Inching closer and closer to the beginning of another college football season, we get another sign that our wait is almost over, the release of the Associated Press preseason college football poll. The AP poll is one of two major preseason polls and while it doesn't factor into the final BCS standings, it is a good barometer of how your team is perceived in the preseason and on a week-to-week basis.
Let's take a look at where the Gators were ranked and break down what the ranking means for Will Muschamp's Florida Gators.
The Gators come in ranked 23rd in the preseason poll. They are one of six teams from the SEC that are ranked in the top 25, and 23 is a good starting point for this team.
While the Gators will return 10-of-11 starters on defense, the offense is still so unproven that making a case for the Gators to be ranked inside the top 20 is a stretch.
Can the Gators finish the season ranked in the top 20 or top 10? Certainly. Could the Gators finish the season outside the top 25 all together? It's possible.
This team will be carried by their physical defense but it is the offense that will need to step up if the Gators want to improve upon their 2011 season and better their preseason ranking by seasons end.
The Gators will face four teams that come in ranked in the AP poll. All four of those teams are ranked in the top 10 and will offer Florida a chance to boost its own ranking by winning these games.
No. 2 LSU
The Gators first game against a ranked team will come in week six against LSU. The Tigers trounced the Gators in Death Valley last season 41-11. The Tigers will come to Gainesville this year looking to make it three in a row against the Gators and should be 5-0 coming in. The Gators will be coming off of a bye week and should be 4-0, which would make this a matchup of two teams ranked in the top 20.
No. 9 South Carolina
The Gamecocks are riding high off of an 11-2 record last season and the return of Marcus Lattimore. Like LSU, the Gamecocks will be looking to extend their winning streak to a school high three games against the Gators. The Gamecocks will be tested early and often and will have either solidified their top-10 ranking or come back down to earth before this game.
No. 6 Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs are the "it" team in the SEC East this preseason. Not only are most people projecting the Dawgs to win the SEC East they come in just outside the top five in this preseason poll. Other that having to travel to Missouri and South Carolina and a home contest against Tennesee, Georgia will remain untested before they play the Gators. The football scheduling gods smiled on Georgia again this season as it will avoid Arkansas, Alabama and LSU this season.
No. 7 Florida State
It seems like every year the Noles are ranked inside the top 10 in preseason polls. And every year they struggle to live up to their expectations. FSU will have a defense that is to be respected and feared but they are not much better on offense than the Gators are. The Noles will not be ranked in the top 10 by the time the Gators come to visit, but then again, neither will the Gators.
Playing four teams that are ranked higher than you will help any team climb the rankings, but the fact that the Gators play in the SEC will help even more.
The Gators will need to win convincingly against Bowling Green if they want to ensure they will not slip out of the top 25 before Week 2. Wins at Texas A&M, Tennessee and at home against Kentucky could vault the Gators into the teens before their bye week and a meeting with LSU.
After the first five games, the Gators will be tested with a trip to Vanderbilt, who they narrowly escaped last season, and games against Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri.
What it comes down to for the Gators is they need to win their games against unranked opponents and at least split their games against ranked foes. If the Gators can finish with a two or three loss season, they will have a chance to play for the SEC championship and will find themselves ranked much higher than they are now.
It is difficult to gauge how a team will fare before the season. There is so much roster turnover in college football couple with how inconsistent 18-22 year old kids can be, the preseason poll hardly every resembles the final poll.
These five teams are ranked ahead of the Gators but will all finish ranked lower than the Gators by seasons end.
No. 15 Texas
The Longhorns are one of the most overrated teams in the country. The Longhorns are in a similar situation as the Gators. They have a stacked defense and question marks on offense. Except other than at running back, the questions marks are huge at Texas. The Longhorns will be brought back down to earth in Weeks 5 and 7 when they play Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, respectively.
No. 18 Ohio State
Ohio State gets an "Urban Renewal" in 2012, but the Buckeyes are still another year from being competitive. Buckeye fans will point to the quick turnaround at Florida but the fact is that Meyer inherited a much better team in the 2005 Gators than he did with the 2012 Buckeyes. Meyer went 9-3 in his first season, a one game improvement for the Gators from 2004, and Ohio State should get a similar turnaround. I expect the Buckeyes to finish around the six or seven win mark and that will boot them out of the top 20 in a hurry.
No. 11 West Virginia
The last time we saw the Mountaineers they were trouncing Clemson in the worst BCS bowl game in 2011. West Virginia makes the move to the Big 12 this season and will play the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas, TCU and Baylor. That is a far cry from their former conference schedule where they played teams like Cincinatti, Louisville, UConn, Rutgers and South Florida. The step up in competition will cause the Mountaineers to take a step back in 2012.