major walks out of The Swamp with a win and completely destroys a Florida season. The late season schedule is very difficult, with road trips to South Carolina and LSU.

The key: Protect Driskel. If he is going to continue to make strides — like, say, the ones made by A.J. McCarron in his second year after a relatively successful first year — he needs to be given the time to do so.

Key game: Georgia, in Jacksonville. The Gators have never made it to the SEC Championship Game in a year in which they lost to Georgia. Last year, the Florida-Georgia game decided the division, and Georgia won.

Somewhat relevant fact: Since 2003, Florida has only lost one game in which they scored more than 31 points. (Ed.'s note: It was to Miami in that 38-33 come-from-ahead loss, which I know without even looking.)

Relevant fact: Florida returns four starters on defense from a year ago, but six total previous starters: Powell started in 2011, and Jeremy Brown in 2010.

Overall: This is a great team in the making. Even if the Gators don't get improved production from their receivers (which I am inclined to think they will with Phillips), the Gators can overcome that as long as they don't turn it over six times in a game. Their defense loses a few starters, but Muschamp will plug those holes with newer, similarly effective pieces. Despite believing Florida will trip up at LSU, I also believe the Gators will overcome that. They are my pick to win the BCS National Championship.

Projection: 13-1, (7-1 SEC), SEC Champions, BCS Champions