The Florida Gators come into the 2019 college football season with thoughts of an SEC Championship appearance.
Whether that happens or not depends a lot upon the Georgia Bulldogs. But it may still be smart to bet the “Over” on Florida winning over/under nine games.
Today, I will be breaking down each game on Florida’s schedule. They have plenty of tough matchups, including those against Auburn at home, LSU on the road then against Miami and Georgia at neutral sites.
Betting for this prop and all the other over/under team totals can be found on 5Dimes. So here’s a look at the Gators roster before I get to the predictions.
Florida Gators Roster Breakdown
A lot of the Gators’ strengths will be those that have been mainstays for the program.
They’ve often been referred to as DBU (along with LSU) for their superior defensive backs unit. They will once again have an elite squad, led by C.J. Henderson, who could be the top corner taken in the draft next year.
Across from him is Marco Wilson, who missed all of last year with a knee injury. But he may be nearly as talented as Henderson when healthy. The two of them arguably make up the best CB tandem in the conference.
Their safeties are no slackers either. They aren’t quite as deep body-wise in the secondary as they usually are. But this is still an impressive two-deep, with Trey Dean ready to turn into an All-SEC-caliber player in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s old slot corner position.
The transfer of Jonathan Greenard from Louisville is huge, even if he only plays as he did two years ago with Cardinals. He’ll be playing for his old defensive coordinator at Louisville, Todd Grantham, and is slotted at Polite’s old spot, Buck (rush end).
The linebackers aren’t going to be a group with a lot of depth. They will have a sure-fire leader in David Reese II though, and a much underrated athlete in Ameri Burney. The latter has DB speed and close to actual LB size at the start position.
On offense, though, things are a bit different. For the first time in a decade, there’s real excitement around this group.
The running backs are probably stronger than they were last year, even after the loss of Jordan Scarlett. Lamical Perine is one of the better backs in the SEC, and that’s saying something. Dameon Pierce is an absolute bruiser who can really pick up speed in the open field.
And Malik Davis, who has sadly missed the better parts of two straight seasons with ACL tears, still looks like a potential stud too. He had 526 yards (6.7 average) in seven games as a true freshman.
The receiving unit is all back and extremely deep as well. Van Jefferson is a premier route-runner. Trevon Grimes can be a red zone threat with his size (6’3”-216lbs). Tyrie Cleveland will hopefully get back to being the deep-threat he was in 2016 and ’17 because he got lost in the shuffle a bit last year.
Someone who is still waiting to completely breakout is Kadarius Toney. He’s extremely explosive. It’s just a matter of him fully morphing himself into the offense. He’s the x-factor for sure.
The guy who will be getting these players the ball is QB Feleipe Franks. He struggled mightily early in his UF career but finally turned a corner last season. The difference between the Gators being a quality team and a great one lies with what version of Franks Florida gets this season.
He certainly looked sharp in the spring game.
The other significant factor that will whether make Florida a contender or pretender in the SEC title race is their offensive line play. They are losing Jawaan Taylor and Martez Ivey, two reliable blockers, are gone. Only one starter (Nick Buchanan, center) remains from last year.
This group could be susceptible to better pass rushes, especially in the early-to-middle parts of the season.
But if Franks can learn to get the ball out earlier, Mullen will be able to work around most of the potential o-line deficiencies.
Florida Gators 2019 Schedule
August 24th: Miami Hurricanes (in Orlando)
Speaking of offensive line struggles, they could certainly take place in this game.
The Miami Hurricanes are not all that complete of a team. But what they do have is an incredible front-seven that could apply plenty of pressure and create turnovers.
Michael Pinckney and Shaquille Quarterman create the best linebacking core in the ACC if not all of college football. Add in another senior in Zach McCloud, and they can even keep up with Alabama at this position group.
Jonathan Garvin is a high-pick prospect on the end for the Hurricanes too, and they have a lot more potential on the d-line.
There are pieces for Miami on offense. Brevin Jordan looks like another future NFL tight end in the form of David Njoku. Jeff Thomas is an absolute burner who will test Henderson’s laurels.
But the real question is whether the Canes will have the quarterback to get Thomas the ball deep. I like Florida’s chances over-the-top, and they will too. That’s why Burney and several other defenders will key on covering Jordan.
