Florida Football: Predicting Where the Gators Rank in AP Preseason Poll

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2012

Will Muschamp's team has a chance to make some noise after a lackluster 2011 season.
Will Muschamp's team has a chance to make some noise after a lackluster 2011 season.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The AP preseason poll will be unveiled Saturday, but for Florida fans itching for a prediction, I expect the Gators to just make the cut at No. 23. 

For a program that boasts two national championships in the past decade, that number might not impress. Then again, the days of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin scoring at will are long gone. 

Will Muschamp's team is still in the midst of transitioning from a spread offense to a pro-style attack. 

Without dynamic talents at receiver or running back, UF doesn't exactly boast the firepower that many fans grew accustomed to seeing during Urban Meyer's reign. 

Instead, the 2012 squad features a sophomore quarterback battle between former top recruit Jeff Driskel and the resilient Jacoby Brissett. 

Both signal-callers were forced into early playing time as freshmen after John Brantley suffered an ankle injury. 

Neither quarterback stood out, and with the season just weeks away, neither quarterback has separated himself from the other. 

Unfortunately, Driskel suffered a shoulder injury, which should give Brissett a chance to grasp the starting spot. 

The rest of the Gators offense features a maddeningly inconsistent playmaker in Andre DeBose, a quietly productive running back in Mike Gillislee and a rejuvenated offensive line. 

If there's any reason the Gators aren't able to crack the AP Top 25 in two days, it'll come down to the offense. 

Sure, the unit features some former 5-star recruits in Driskel, DeBose, Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon, but none of those players have lived up to expectations. 

Nixon and Patchan were expected to anchor the offensive line, but injuries and lapses in technique have them battling for starting spots as seniors. 

The rest of the line does have some promise, as red-shirt juniors Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio play with great toughness along the interior. 

Overall, the offense is full of question marks rather than answers. 

So why do I expect the Gators to still enter the season as a Top-25 team? 

The defense. 

It's been Muschamp's calling card at LSU, Auburn and Texas, and the feisty second-year head coach should have plenty to be excited about when his defense hits the field. 

Although the unit won't feature former No. 1 recruit Ronald Powell as he recovers from a torn ACL, Muschamp has done well to build up some quality depth along the defensive line. Florida's 2012 recruiting class featured some terrific young pass-rushers in Jonathan Bullard, Bryan Cox, Jr., Dante Fowler, Jr. and Alex McCalister. 

While it might be overly optimistic to think a freshman defensive lineman can be an immediate contributor in the rugged SEC, the Gators might be able to rely on one or two of those players to be strictly pass-rushers. 

If this team plans on ascending up the rankings and being a serious contender in the SEC, it'll be because of its incredible linebackers. 

In fact, if Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic play to their potential, No. 23 might be too low of an opening projection for this team. 

Bostic—who measures in at a stout 6'1", 246 pounds—is a true thumper in the middle, leading the team in tackles for two consecutive seasons. 

Jenkins—the top prep outside linebacker in 2009—has matured into one of the pursuit linebackers in the country. The red-shirt junior has added substantial muscle mass to his 6'0" frame while maintaining his elite sideline-to-sideline ability. 

Rounding out the talented corps is BUCK linebacker Lerentee McCray. Before he missed four games to injury, the 6'3", 249-pounder was actually outplaying Powell. 

McCray utilizes his quickness and length to make plays in the backfield and should be one of the team's better pass-rushers. 

Junior Matt Elam anchors UF's young secondary, and the 202-pound wrecking ball dishes out punishment while also making plays on the ball. 

Elam is almost a carbon copy of Muschamp—he is an emotional leader who plays with high energy, toughness and wreckless abandon. 

Florida may not have the firepower to outscore most teams, but it has serious talent on the other side of the ball to defend The Swamp. 

In two days, we'll find out if the AP thinks this defense is good enough to carry the team.

Checking in at No. 23 will be a good start. 


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