According to some Gator football players, last year’s team was on the precipice of greatness. On Monday, the Gainesville Sun quoted several rising seniors saying the following:
“I believe this team has a chance to go to the national championship game and I want to be part of something like that,” [Van] Jefferson said.
“We feel we have a legitimate shot to win it all,” [Lamical] Perine said. …
Said [David] Reese: “With the right leadership (from the seniors), we can go all the way this year.” …
“Man, two games,” Reese said [regarding 2018]. “The little things. Couple of games away, a couple of different snaps away, from being a contender. The margin of error is real small.”
So the question in the headline rises: when will the Gators compete for the crown again?
Where they are now
Before looking forward too much, we need to see where the team presently is.
UF finished No. 7 in the AP Poll after going 10-3 with headlining wins over LSU and Michigan and losses to Kentucky, Georgia, and Missouri. The drive-centric FEI system had the Gators 10th, a hair behind playoff participant Notre Dame, while the play-by-play focused S&P+ system had them 13th, a smidge behind LSU. The venerable Sagarin ratings also had them 13th, a hair behind Texas A&M.
The 247Sports Team Talent Composite, which adds up the recruiting rankings of everyone on a team’s roster, had Florida at 12th in the country. The Gators edged out Penn State for the spot.
So, tossing out the AP voters, the advanced systems had Florida between 10th and 13th in the country. The talent ratings put them at about 12th. UF probably was about where it should’ve been.
What is a championship roster?
How many great players does a team actually need to compete for a national title? I’d put the number around 32 — 16 on each side of the ball — if the team has perfect injury luck.
On offense you need the starting 11, and I’m assuming a one running back, one tight end, three wide receiver package as the base. You then need a backup tailback to spell the starter, a second tight end for heavy sets, and a fourth wide receiver for passing downs. I’ll then toss in a skill position guy who can do multiple things and a utility lineman to cover for when someone inevitable misses some snaps. Even assuming perfect injury luck in football pretty much means one lineman or another will go down for a time.
On defense, the main 3-3-5 package will have the starters. Then add another linebacker for heavier 3-4 sets, a sixth defensive back for dime situations, and two more linemen for rotating.
That’s your 32. Maybe make it 34 to include a punter and kicker, though UF has that pretty well covered with Evan McPherson and Tommy Townsend. Setting them aside, does Florida have a good enough top 32?