Browsing through the latest version of Athlon Sports preseason college football magazine, I found myself looking for the rankings pretty quickly. Athlon Sports has the Gators ranked No. 11 in the preseason and I think that number is more than fair and the highest ranking I have noticed this preseason. So I thought that the three-paragraph blurb included in the Top 25 rundown near the front of the magazine would show some areas of excellence. Instead it was more about the folly at the end of last season and the expectation for at least one side of the ball to play better.
The tough thing about reading the blurb was the honesty about the closure to last season. These were just words that you don’t expect to read about a team that they would now rank No. 11.
“When we last saw the Florida Gators, they were giving up so many points to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl that the Sooner Schooner had to get its tires rotated at halftime,” the author of the piece wrote. “Perhaps the team that traded punches with Alabama in the SEC title game was just not as interested in playing in what it considered a consolation contest. Then again, Florida did give up 37 points to a decidedly average LSU team in the regular-season finale, so perhaps the generous was an accurate personality indicator.”
The Gators certainly frustrated fans with the way they played against LSU in a game where the home team boys from Florida were a prohibitive favorite. A lot of people soured that day and questioned whether tight end Kyle Pitts sat out of the game for no reason other than not wanting a possible injury ahead of the following game with the Crimson Tide. And then to pretty much shock the country with the toughest game Alabama played all year. And finally the stinker in the Cotton Bowl where it seemed half the team sat out. Of course the real issue in all of it was the porous defense that set many of the wrong kinds of records in 2020.
They went back to that side of the ball as a cue to where the Gators have to be better in 2021.
“That defense should improve,” they wrote. “If it doesn’t, Florida might not win five games because the exodus of talent on the other side, beginning with quarterback Kyle Trask and all-world tight end Kyle Pitts is profound.”
It is apparent that Athlon does like a few players on the defensive side and the Gator defense as a whole has a reputation for being good and that probably was another reason for the pretty highly rated squad.
“There is experience returning at all three levels of the defense, but coordinator Todd Grantham had better fix the Gators’ pass D, which gave up 28 scoring strikes last year,” they wrote. “Linebacker Ventrell Miller is a tackling machine and end Brenton Cox Jr. had 9.5 TFLs last year.”
They didn’t mention all-star cornerback Kaiir Elam who is actually listed as a second-team All-American and mentioned in several other places in the magazine. He was likely a given in the note. Still, the expectation is for the defense to greatly improve.
And then there is the respect that Mullen gets as a developer on the offensive side of the ball and especially the quarterback position
“Dan Mullen is nothing if not an offensive genius, and he’ll get to work with talented Emory Jones, a fourth-year, dual-threat junior,” Athlon wrote. “Demarckus Bowman is former prep standout who bolted Clemson for The Swamp and will be counted on to anchor the running game, provided he’s eligible.”
It’s a different kind of write up overall and one that is expecting a lot from the Gators that wasn’t there a year ago, a defense that will have to improve because of replacements on the squad rather than them being a year older. And also mentioning a running back that hasn’t played a down for Florida or even been named eligible to play.
But it’s not a write up that is without merit and it certainly is painfully truthful in parts.