This will be a close game from beginning-to-end. But in a low-scoring affair, I like Franks to make a few more throws than whoever is starting for the U. And I expect Florida loading the box will pay dividends as it did in a couple of big games (Miss State, LSU) last year.
September 7th: UT-Martin Skyhawks
After an odd week one bye, following the Hurricanes contest, Florida will necessarily get another bye.
The Skyhawks will be in no more than a chance for Mullen to see his younger, less-experienced players in action moving on.
September 14th: At Kentucky Wildcats
This was the game that stung the most last year. Mullen would eventually bring Florida’s season back from the grave, but UK beating UF for the first time in over 30 years was shocking.
The Wildcats no longer have game-changers Benny Snell Jr. (RB) and Josh Allen (edge). They’re certainly not out of luck if quarterback Terry Wilson rounds out his dual-threat capabilities. But there are lots of skilled players to break in along that offense.
In fact, overall, there are a lot of new faces in starting roles for the Wildcats.
I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this team comes out feisty early and keep it close for three quarters. But I think those new pieces along the offensive line are going to struggle a bit in the early season and that run game can’t control possession like it did last season.
I’ll take Florida by 10 in this one, even if it is a bit sloppy.
September 21st: Tennessee Volunteers
Most remember that Tennessee was routed last year by the Gators. A 47-21 finish on their home turf was a poor showing, but most of that boiled down to the Volunteers shooting themselves in the foot.
The Volunteers have a good share of young talent and can mix that with quality veterans at positions like linebacker and wide receiver.
Also, Nigel Warrior at safety is an incredible asset to have against a strong receiving corp.
But these are just a few great pieces to a much bigger puzzle Tennessee still has to put together. Having Jim Cheney and Tee Martin run the offense will boost their numbers there. Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings are plenty good enough a wideout if Jarrett Guarantano can just get them the ball.
While this Vols team will turn a corner soon, it’s not going to be this soon. Florida has too much of a pass-rush against an almost completely remade offensive line. And Tennessee’s strong points (secondary and WR) is being countered by Florida’s best quality (WR and the secondary).
It won’t be a 26-point game, but at the Swamp, it could still be multiple touchdowns.
September 28th: Towson Tigers
On one hand, the Towson Tigers won seven games last year and had 35+ points in seven contests. On the other, they were beaten by 31 points at Wake Forest and are an also-ran in the FCS’ Colonial Athletic Association.
This is a weird in-between contest for Florida, but a proper warm-up for Auburn the next weekend.
October 5th: Auburn Tigers
This will be a real mid-season test for the Gators. Auburn has a pass-rush that is arguably the best in college football. That will be tough for a retooled offensive line to hold off.
Derrick Brown is particularly stout on that line, a 6’5”-325-pound behemoth. Nick Coe is not far behind him in the intimidation factor.
Auburn also has studs on the other side of the trenches and a pretty good pair of pace-changing running backs. Unless Feleipe Franks has enough time to get the ball down the field, this is going to be a nail-biter.
Auburn is no slouch in the secondary either with Daniel Thomas patrolling centerfield. But the coverage at linebacker might be a bit of a question. Though I’ve failed to mention it to this point, Florida’s tight end unit has a ton of potential.
Mix that Mullen’s ability to utilize slot receivers and I think there’s a hole for Florida to find.
I still think this a field goal-game. But in the Swamp and with a better kicker (Evan McPherson), I’ll give Florida that 24-21 edge.
October 12th: At LSU Tigers
Having to face LSU right after the other SEC West Tigers, on top of doing it on the road, is a doozy.
LSU is as strong as ever on the back end of their defense. Grant Delpit at safety will probably be an All-American again. They’ve got some young, skillful corners as well, with Kristian Fulton being another All-SEC contributor.
They aren’t as loaded along the defensive front as in years’ past, which could give Florida’s o-line a little reprieve after the week before. But Rashard Lawrence again can be a one-man wrecking ball at the end. And the Tigers’ LBs are always instinctive in roaming the field and breaking down protection.
In the recent past, I wouldn’t be all that sure about LSU’s offensive line. But this is probably the best unit they’ve had since Ed Orgeron took over.
With more time to throw, I think Joe Burrow will have a much better game than last year. Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are one of maybe three wide receiver tandems (Alabama and Texas A&M the others) who can contend with Florida’s suffocating coverage.
