I was heavy on Florida entering last season.
I figured QB Feleipe Franks would improve under Dan Mullen, and that replacing Jim McElwain’s embarrassing strength program would boost an experienced, inherently talented offensive line. The Gators also were due some better injury luck.
That one worked out well as Florida finished 10-3.
Now, Lindy’s Sports (No. 6), Athlon Sports (No. 8), Street & Smith (No. 8) and Phil Steele (No. 10) all project the Gators as a top 10 team and a College Football Playoff contender in 2019.
To that, I say not so fast.
Florida was fortunate to finish 3-0 in one-possession games against Mississippi State, LSU and South Carolina.
The Gators also had tremendous turnover luck, recovering 21 of 33 fumbles (63.6 percent), leading to a plus-12 turnover margin, the team’s best mark since 2012 and tied for seventh nationally.
That’s unlikely to happen again.
Then look at the schedule.
Florida figures to get revenge on Kentucky, which finally broke through in 2018. But Georgia is a monster, as is LSU in Baton Rouge. Tennessee, Florida State and Auburn could be much improved. A game at Missouri isn’t a guarantee.
Plus, the Gators replace a home game against Colorado State with a neutral-site game against a Miami team that also should be much better than it was in 2018.
Florida ranks No. 6 nationally in the 247Sports five-year recruiting rankings. But Georgia (No. 2), LSU (No. 3), Auburn (No. 7), Florida State (No. 15), Tennessee (No. 17), South Carolina (No. 19) and Miami (No. 23) are right there.
Mullen has done an excellent job in his career of beating lesser talented teams, but he’s struggled against ranked opponents with similar or better talent.
Five Florida players left early for the NFL draft. The team also lost transfers in buckets, and must rebuild its offensive line.
Depth could be a significant issue if Florida faces injuries.
The Play: BetOnline lists Florida’s season win total at 9, with significant juice on the under at -125. That’s not enough value for me to play. But if I can find a friend who really believes in the Gators, I’d be happy to bet on Florida not finishing inside the final Associated Press Top 10 this season.
You always look for the underlying reasons in a team’s big swing in record from one season to the next. There is no doubt Mullen deserves credit for things like cleaning up the toxic shape McElwain left the program in and Franks’ improvement, such as it was. But that turnover margin number catches my eye, big time, as well. (It was minus-3 in 2017.) Gators, ignore regression to the mean at your peril.