Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida may not be in the big dance following the 2012 season, but the 11-1 record and Sugar Bowl berth indicate that the turnaround under head coach Will Muschamp happened quicker than expected.
The Gators finished the 2012 season with the No. 3 ranking in the final BCS standings and boasted arguably the top resume among all of the one-loss teams.
The success of the 2012 Gators indeed proved that they're back, but just how far? Good enough to be the preseason No. 1 team in America before the 2013 season?
It'd be hard to do that right now.
Let's first start with what we know.
We know running back Mike Gillislee will be gone and that he was essentially the only offensive threat on the 2012 Gators.
Gillislee rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns, and did so when everyone on the planet knew that he was getting the football. Being one-dimensional ultimately cost the Gators in their only loss of the season versus Georgia, but more times than not, they were able to make it work—even against stout defenses.
We also know that quarterback Jeff Driskel is dangerous with his legs, but not so much with his arm. Florida finished with the SEC's worst passing offense (143.9 YPG) in 2012 and Driskel finished 10th in the SEC in passing efficiency with a 136.05 rating.
An offseason as the unquestioned starter will undoubtedly help Driskel's development as a passer, but uncertainty at the quarterback spot coupled with the departure of a 1,000-yard back creates a mighty big hurdle to overcome for the Gator offense.
Can you make a case for Florida being preseason No. 1?
But Florida's bread and butter this year has been defense, a defense that features three Associated Press All-SEC members, including junior Matt Elam and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Elam and Floyd could bolt to the NFL early along with several other juniors, joining senior linebacker Jon Bostic, safety Josh Evans, defensive end Lerentee McCray and defensive tackle Omar Hunter.
There is just too much uncertainty right now on the Gator defense to label them as the preseason top team in the country.
That's not to say that Florida can't hoist the crystal football at the end of next season. It certainly will be in the mix. But the Gators will have to prove they're the No. 1 team before earning that designation.