When Phil Steele comes out with his annual preseason top-40 list, the college football world pays attention. The famous (and extremely accurate) prognosticator ranked the Florida Gators as his 24th best team in the country heading into the season.
At first look, most fans would think that coming off of a 4-8 season, ranking the Gators anywhere near the top-25 would be a ludicrous proposition. However, the prognostication holds weight when coming from Steele, who has accurately predicted against consensus when it comes to Florida — and been right.
In 2012, the Gators were listed at No. 23 in the preseason AP poll and picked to finish third in the SEC East. Steele picked the Gators as his No. 10 team in the country and ranked Florida atop the SEC East. Last season, the AP ranked Florida No. 10 in their preseason poll, Steele had the Gators ranked No. 18 before the team ultimately finished outside the top 25.
Steele’s recent picks have bucked the national consensus when it comes to Florida and ranking a team that just missed a bowl game in the top-25 will make sure he does just that again this season. However, it isn’t a blind pick or a bet that Steele lost with his buddies that has him rank the Gators so high.
“It was their first losing season [since 1979] and first non-bowl [season since 1990],” Steele writes. “Naturally all of my key indicators are pointing up and the Gators are an easy pick for my Most Improved List. They are +5.0 in the Stock Market Indicator, had 4 net close losses LY and -4 net upsets. They also have 14 returning starters and can only remain healthier. UF does draw both LSU and Bama out of the West but it should be a bounce back year.”
Steele is right about the injuries — knock on wood, but not too hard that you hurt your hand and miss the season opener. Florida’s injury plagued season was an anomaly that sent Will Muschamp on a hunt, talking to doctors, trainers and surgeons around the country trying to find out if there was something different he could do to keep his players healthy.
Assuming the injury bug won’t hit Florida like they did a season ago, Steele believes this Gator team has what it takes to make a significant turn around on the field in 2014.
Steele points to the depth at running back if Matt Jones can return to full strength and a receiving group led by Quinton Dunbar, Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood that has nowhere to go but up.
Of course, there is also the defense, Muschamp’s bread and butter. Steele believes this Gator defense will resemble the smash mouth group of 2012 rather than the defense that allowed a first time starter in Maty Mauk to lead the Missouri Tigers to more than 500 yards against Florida.
It’s June, so prognostications are early and won’t be proven right or wrong for months but when it comes to prognosticating, there is nobody better than Phil Steele.