THE SEC — ENOUGH SAID
We break down the 14 teams that make up the SEC. Check it out, team by team (Aug 8 – 14) — with today kicking things off with our Florida Gators 2022 football preview.
SEC CONF. PREVIEW: Overall SEC Conf. Preview
SEC EAST PREVIEWS: Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | Mizzou | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
SEC WEST PREVIEWS: Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Texas A&M
INTRO: The Florida Gators aren’t what they once were, but — there’s potential to get back to that level within months if the right person is steering the ship. Our Florida Gators 2022 football preview will explain how and why.
It doesn’t take years to rebuild Florida football, it takes brains and effort. Nobody questions the talent that resides in the Sunshine State. But is the right salesman steering this vessel? Does he have the right staff on board to battle Florida State and Miami and all of the other monsters residing on adjacent borders, programs who have been feasting upon this state’s weakened programs in recent years? Notice we’re not even mentioning the SEC yet, we’re talking about the Gator neighbors.
We will see if Florida can balance this out with a new staff. There is a path. Will the Gators be able to take that correct path beginning this year? Or will it continue to pick the wrong paths for a couple more?
THE TEAM: Florida Gators
THE MENTOR: Billy Napier (1st year, 0-0 record)
THE 2021 RECORD (SEC RECORD): 6-7 overall (2-6 in SEC)
THE AFTER LIFE: LOST Gasparilla Bowl (lost to UCF 29-17)
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THE FIVE STUDS (STATS): Brenton Cox, DL (14.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 51 tackles, 12 hurries); Gervon Dexter, DL (51 tackles, 7 hurries, 4 sacks); Ventrell Miller, LB (missed a lot of 2021 — but 164 career tackles at Florida, 15 TFLs); Trey Dean III, DB (Gators leading tackler in 2021, 92 tackles, 9 PBUs); O’Cyrus Torrence, OL (Louisiana Lafayette transfer, former first-team All-Sun Belt — 35 career starts for Ragin Cajuns).
THE GOOD: Sorry Gator fans, there’s a whole lot less good than bad — maybe as challenging a situation as this program has been in since before Steve Spurrier arrived before the 1990 season. But, the good news is — there’s always a ton of potential talent to turn things around. New coach Billy Napier comes from a background (Alabama/Saban) that operated like an NFL franchise and clearly knew how to recruit. Not in that rogue SEC style, but getting young men who not only were talented but actually didn’t cause problems. That’s Napier’s resume.
And that is one helluva resume to have.
Who are we kidding? Speed is always going to flock to Gainesville. Talent will flock to Gainesville. The younger kids on the team are here because they know they’ll play early. That’s a big thing these days. That could be a positive sign in 2022.
Lastly? Yes, the Gators have Anthony Richardson back at quarterback — and he appears to be immensely talented. The problem is he threw for only about 600 yrs with 6 TDs and 5 INTs in limited action, behind Emory Jones who has left the building. Richardson is clearly talented — and this is his opportunity. My guess is he flourishes, but who knows really?
THE BAD: If this isn’t the sign of the college football end times — I don’t know what is. The Gators lost to UCF in a bowl game. Yes, a coaching change had happened. Yes, players were mentally in another universe when this game was played — that’s what happens during coaching changes.
But to lose to UCF? And for it to not be a fluke but be for the mythical “state championship” that nobody ever cared about in the past decade or two? Do the math. UCF beat the Gators, the Gators beat the Seminoles, the Seminoles beat the Miami Hurricanes — and both UCF and the Gators beat South Florida.
Who are we kidding — for the first time since only white players competed at the above schools, and leather helmets — there was a different “state champion” than the Gators, ‘Noles, and ‘Canes.
Florida football — not the school but the state — is in “a state of flux” right now. It’s a mess. Even with this gift of unlimited talent, the Gators — and their two hated adversaries on the recruiting path in Tallahassee and Miami — have a lot to fix.
Sure, Florida has had double-digit seasons since TTWH (Tim Tebow Was Here — think of it like B.C. and A.D in terms of Gator football). But those double-digit seasons always came with some measure of mediocrity, too. Maybe the offense was insanely good (cue Kyle Trask violin) or the defense was suffocating but offense was suspect (take a bow, Jeff Driskel, you benefitted).
But since the end of the 2009 season? The Gators really haven’t been talked about consistently on the national scene.
Now, can Billy Napier — a Nick Saban understudy — fix this? History says yes.
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HOW DOES THIS TEAM LOOK: The preseason poll coming out of SEC media days has the Florida Gators fourth in the SEC East. That’s behind Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Did I just type that Kentucky is listed ahead of Florida in the preseason SEC rankings? That very likely hasn’t happened since the 1980s.
But … and this is a big but … do you really think Florida will lose at home to Kentucky on Sept. 10? Maybe this is Gator arrogance coming out, but it is kind of hard to believe. Is it hard to believe Florida loses to Georgia at the Cocktail Party around Halloween? Of course that probably will happen. And Florida at Tennessee in September? That’s not an easy task, though it’s been done a lot of times since they began playing each other annually about 30 years ago.
