Florida entered the season ranked 23rd in the country in both the AP and the USA Today/Coaches preseason polls.
Many writers, bloggers, analysts and fans projected the Gators to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record and unranked or ranked near the bottom of the polls.
However, the Gators have surprised almost everyone.
Florida sits at a strong 7-0 record, ranked second in the BCS and is almost through the October schedule gauntlet.
The 2012 Gators, statistically, are better in almost every category than last season’s team. However, there are five very important statistics that have catapulted Florida from a mediocre walkover to a national championship contender in just one year.
1. Total defense against ranked opponents: The Gators are currently No. 1 in the country in total defense against teams ranked in the AP poll. The Gators are currently giving up only 241.7 yards on defense and 3.92 yards per play. Comparatively, second place Alabama gives up nearly 28 more yards per game, or nearly one full yard more per play. The Gators are 3-0 against teams ranked in the AP top 25 and have improved more than 71 yards per game over last season in the same statistical category, when Florida went 0-5 against ranked opponents.
2. Turnover margin: How bad was Florida’s turnover margin in 2011? There were 112 teams that fared better than the lowly Gators. At an atrocious minus-12 turnover margin on the season last year, Florida needed a drastic improvement to if it wanted to be a contender in 2012. The Gators responded in a big way. The 2012 Gators are currently plus-11 on the season, or plus-23 over last season, the biggest improvement from last season of any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. While Florida has already caused more turnovers this season — 15 to 14 — in six less games, the Gators are also protecting the ball much better. Florida has given up only four offensive turnovers, tied for second in the country, compared to 86th in the country last year in lost turnovers.
3. Punting: It seems so simple, but the Gators are averaging more than eight yards more per punt than last season at an average of 47.9 yards per punt. It’s an improvement from ranking 71st in the country a year ago to first. The biggest improvement, however, has been Kyle Christy’s precision, with 13 of Christy’s punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Christy, is in my opinion, the most improved player from last year and Will Muschamp has had glowing praise for his punter, saying, “His leg and him being able to flip the field and control the vertical field position has been critical to our success here this season.”
4. Rushing: Gators fans entered the 2012 season excited to see a new rushing attack led by Mike Gillislee and mobile quarterback Jeff Driskel. Last year, Florida’s running attack, led by Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, ranked 73rd in the country in average yards per game with 143 yards. Comparatively, this season the Gators saw a marked improvement averaging 212.71 yards per game — the 25th highest output in the country. Florida has also seen the average rush increase from a 2011 average of 3.96 yards to 4.67 yards in 2012. Looking back on Gillislee’s prediction of a 1,500-yard, 24-touchdown season — it doesn’t seem too far off, as he is on track for 1303.96 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns if Florida makes it to the SEC Championship.
5. Red zone conversions: Last season the Gators struggled scoring touchdowns in the red zone, converting only 48.6 percent and were ranked 113th in the country. This season the Gators have improved drastically, but still have room for improvement. The Gators rank 51st in the country, scoring touchdowns approximately 62.9 percent of the time they enter the red zone. Overall, Florida improved its scoring percentage in the red zone from 86.4 percent, or 36th in the country in 2011, to 92.5 percent in 2012, or ninth in the country.
The Gators haven’t won the SEC East yet, but if they keep these numbers up, you can’t ignore their chances at an undefeated regular season.