Based on their ranking at the start of the season, the Florida Gators certainly hit the "over" in terms of their projected win total in 2012.
Ranked 23rd in the season's introductory AP Poll, the Gators made a steady ascent to the top five as they rattled off a series of victories over ranked opponents.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Florida was considered one of the country's biggest surprises with an 11-1 record and a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Naturally, expectations are once again pretty high in Gainesville. After all, Florida has been one of the most successful programs in the nation since the turn of the new millennium. Led by Will Muschamp, the Gator coaching staff just pulled in a dynamite recruiting class. They have a returning junior quarterback and two emerging stars in the backfield. Not to mention, their defense will once again be formidable.
What's not to like about the Gators?
I agree that the future is looking bright on Florida's campus. However, there are a few reasons why a national championship should not be the expected outcome in 2013.
I mentioned that Jeff Driskel is returning at quarterback. It is assumed that he will be vastly improved, but what if the opposite proves true?
Also, the Gators lost a lot of talent to graduation and the NFL over the past few months. While they have talented athletes to replace those guys, it will be a tough task to replicate their success on defense and special teams.
Not to mention, their schedule is borderline brutal.
So how many wins will they earn in spite of all this? I think an over/under of 10 victories fits the bill.
Let's start with the nonconference schedule. Of Florida's four non-SEC matchups, only two should provoke any sort of worry. Georgia Southern and Toledo are easy victories, but the Gators' two in-state rivals pose a challenge.
Ultimately, the Miami game should come down to offensive execution. The Hurricanes will put up points, and the Gators will need to answer.
The tilt with Florida State, meanwhile, will come down to conditioning. If the Gators can stay fresh after their tough conference journey, they should win that game at home.
Therefore, I would mark down each nonconference game as a win.
In my opinion, however, there is no way the Gators can survive their conference schedule without one or more losses. Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky should pose no threat, but every other game can be debated.
I think the greatest chance for a loss occurs at LSU and South Carolina. The Gamecocks were embarrassed against Florida last season, and they will play with a purpose for that reason. Meanwhile, Death Valley is one of the toughest venues in the sport. In my opinion, both of these are toss-ups.
The annual clash with Georgia can go either way as well, but I give the advantage to Florida.
That leaves Missouri and Vanderbilt. The Tigers almost tripped up Florida last season despite a dismal offensive performance. Meanwhile, Driskel single-handedly ran Florida past the Commodores. They are two squads that will be looking for a marquee win in order to solidify their status as legitimate conference contenders.
Florida should have the advantage in both, but the mistakes will need to be kept to a minimum.
All this considered, I expect a 10-2 record by season's end. Florida is still somewhat rebuilding its reputation and prestige. There will be some growing pains in 2013, but they should set up a real run for the title in 2014.
Then again, the Gators proved us wrong last year. Perhaps they will do it again.
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