For that, I’ll give LSU a slight edge in Death Valley.
October 19th: At South Carolina Gamecocks
Make no bones about it; this is a tight turnaround game.
It’s just before the bye and after the two most physical games (to that point) of the season. And it’s at a rocking Williams-Bryce, one of the loudest stadiums in college football. I would be surprised if this game was not close.
People want to talk about the Georgia and LSU games deciding what kind of team Florida is. This game will decide just as much, as will Missouri down the road.
But after watching Florida collapse the past few seasons after tough losses, I saw Mullen pull this team out of the darkness after losses last season. That included having to play the Gamecocks last year after losing to Georgia and Mizzou.
I don’t see any elite groups for the Gamecocks. If Jake Bentley is pushed enough by the quarterbacks behind on the depth chart, he may finally take the step into upper-echelon SEC QBs. But it’s not likely.
Bryan Edwards gives him a great and powerful target. But the one excellent option isn’t enough against Florida’s secondary.
The d-line isn’t too shabby either. By this point though, I think Florida’s o-line is going to have started to take shape. They will undoubtedly be battle-tested after Miami and Auburn.
So I’m giving the Gators a “W” by a touchdown.
November 2nd: Georgia Bulldogs (in Jacksonville)
Not much has changed with Georgia. They’re elite at running back, have a Heisman candidate at quarterback, and a great defensive head coach.
Their offensive line is arguably the best in the league. The same could almost be said for the middle of their defense. And they have a particular piece in the secondary that is worth watching.
Their wideouts are probably the only aspect that doesn’t wow me.
So the real matter is whether the Gators can reverse the mistakes they made last year.
Not hitting on a couple of deep plays early, turning the ball over deep in their territory and allowing the tight end to run free over the middle of the field. Giving Jake Fromm all the time to throw. And missing pieces in the secondary that came back to haunt them.
Provided there are no serious depletions; the secondary should be fine against this receiving unit. Given enough time, though, most passing games can change that.
And with Franks playing much better down the stretch, he may hit on more open throws, like the flea-flicker he missed on the first play from scrimmage. He’s also become more careful with the ball.
Still, I think Georgia can control the clock more in the trenches. And when the passing game needs to be opened up, I still trust Fromm more than Franks. For that, I’ll take Georgia in a tough one.
November 9th: Vanderbilt Commodores
This isn’t a lock, for three reasons in particular.
One, Florida almost lost to Vanderbilt last year. Two, coming off a loss to Georgia could throw them into a spiral. And three, Ke’Shawn Vaughn was tearing them up before he got hurt last year.
I don’t think the first two are as much of a factor with the way Mullen can strategize. But Vaughn can take over a game if you let him. With that said, no one else but Jared Pinkney at tight end is a playmaker on this team.
And with Kyle Shurmur (8,865 career passing yards) gone at quarterback, I’m even more certain Vanderbilt won’t pull off the upset.
November 16th: At Missouri Tigers
Florida has had its share of problems against Missouri ever since the Tigers joined the SEC. And with Kelly Bryant at quarterback now, this isn’t just another plucky Mizzou team. This is a dark horse to take the division.
I don’t think they will, and if they do, they still won’t be eligible for bowl season. But that’s what makes these types of games even more meaningful for them. And playing at Faurot Field is an underrated atmosphere.
Larry Roundtree III is a bruising back that can break the will of a defensive front. The o-line is good enough to match up with Florida on the other side.
Overall, I think this is a weaker defensive unit. Perhaps there will be more than enough situations for an experienced receiver group to take advantage of Mizzou’s secondary shortages.
With that, I think Florida’s big-play capabilities will be what seals the deal for them in what could become a fun, high-scoring affair.
November 30th: Florida State Seminoles
A lot of FSU’s success will depend on just how good Kendal Briles can be right out of the gate as offensive coordinator.
He has some skill talent to work with, including a borderline-elite RB in Cam Akers. But the offensive line is still shaping up to a weak spot after a dreadful 2018. James Blackmon is going to have to have way more time to throw for him to meet his potential.
Despite having another strong secondary, the FSU pass-rush doesn’t scare me much at all, at least not yet.
The Seminoles will be back in bowl season and may even finish second behind Clemson in their division. But they’re not as balanced or experienced as Florida.
With that win, the Gators will finish the regular season 10-2 and grab the “over”.