The Florida Gators were the surprise of the SEC in Jim McElwain’s first season last year. They managed to go 7-1 within the conference to earn a trip to the SEC Championship Game, where they lost to Alabama by a final of 29-15.

But they were very fortunate to win as many games as they did. They needed overtime to beat Florida Atlantic at home, and then were overwhelmed in their final three games of the season against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. They lost to those three teams by a combined 73 points.

Now McElwain will have to deal with expectations in his second season. He only returns 12 starters from last year’s team, but they will benefit from being in Year 2 of his systems. Let’s see if the Gators can repeat as SEC East champs in 2016.

Last Season
SEC East
Record
ATS Record
Over/Under
Points For
Points Against
1st
10-4 (7-2 SEC)
7-6-1
6-8
23.2
18.3
2016 Florida Gators Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/3 UMass
9/10 Kentucky
9/17 North Texas
9/24 @ Tennessee
10/1 @ Vanderbilt
10/8 LSU
10/15 Missouri
10/29 Georgia (Jacksonville)
11/5 @ Arkansas
11/12 South Carolina
11/19 Presbyterian
11/26 @ Florida State
Estimated Wins: TBD
Offense

McElwain is known as an offensive mind, but he didn’t get much from this side of the ball last year. The Gators only managed 23.2 points and 334 total yards per game. They return six starters on offense and will need to show some big-time improvement.

The QB position was the biggest issue as the offense took a dive once Will Grier was suspended. Treon Harris just didn’t get it done in his absence, and now he has transferred. That leaves a fierce QB battle heading into the fall with junior Luke Del Rio, a transfer from Oregon State, likely the leading candidate to take over. He’ll have to fend off Purdue transfer Austin Applebee and a pair of true freshmen in Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.

The Gators lose leading rusher Kelvin Taylor (1,035 yards, 13 TD last year). Taking his place should be talented JUCO transfer Mark Thompson. He’s an SEC back with good size at 6’2″ and 242 pounds and runs behind his pads with good speed.

Two of the top three receivers are back from last year in Antonio Callaway (35 receptions, 678 yards, 4 TD) and Brandon Powell (29, 390, 3 TD). Senior Ahmad Fulwood figures to take over a starting role alone with TE DeAndre Goolsby (17, 277, 1 TD).

The line should be the strength of the offense with three starters and 43 career starts returning. This should be one of the most improved units in the country. This unit consisted of mostly freshmen and sophomores last year, but now they are a year older and ready to take the next step after paving the way for only 127 rushing yards per game and 3.5 per carry while allowing 46 sacks in 2015.

Defense

You can always count on Florida having one of the best defenses in the country, and last year was no exception. The defense allowed a mere 18.3 points and 310 yards per game while carrying the Gators to the SEC East title. They now return six starters and four of their top seven tacklers.

The Gators lose their top two defensive linemen to the NFL in Jonathan Bullard (66 tackles, 17.5 for loss) and Alex McCallister (26 tackles, 6.5 sacks). However, they do bring back eight of their top 10 and should stay healtheri than they did a year ago. The starters will be DE Bryan Cox (45 tackles, 10.5 for loss), NT Joey Ivie (27 tackles, 3.5 sacks), DT Caleb Brantley (29 tackles, 6.5 for loss) and DE CeCe Jefferson (29 tackles, 8.5 for loss).

The linebacker corps is probably the biggest question mark for the Gators on this side of the ball. They lose their top guy in Alex Morrison (103 tackles, 12 for loss), who was taken in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts. Brian Poole (40 tackles, 10 pass break-ups) has also moved on to the NFL. Senior Jarrad Davis (98 tackles, 11 for loss) is the lone returning starter. Alex Anzalone started the first two games last year before being lost for the season due to injury. Anzalone returns healthy, and senior Damien McMillian (23 tackles) figures to take on a starting role. Depth is the biggest concern here behind these three.

Florida will have one of the best secondaries in the country. It gave up just 54.4% completions and 182 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks last season. It does lose a pair of players in CB Vernon Hargreaves and S Keanu Neal to the first round of the NFL Draft, but returns third-team All-American CB Jalen Tabor (40 tackles, 14 pass break-ups, 4 INT) and second-team All-SEC S Marcus Maye (82 tackles, 2 INT). Also back is CB Quincy Wilson (29 tackles, 2 INT) and S Nick Washington (28 tackles).

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Regular Season Win Total
SEC East Odds
SEC Championship Odds
4-Team Playoff Odds
National Championship Odds
8
+480
+1800
+1100
+5500
Season Predictions

I believe the Gators were very lucky last year to win the SEC East. They sneaked by Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt within the conference and easily could have lost all three of those games. They also barely beat both East Carolina and Florida Atlantic at home out of conference.

I expect a big drop-off from the Gators in 2016 as they won’t have such great fortune in close games again. We saw how they stacked up against the big boys in FSU, Alabama and Michigan last year. That will be a sign of things to come. The offense has huge question marks at QB and likely won’t be much improved at all. The defense will have a hard time matching last year’s impressive numbers, especially with the lack of depth at linebacker.

The Gators do have a pretty favorable schedule as they only have three true SEC road games considering they play Georgia on a neutral field. But two of those are at Arkansas and Tennessee. While the Gators have won 11 straight meetings with the Vols, I expect sweet revenge in blowout fashion by Tennessee this year at home after blowing a two-touchdown lead in the 4th quarter last year on the road. The Gators will finish 7-5 overall and 4-4 in SEC play for 3rd place in the East.

2016 Projections
SEC East
SEC Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
3rd
4-4
7-5
Under 8
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