Florida Gators players get ready before the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 17 Florida

The Gators are starting to look like the Gators of old, but the path to an SEC title will probably run through Alabama. Again.

Posted July 13th, 2017

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 17 Florida (Related coverage: Why haven’t the Gators been able to develop a quarterback since Tim Tebow?)

Best-case scenario: The Gators are much improved at quarterback. A third straight SEC East title isn’t out of the question. The biggest challenge will come from Georgia (see key game, below), but the Gators find themselves back in Atlanta facing Alabama for the SEC title. Florida’s not CFP-level, but it teeters that line. If the over/under on wins is eight, take the over.

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Worst-case scenario: The Gators bottom out at quarterback and finish third in the East. The offense falls way short of potential. If Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and former star recruit Feleipe Franks, a redshirt freshman, both flop, Florida would have to rely on Luke Del Rio.

The key game: Oct. 28, Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.). The Gators have won the last three against their bitter rivals, and a fourth will likely give Florida its third straight SEC East title.

INSIDE THE GATORS

Coach: Jim McElwain (third year, 19-8; 41-24 overall at Colorado State and Florida)

2016: 9-4, 6-2 in the SEC (beat Iowa 30-3 in the Outback Bowl)

Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense

Goodbye: LB Alex Anzalone (Saints, 3rd round), CB Quincy Wilson (Colts, 2nd), CB Teez Tabor (Lions, 2nd)

Spring cleaning: Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins left to take the head coaching job at Temple, which had been vacated by now-Baylor coach Matt Rhule. He was replaced by former Miami head coach Randy Shannon, who was promoted to sole coordinator after sharing the role with Collins in 2016. … The Gators barely missed out on a top-10 recruiting class; Florida ranked 11th nationally, fifth in the SEC.

Antonio Callaway #81 of the Florida Gators scores a first quarter touchdown as Minkah Fitzpatrick #29 of the Alabama Crimson Tide defends during the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Luke Del Rio, 114-201-1,358, 8/8 (2nd)

Rushing: Jordan Scarlett, 179-889-6 (1st)

Receiving: Antonio Callaway, 54-721-3 (1st)

Tackles: DB Marcell Harris, 73 (1st)

Sacks: DL Jabari Zuniga, 5 (1st)

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (2)

Offense: OL Martez Ivey (2nd team)

Defense: P Johnny Townsend (2nd)

Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes in the first quarter against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

FLORIDA: FYI

Beasts of the East: In two years under McElwain, the Gators have won back-to-back SEC East titles. A three-peat, however, may be a little hard to come by; Georgia looks to be the front-runner in East. Florida will have to rely on an inexperienced quarterback and a very young defense that returns only three starters and has a new coordinator in Shannon, who arrived in Florida in 2015.

Home, sweet home: Florida won’t have a lot of time to break in the replacements. The Gators open the season against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Two weeks later, they host Tennessee in The Swamp. The Gators have a favorable schedule with seven home games including ones against LSU, Texas A&M and Florida State.

Going deep: The Gators are deep at quarterback, which could make for an interesting fall. Franks, one of the Gators’ prized recruits in 2016, will have to hold off Zaire, along with a returning Luke Del Rio and Kyle Trask.

Florida's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 2Michigan (Arlington)
Sept. 9Northern Colorado
Sept. 16Tennessee*L, 38-28
Sept. 23at Kentucky*W, 45-7
Sept. 30Vanderbilt*W, 13-6
Oct. 7LSU*W, 16-10
Oct. 14Texas A&M*
Oct. 28Georgia*W, 24-10
Nov. 4at Missouri*W, 40-14
Nov. 11at South Carolina*W, 20-7
Nov. 18UAB
Nov. 25Florida StateL, 31-13
* SEC game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL41-23 (27-13)2-2 in bowls
201211-2 (7-1)23rd/9thL Sugar
20134-8 (3-5)10th/NRNo bowl
20147-5 (4-4)NR/NRW Birmingham
201510-4 (7-1)NR/25thL Citrus
20169-4 (6-2)25th/14thW Outback

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

 

2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS

Scoring: 107th (23.9 ppg)

Points allowed: 6th (16.8 ppg)

Passing: 79th (215.8 ypg)

Rushing: 113th (128.2 ypg)

Total off.: 116th (344.0 ypg)

Total def.: 5th (293.0 ypg)

OUR TOP 25 SO FAR

No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Coming Friday. Want a hint? This school’s motto, on the university’s seal, is “Die luft der freiheit weht.” That translates to “The wind of freedom blows.”

BY CONFERENCE

3 schools:

Big 12 (19-West Virginia, 21-Kansas State, 22-Texas)

2 schools:

SEC (17-Florida, 23-Tennessee)

1 school:

AAC (18-South Florida)

ACC (20-Miami)

Mountain West (25-Boise State)

Pac-12 (24-Oregon)

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