Vegas odds on Florida football

My heart is in Las Vegas. The lights, the sounds and the food are second to none. However, behind the neon lights, picturesque hotels and all-you-can-eat buffets there are some of the smartest people in the world – Vegas odds makers.

Vegas odds makers carefully and intricately rely on a statistical algorithm that projects a certain outcome; a series of tangible statistical figures amalgamated with intangibles, such as home-field advantage, create a line for bettors.

Despite an economics degree, I’ve never been a huge statistics guy. In fact, actuarial science would probably be the last career path I would ever take. However, I will try to evaluate some statistical history and intangibles and place odds on the Florida Gators football season and achieving certain goals. (All lines will be fractional odds.)

Odds Mike Gillislee will run for at least 1,500 yards? 30/1

During SEC Media Days, Mike Gillislee provided his projection for the season: “1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.” While you can respect his confidence, the likeliness of achieving the feat seems low.

Gillislee, who has 920 career rushing yards on 145 carries will be the feature back for the Florida Gators for the first time in his career. While his 6.3 yards per carry is outstanding, the numbers likely won’t transition when he is carrying the ball more than 200 times in one season.

Further, there is no assurance Mike Gillislee will be given the ball enough to rush for 1,500 yards, with Mack Brown, Chris Johnson and Hunter Joyer, also carrying the ball this season

For perspective, the Gators haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2004 (Ciatrick Faison) and only one running back ever has eclipsed the 1,500-yard mark (Emmitt Smith). Further, Brent Pease’s offense has never finished greater than 40th nationally in rushing and has only had two running backs eclipse the 1,000-yard marker in a season.

I respect Mike Gillislee’s confidence, but can’t buy 1,500 yards.

Odds the Gators have a 1,000-yard receiver? 35/1

Exactly 10 seasons ago, the Gators had their last 1,000-yard receiver: Taylor Jacobs. Since then, the Gators have had a few players eclipse the 900-yard mark, but fell short, and once again the Gators will likely again fall short for two reasons.

Primarily, the Gators, likely, don’t have a target that could eclipse the number. The Gators wide receivers have been underperforming for the last two seasons, with Andre Debose leading the team in 2011 with only 432 yards receiving and Deonte Thompson leading the team in 2010 with 570 yards. Whereas the Gators should have a more solid core of receiving threats, with freshman Latroy Pittman and redshirt sophomore Quinton Dunbar having the potential of stepping up, the Gators simply don’t have the threat to reach 1,000 yards.

Second, the Brent Pease offense, a West Coast offense, is more about spreading the football to a host of targets, rather than just to two or three main receivers. Last season, Boise State had nine receivers with more than 19 receptions. Spreading the football around keeps opposing teams honest with coverage, but limits the opportunity to reach 1,000 yards.

Odds the Gators will have a quarterback throw for more than 2,700-yards?  10/1

While the starting quarterback for the Gators is yet to be named, many believe Jacoby Brissett is leading the charge.  However, for arguments sake, we will analyze both Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel individually, because if they each get substantial playing time the likelihood of reaching 2,700 yards would near 400/1 odds.

Jacoby Brissett, while he has the poise of a great leader and is not afraid to stand in the pocket, struggled mightily last season connecting with wide receivers (yes, I know he was a freshman with a shotty offensive line). During seven games in 2011, he completed 18-of-39 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions, with a career high of 94 passing yards against LSU. His 46.2 percent completion mark is decent and will likely improve — Brissett’s biggest struggle has been connecting with the deep ball. If you take out his 65-yard pass against LSU, Brissett only averaged 8.29 yards per reception. The Orange & Blue Debut could be an indicator of his improved season, connecting on 9-of-16 passes for 233 yards. If Brissett can improve his accuracy on the deep ball, the improved offensive line should allow Brissett to have more time to improve his stats. However, I am not quite sold on 2,700 yards this season.

Jeff Driskel is a great athlete. The 6-foot-4, 237-pound QB moves great for his size. However, his check-down and run-first mentality will hinder his ability to gain 2,700 yards this season, if he is the starting quarterback. During his five games of 2011, Driskel completed 16-of-34 passes for 148 yards with zero touchdowns and 2 interceptions, with his longest pass only 22 yards. The former Gatorade Florida Player of the Year will have his work cut out for him if he wants to eclipse the 2,700-yard mark. While there was great improvement shown during the Orange & Blue Debut (12-of-14 for 147 yards) for Driskel; he still opted to check down his deep receivers and find the closest target, a problem for his entire first season. His desire to not throw the ball deep, whether it is a lack of confidence and ability deficiency, could hinder the Gators offense and not allow Driskel to hit the 2,700-yard mark.

Further, the Gators will likely have a much more prolific running attack with Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown, Chris Johnson and Hunter Joyer getting carries, which could hinder any quarterback’s yardage.

Odds the Gators have a top-10 defense? 1/3

During the 2011 season, the first season under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators ranked 8th in total defense. One could argue, however, the Gators got significantly better for 2012. The Gators only lost three seniors, William Green, Jaye Howard and Moses Jenkins, with Jaye Howard being the only significant loss with 65 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

The Gators will start 10 starters from 2011 this season.

The three things that will keep the Gators in the top-10:

1. The Gators’ secondary has improved greatly. Second-year starter Marcus Roberson, who started as a true freshman, developed as a solid, shutdown corner. Potential All-American Matt Elam will return at the safety position, with proven safeties Joshua Evans and De’Ante “Pop” Saunders returning opposite. However, the greatest improvements will be in the rise of the Gators’ depth. The starting cornerback opposite of Marcus Roberson is gridlocked, with Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and Jeremy Brown all capable, and freshman Brian Poole vying for playing time. Moreover, the Gators have a very solid safety in Jabari Gorman backing up Josh Evans, with redshirt freshman and former Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year Valdez Showers also competing for playing time. The Gators should expect at least 12 interceptions from the secondary this season.

2. Sharrif Floyd will move back to his more dominant position at defensive tackle. Despite being the top ranked defensive tackle of in high school, Floyd had to fill in at defensive end last season due to depth. However, Floyd is back to his natural position and showed what he could do at the position during the Gator Bowl against Ohio State, when he recorded 1.5 sacks after not recording one all season.

3. The continued emergence of the Gators’ linebacking core. The Gators return all three 2011 starters (Jon Bostic, Darrin Kitchens and Jelani Jenkins) and a fourth major contributor, Michael Taylor, who combined for 226 tackles. Further, the Gators added star freshman Antonio Morrison, who accumulated nine tackles during the Orange & Blue Debut. The Gators should also expect contributions from Gideon Ajagbe, Neiron Ball and freshman Jeremi Powell to create one of the most dominant middle cores in college football.

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Dan Thompson is a 2010 graduate of the University Florida, graduating with a degree in Economics and a degree in Political Science. During this time at UF, Dan worked three years for the Florida Gator Football team as a recruiting ambassador. Dan dealt daily with prospects, NCAA guidelines, and coaching staff. Dan was also involved in Florida Blue Key, Student Government and Greek Life. Currently, Dan oversees the IT consulting practice of a Tampa-based company. Dan enjoys golfing, country music, bourbon, travel, oysters, and a medium-rare steak. Dan can be found on Twitter at @DK_Thompson.