May isn’t even over, but we’re already into the college football preseason. Preview magazines are starting to hit newsstands, and online betting houses are putting up win totals and early game lines.
I don’t recommend gambling, and certainly not with money you can’t afford to lose, but the Vegas/offshore products are useful for setting expectations a lot of the time. Anything in, say, February is bait for dumb money, but now that we’re past spring practice and most of the portal decisions have been made, we’re getting to a point where projections have value.
At first glance, that seems low. But you’re not here for a glance, are you? Let’s dig a little deeper to figure out which side the smart money should take.
Florida went 6-6 in the regular season. Here are the schedule changes:
- Non-conference: drop FAU and Samford, add Utah and Eastern Washington. USF goes from road to home, FSU from home to road.
- SEC rotation: drop home vs. Alabama, add road vs. Texas A&M
- SEC regulars: home vs. Kentucky, Missouri, LSU and South Carolina; road vs. Tennessee and Vandy; switch sidelines in Jacksonville vs. Georgia
It is a tougher slate of games. Replacing FAU with reigning Pac-12 champ Utah takes a game from a sure win to a very real potential loss. A&M won’t be as good a team as Alabama was last year, but some of that is mitigated by a site change from the Swamp to Kyle Field.
Also, a lot of folks are high on Tennessee for this year, I guess because they firebombed South Alabama and Vanderbilt late in the year. And squeaked out a 45-42 win over Kentucky in November. The rest of their back half of the season was losing to Ole Miss and getting blown out by Bama and Georgia, plus losing the bowl to Purdue. Anyway, if you think the Vols will be better, getting them on the road isn’t great.
Some of the changes do go in UF’s way, though. Given the choice for 2022, I’d prefer to have LSU home and FSU on the road. Brian Kelly should raise the floor quickly at LSU, and he clearly has been a better head coach so far than Mike Norvell. The betting houses also have both LSU and FSU at 6.5 for their over/under win totals, so they’re expected to be tossups. Give me the better coach at home, please.
How the losses happened last year
A repeat of last year’s six-win, six-loss performance would hit the under on the bet. But how much did it take for the Gators to actually lose six games a year ago?
- Loss 1: 31-29 to future national title game participant Alabama. No shame there.
- Loss 2: 20-13 at UK, which was a Mullen conservative road play calling special with more than ten offensive line penalties. Plus the Wildcats got touchdown off a blocked field goal return and a short field following a pick.
- Loss 3: 49-42 to LSU in a “Todd Grantham what the **** are you doing?” special. Plus, they still almost came back to tie it late despite losing the turnover battle 4-0.
- Loss 4: 34-7 to Georgia. It was never going to be a win, but it would’ve been closer if not for an epic offensive meltdown before the half.
- Loss 5: 40-17 at South Carolina. The Gators let UGA beat them twice by not showing up the next week.
- Loss 6: 24-23 in overtime at Missouri. One last Mullen conservative road play calling special to send himself off by.
We’ll have to see how Napier turns out as a play caller. He may also get tight and conservative in road games like Mullen did, and if he does, that alone could turn last year’s win over Tennessee into a loss. However, Florida simply has fewer road games this year, and one of them is Vandy. If you aren’t expecting a win over the Aggies, then this issue really only affects one game in 2022 instead of the two it did in 2021.
Having a more competent defensive coordinator solves the big problem in another of the losses. A better team culture where everyone shows up every week solves the South Carolina problem, and arguably some more of the Missouri problem too.
The point of this section is to catalog the things that Florida did to drag itself down last year: turtling on offense away from home, bad defensive strategy, motivational and discipline problems, etc. The new staff has solved some of them already, and the psychological issues that plagued the team late last year probably won’t be a problem in the first year of a new regime.
Show your work
BetOnline currently only has Week 1 game lines, and it has UF a 1.5-point underdog to Utah. FanDuel has a larger set covering notable games throughout the year. It has the Gators favored by 1.5 points against Utah, four points against Kentucky, and three points against LSU while an underdog by 15 points to Georgia, seven points to A&M, and two points to FSU.
If those FanDuel lines became a reality and the expected happens against USF, EWU, and Vanderbilt, then to hit the under Florida would have to drop all three of its games against Tennessee, Missouri, and South Carolina. That seems quite unlikely to me, even as the Gamecocks have a much better quarterback with Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler.
Thing is, the Utah, LSU, and FSU lines are basically tossups. UK is close to being one too. Teams that are favorites by a field goal or less aren’t exactly locks to pull out wins.
There is a lot of uncertainty inherent in a head coach’s first year, especially when it’s his first P5 gig. Plus a lot of Florida’s fortunes for ’22 depend on the health of Anthony Richardson, Gervon Dexter, and the starting offensive line. Richardson’s past history makes him especially dicey.
That said, Florida wasn’t as bad as its record indicated last year. They put up some real stinkers by playing well below their potential, but their potential was fairly high.
Even with the no-show in Carolina and penalty follies against UK and absence of defense against LSU and milquetoast game plan against Missouri, the Gators still finished 30th in SP+ last year. SP+ includes bowl performances (though not FCS games), so you can toss the listless loss to UCF on the pile here too.
By comparison: Kentucky was 23rd, FSU was 53rd, LSU was 65th, South Carolina was 66th, and Missouri was 69th. UF was a mere 2.3 points behind a UK team that actually tried hard all year, and it was comfortably better than three of the teams it lost to and one it’s an underdog to this year according to FanDuel. Those teams have done things to improve, but UF will naturally improve by having better leadership and motivation all year long. Heck, last year the Gators were only 4.2 points behind that Pac-12 champ Utah.
It’s been a slow and grinding process — and a remarkably cyclical one too — but the floor has been coming up since Florida well and truly bottomed out in 2013. The ’13 team went 4-8 with a 7-win season the next. Four years after the low, the 2017 team would’ve gone 5-7 if not for a hurricane canceling a cupcake game. They went 10-3 the next year. Then four years after the ’17 low, they went 6-6 in 2021. The lows haven’t been as low each time.
That doesn’t mean UF is a lock to surpass the nine regular season wins of 2018, particularly since that team didn’t have a non-conference opponent as formidable as Utah this year. However, I do think it’s pretty naive to copy and past last year’s record and call it a day.
It takes more than simply being Florida to win championships, but it does take a lot to get Florida down to as low as six wins. The program simply getting out of its own way a lot better than it did in 2021 will get the Gators to seven or eight wins, and that’s not even counting what a Richardson fulfilling his potential would mean. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll take the over.