Using scoring to project how many games Florida may win in 2023

I don’t gamble, but I do use some of the numbers that sports books put out as a way of discerning the conventional wisdom about teams. If the sharps in Vegas want about equal action on both sides of bets to ensure their profit margins, then hitting the general consensus is the best way to go about it.

Several books recently put out win totals for 2023, which cover the 12 regular season games only. The idea is you bet on whether a team will be over or under that number of wins, so they’re always framed as something-point-five wins so that teams don’t hit their win totals exactly and result in all the wagers being returned.

The line I see everywhere for Florida in 2023 is 5.5 wins. They’re asking you to bet on whether the Gators make a bowl or not.

The most common way to guess a team’s win total is to go down the schedule and look for sure wins, sure losses, and relative tossups. UF has one of the toughest schedules in the country this year, so the only sure wins are McNeese State and Charlotte. Georgia is perhaps the only sure loss, but LSU, Tennessee, and FSU are likely to be in or near preseason top tens. Utah will be in the teens and is a road game this year, and none of the SEC slate seems like a sure win if the Gators were capable of losing to Vandy last year.

If Florida drops all five games to those teams I just listed as being preseason favorites, they’ll need to go 6-1 against the rest to hit the over. If they get a win against one of the toughest five, they still need to go 5-2 against the rest to get to a bowl. That’ll be against a group of teams that include a Kentucky team that UF has struggled with for years, a South Carolina team that beat Clemson last year, and a road game in Missouri that’ll likely be in the kind of cold weather that historically kills UF squads. It doesn’t take long to see how getting to six wins might be a struggle.

Another way to look at it, however, is to use points scored and points allowed to project winning percentage. I’ve used this method a few times at Gator Country over the years, first introduced here if you want to see how it works. It’s a solid formula, and you just have to give it those point totals or averages to get a reasonable expectation of a record.

For this piece, I’m only going to be looking at regular season results because the win totals are about the regular season, and postseason games don’t always reflect on how a team performed all season. Last year’s bowl game with all of the missing players is a good illustration.

Anyway, Florida averaged 31.8 points scored and 28.8 points allowed in the 2022 regular season. The former is one of the best figures for the Gators this century without Dan Mullen on the sideline. The latter is, as you know, one of the worst regardless.

Put them together, and you get an expected winning percentage of .559, which across 12 games comes out to 6.7 wins. The Gators won six regular season games, so they were pretty close. Anything within a game of expectation means good or bad luck didn’t significantly swing the season.

Billy Napier and staff did a lot of good portal work on the defensive side of the ball, and new coordinator Austin Armstrong will call a more aggressive game. There are still depth and youth questions in places, such as the safety position. I do expect the defense to improve, but by how much is a question.

I think the best we can reasonably expect is the level of improvement Florida had going from 2017 to 2018. The ’17 defense gave up 27.3 per game, but under new management and with a lot of players a year older and more experienced, the ’18 unit allowed 20.4 per game. It was an improvement of about a touchdown per contest.

If the offense scores the same amount as a year ago — I know, we’ll get there — but the defense improves from 28.8 to 21.8 points per game allowed, we’re looking at an expectation of 8.5 wins. That’ll cash the over on the win total with plenty of room to spare. If things aren’t so rosy and the defense only makes half that level of improvement to 25.3 points allowed per game, it’s still an expectation of 7.5 wins.

Now, I do think the offense will drop some without Anthony Richardson’s amazing athleticism behind center. It’s debatable by how much, since he had some real stinkers mixed in with his occasional brilliance, but let’s cap the regression by the same touchdown per game for simplicity’s sake.

If the offense does falter by a TD per game, that’ll drop them to 24.8 points per game. With the full potential defensive improvement to 21.8 PPG, you get an expectation of 6.9 wins. It’s a smidge better than last year. With only the half defensive improvement to 25.3, you’re still slightly favoring the over on the win total at 5.9 expected wins. It’s only when you take the full offensive fall and no defensive improvement that you land at 4.95 expected wins.

I’ve seen more than a couple folks suggest that this year’s attack will remind us all of the 2016 offense because of the quarterback situation. When people see Graham Mertz and Jack Miller, they can’t help but also see Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. In the regular season, that team only managed 22.1 points per game.

If you drop your projected scoring for 2023 to that level, you need the full defensive improvement to get to 6.1 expected wins. A half-touchdown defensive improvement only gets us to 5.1 wins, and no defensive improvement at all lands us at 4.2 expected wins. That kind of offensive collapse is how you get to the doom scenarios.

I do think that those depths are not particularly likely. I don’t think Richardson as he was in 2022 is a full nine points per game better than Mertz, the likely starting quarterback. As I mentioned, AR was very up-and-down. His poor play very likely cost the team the extremely winnable game against Kentucky, for instance.

And while I certainly don’t expect Mertz to turn into the next Joe Burrow, Wisconsin never averaged fewer than 25 points per game with him as its starter. No, the competition wasn’t as stiff as what the Gators face this year, but the Badgers did not have the talent or athleticism that Florida will have on the offensive side this year either.

In the situation where the defense is at least a field goal per game better and Mertz is the same fine-but-not-great quarterback he was up north, these calculations would lead you to favor Florida at least getting to the same six wins it had last year. I know that’s not going to get anyone excited, but it might take more bad stuff happening than you might think for Florida to hit the under on that win total line.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2