Florida Gators gain ‘early’ 2013 love

Another “way too early” 2013 college football ranking has the Florida Gators among the top-10 teams nationally.

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples slots the Gators at No. 9, which is the fourth highest SEC team in his rankings. Like most, Staples projects defending national champion Alabama in the top spot and has Heisman Trophy hyped Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at No. 2. South Carolina comes in at No. 8.

Staples covered Florida’s 33-23 Sugar Bowl loss against Louisville — he has the Cardinals at No. 7 — and was a regular at Gators’ football games this past season when they finished 11-2 this past season.

Here’s what Staples writes in his reasoning behind Florida’s ranking:

The Gators do not receive the Clemson Memorial Overreaction to a Bowl Loss Ranking because a regular-season improvement from 6-6 in 2011 to 11-1 in 2012 has to count for something. Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebacker Jelani Jenkins left early for the draft, but the Gators still bring back plenty of talent. Defensive end Dominique Easley returns, and fellow end Ronald Powell should be recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2012 spring game. Meanwhile, transfers Tyler Moore (Nebraska) and Max Garcia (Maryland) will be eligible to play and should contribute to an offensive line that got much better in 2012.

Why this ranking could be too low: If the Gators somehow assemble as many quality wins in 2013 as they did in 2012, they should at least be playing for the SEC title.

Why this ranking could be too high: Maybe the Sugar Bowl wasn’t as fluky a performance as it seemed. If quarterback Jeff Driskel doesn’t become a more dynamic passer, the line will have to dominate or defenses will be able to stuff the Gators.

Staples makes some intriguing points, especially the last line about the defenses possibly being able to stuff the Gators. One of Florida’s major point of emphasis this offseason is to develop consistently in the passing game in order not to be a one-dimensional offense, or exactly that could happen in 2013.

Florida did lose several key cogs on defense but appears to have quality replacements ready to step in to continue the defense’s success under coach Will Muschamp. The Gators were No. 5 nationally in total defense in 2012 after finishing eighth nationally in the same category in 2011, Muschamp’s first season.

The offensive line also should be much improved thanks to transfers like Moore and Garcia to go along with returners Jonnotthan Harrison, Jon Halapio, Chaz Green and DJ Humphries. There are also prized signees such as Trenton Brown, a 6-foot-8, 350-pound behemoth, that should help up front.

In other words, the Gators’ at No. 9 certainly makes sense, although an argument could be made that they are better than the fourth best team in the SEC.

Georgia is No. 11 and LSU is No. 14 to round out the six SEC teams in Staples’ rankings.

It’s at least the third early 2013 preseason rankings that feature Florida among the top-10.

CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd has the Gators at No. 8 and made waves last week by putting Texas A&M in the No. 1 spot. USA Today’s Paul Myerberg has Florida pegged at No. 5 in his “early top 25.”

Athlon Sports has Florida at No. 11 in its “very early” college football Top 25.

The Gators are scheduled to wrap up spring practices with the Orange & Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 6. The 2013 season kicks off Aug. 31 with a home game against Toledo.


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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.