It would have been a nice year to play the weaker half of the SEC West. Even though the Gators dodge Alabama, they’ll have to deal with LSU at home and Texas A&M on the road. With the preseason goggles on? That doesn’t look like a recipe for success.
THE UGLY: The truth is, this looks like a program destined for around .500 or a 7-5 type of regular season — maybe 8-3 if things are good right? It’s hard to see it being better. Let’s face it, Utah (taking the place of some cream-puff non-P5 team during early-season play) is pretty damned good. That season-opener, with a new head coach and question marks on the roster everywhere? That’s going to be a challenge.
If Florida really wants to be considered a program that resembles its older brothers, cousins, and young uncles of 1990 to recent years? It needs to begin 2022 with a 2-0 record. Utah is very strong coming out of the Pac-12, but not unbeatable when it comes to playing in The Swamp. Kentucky may have one of its top teams in years (maybe since Bear Bryant? It’s just fun to type that). But again — Kentucky unbeatable in The Swamp? I doubt that. Both games will be good ones, and that’s awesome — but both are winnable if this Florida team is poised.
But if Florida isn’t ready? Those first two games could be the beginning of discussing 2023 — and that’s the truth.
BIGGEST NON-CONF GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY): Utah, Sept. 3 in Gainesville — There’s no question this is the biggie. Old-school Gator fans will scream that the big one is Florida State around Thanksgiving, but the Seminoles are as big a hot mess as the Gators. Utah is nationally ranked in several polls, this is a ballsy move to take on a decent P5 program in what was once “puff pastry” land on Florida’s early schedule.
Clearly? The Gators need this one.
BIGGEST CONF. GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY): Tennessee, Sept. 24 in Knoxville, Tenn. — This one has been big for decades, but it’s going to be even more critical for the Gators this year for different reasons. There’s a chance the Gators could be 3-0 coming into Knoxville. There’s also a chance they could be 1-2, but even if they win one of their early toughies with Utah and Kentucky, they would be 2-1 coming in with an opportunity when they travel to Tennessee.
It’s easy to say big games exist with Georgia or Texas A&M, but at this point, we’re not talking about a program in Gainesville that is looking for a road to the national title round. We’re looking at a team that is wanting to surprise and build a monster for 2023 — which is feasible. If Florida comes into Tennessee week 3-0 with momentum, this could be the kind of game that propels Florida into talking about a big-time bowl game, maybe 8 or 9 wins, etc. The Gators aren’t going to win any trophies this year, but they may be able to be a Top 20 program — and this game could be a big factor, even if it’s just a close loss by a TD or less.
DARKHORSE THREAT ON THE SKED (AND WHY): South Carolina, Nov. 12 in Gainesville — By the time Florida gets to this point, this pivotal SEC East battle in Gainesville may be a decider between playing before Christmas or closer to the New Year — at least when it comes to bowl games people have actually heard of that attract more than 10K fans.
The Gators should handle the Gamecocks, but South Carolina isn’t a slouch — at least on paper coming into this fall.
THE HAPPY HISTORY NUGGET: Since 1990, Florida has produced three national championships: 1996, 2006, 2008, seven SEC championships, and 13 SEC championship game appearances (meaning they won the SEC East). Also, the Gators have had two Heisman Trophy winners (Danny Wuerffel in 1996, Tim Tebow in 2007), along with the winners, three Heisman Trophy top-three finishers (Danny Wuerffel in 1995, Rex Grossman in 2001, Tebow in 2008).
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY BEAT?: Utah, Kentucky, South Florida, Eastern Washington, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida State
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY LOSE TO?: Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M
FINAL RECORD, POSTSEASON PREDICTION?: 8-4 regular season (Florida plays in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis)
PRESEASON ALL-SEC PLAYERS:: O’Cyrus Torrence, OL (Louisiana Lafayette transfer, former first-team All-Sun Belt — 35 career starts for Ragin Cajuns); Brenton Cox, DL (14.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 51 tackles, 12 hurries); Gervon Dexter, DL (51 tackles, 7 hurries, 4 sacks); Ventrell Miller, LB (missed a lot of 2021 — but 164 career tackles at Florida, 15 TFLs); Trey Dean III, DB (Gators leading tackler in 2021, 92 tackles, 9 PBUs).
RELATED FLORIDA GATOR STORIES::
Aug. 5 — GAINESVILLE SUN (Author: David Whitley): Billy Napier Works To Bring Discipline
Aug 4 — GAINESVILLE SUN (Author: Kevin Brockway): Anthony Richardson Throws a Screen to TE Dante Zanders
Aug. 4 — GAINESVILLE SUN (Author: Kevin Brockway): O’Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana Transfer With Napier, Excited About Opportunity
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