Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks looks to pass against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee on Nov. 24, 2018. (Bronte Wittpenn/Florida Times Union)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: How Feleipe Franks’ season goes, so does No. 10 Florida’s

Posted July 18th, 2019

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We’re 42 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 10 team: Florida

The Gators’ best-case scenario: Feleipe Franks takes another large step toward superstardom. The 6-6, 240-pound quarterback hasn’t shied away from the expectations that come with being the face of the program, going as far to say at Monday’s SEC media days that he wanted to be the fourth statue on Gale Lemerand Dr. near The Swamp in Gainesville, joining Heisman Trophy winners Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Franks threw 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions last season after throwing nine touchdowns and eight picks as a freshman. Of note, Franks was interception-free in his last five games.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Franks becomes a sitting duck behind an offensive line that lost four starters. Stone Forsythe, Jean Delance and Richard Gouraige are names that have to step up in place of veterans Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson and early draft entry Jawaan Taylor. They combined for 141 career starts.

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Florida didn’t crack our preseason poll last year.

Inside the Gators

Coach: Dan Mullen (2nd year, 10-3; 79-47 overall, 10 years at Mississippi State and Florida)

2018:  10-3, 5-3 in the SEC (beat Michigan in the Peach Bowl). As it turns out, Michigan is ranked 11th in our preseason poll, right behind the Gators.

Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense

Shoes to fill: LB Vosean Joseph (led team in tackles); DL Jachai Polite (11 sacks)

Spring cleaning: Nine players have entered the transfer portal and two blue-chip recruits — linebacker Diwun Black and offensive lineman Deyavie Hammond — never even made it to campus because they didn’t qualify academically. The Gators are hovering somewhere around 75 active players. … Line coach Sal Sunseri bolted for Alabama and cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren was hired at Georgia.

Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) celebrates with Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) after Jefferson scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Colorado State last season. (Tribune Media Service)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Feleipe Franks (led team), 188-322-2,457 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs

RUSHING: Lamical Perine (1st), 134-826-7; Dameon Pierce (3rd), 69-424-2; QB Feleipe Franks (4th), 110-350-7

RECEIVING: Van Jefferson (1st) 35-503-6; Josh Hammond (2nd), 28-369-4; Trevon Grimes (3rd), 26-364-2

TACKLES: David Reese II (2nd), 77

SACKS: DL Jabari Zuniga (2nd), 6.5

INTERCEPTIONS: DB CJ Henderson (T-2nd), 2; DB Donovan Stiner (T-2nd), 2; DB Brad Stewart Jr. (T-2nd), 2

Returning All-SEC (1)

Offense: None

Defense: DB CJ Henderson (2nd team)

Florida head coach Dan Mullen gets ready to run out of the tunnel against Kentucky last September at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. (Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times)

FYI

Back in chomp mode: Mullen, then at Mississippi State, was being strongly considered for the Tennessee job after Butch Jones was fired near the end of the 2017 regular season. But Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin — Mullen’s former boss at Mississippi State — instead lured him to Gainesville. Mullen arrived with a promise to bring the program back to special places; he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator on powerhouse Florida teams from 2005-08 that won a pair of national championships. The 10-3 season (a six-win improvement from 2017) and a blowout of Michigan in the Peach Bowl has Florida back in the SEC mix.

Had to keep him: Mullen gave defensive coordinator Todd Grantham a $300,000 raise to keep him in Gainesville a while longer. Grantham has drawn the interest of several NFL teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals. With seven starters returning, Grantham’s players spoke of his famously aggressive play-calling to reach another level this fall. “Definitely aggressive,” defensive end Jabari Zuniga said at SEC media days. “(Grantham) emphasizes pressure on the quarterback. Y’all are going to see, there were a lot of play calls that coach Grantham didn’t call that he’s going to call this year.”

Needing a WR to emerge: In a program that has thrilled its fan base with stud wide receivers, the Gators are looking for a top receiver threat to show himself. Van Jefferson came on in the second half of last season, coinciding with Franks’ improvement. But there weren’t as many chunk plays; only two of the team’s 486 receptions went for more than 50 yards. Look for 6-5, 210-pound former Ohio State player Trevon Grimes to get more deep looks on the outside.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 22nd (35.0 ppg)

Total offense: 42nd (426.7 ypg)

Passing: 82nd (213.5 ypg)

Rushing: 27th (213.2 ypg)

Red zone offense: 67th

Time of possession: 65th (29:56)

Scoring defense: 20th (20.0 ppg)

Total defense: 28th (343.3 ypg)

Pass defense: 13th (180.8 ypg)

Rush defense: 65th (162.5 ypg)

Red zone defense: 115th

Turnover margin: 7th

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 24Miami (Orlando)
Sept. 7Tennessee-Martin
Sept. 14at Kentucky*L, 27-16
Sept. 21Tennessee*W, 47-21
Sept. 28Towson
Oct. 5Auburn*
Oct. 12at LSU*W, 27-19
Oct. 19at South Carolina*W, 35-31
Nov. 2Georgia*L, 36-17
Nov. 9Vanderbilt*W, 37-27
Nov. 16at Missouri*L, 38-17
Nov. 30Florida StateW, 41-14
* SEC game

The key game? Aug. 24, Miami. Sure, the Gators play in the most physical conference in college football, but the season opener against the Hurricanes will set the tone for the rest of the season.

The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
20147-5 / 4-4— / —Birmingham Bowl, W
201510-4 / 7-1— / 25thCitrus Bowl, L
20169-4 / 6-225th / 14thOutback Bowl, W
20174-7 / 3-517th / —No bowl
201810-3 / 5-3— / 7thPeach Bowl, W
Total40-23 / 25-154 bowl games (3-1)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State’s baromoter? Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State (again)

No. 13: Defense may determine Washington’s chances at another Pac-12 title

No. 12: Texas A&M must navigate a scheduled peppered with heavyweights

No. 11: Is Jim Harbaugh’s coaching seat at Michigan getting hotter?

No. 10: Florida

Our Top 25, by conferences

5 schools:

Big Ten — No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

4 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

3 schools:

SEC — No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn

1 school:

AAC — No. 16 Central Florida

Big 12 — No. 17 Iowa State

Independents — No. 18 Army

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 9 team

Want a hint?

This school finished in the top 10 for the first time in a long time — since the 2009 season.

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