- Sept. 3: at West Virginia (win probability: 33%)
- Sept. 10: Eastern Michigan (91%)
- Sept. 17: Georgia (33%)
- Sept. 24: Delaware State (100%)
- Oct. 1: at LSU (9%)
After facing the toughest road trip on the 2016 schedule, Mizzou gets a bye week, then makes another tough trip. Granted, Gainesville has been pretty kind to the Tigers thus far -- a pretty iffy MU team nearly beat an 11-win Florida team there in 2012, then a better team whooped the Gators (with help from return scores) in 2014 — but a pretty nasty defense will once again await Mizzou in The Swamp.
Here are some key things to know from my 2016 SBN Florida preview, which went up last week.
1. Another new quarterback
After getting an exciting glimpse of Grier, Florida will start either Oregon State's 2014 backup, a part-time Purdue starter, or a true freshman. It will probably be the former -- sophomore and two-time transferee Luke Del Rio -- but I listed four because, well, Florida tends to start more than one QB per season. Due to injury, transfer and general ineffectiveness, the Gators have been drastically unstable under center. [...]
The best-case scenario is that Del Rio not only secures the job but holds onto it. He might struggle at times, but if he can simply prove he's worthy of the job, Florida's future begins to look pretty exciting. The Gator offense is almost senior-free, with sophomores and a JUCO transfer leading the way at running back, sophomores and juniors at receiver, and sophomores and juniors on the line.
However the offense performs in 2016, it could improve in 2017 and again in 2018. And the defense doesn't really look like it plans on dropping off anytime soon. But we've seen this potential trajectory before, and it only lasted until the next quarterback implosion.
Since the preview, it was confirmed that Del Rio will be the starter to begin the season. And that might be just fine for the Gators -- he has looked the part in spring and quickly secured the job in fall camp. Florida is desperate for leadership from the QB position (it’s been a while), and the bar is going to be set pretty high for Del Rio, a two-time transfer.
2. Del Rio’s supporting cast is ultra young
If QB is steady, Florida can move on to its next problem: youth. No returning running back has more than 181 career rushing yards, and the passing game must replace four of last year's top seven targets. Potentially the three most effective receiving options return, but inexperience is a massive concern.
Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite are four-star sophomores who got their feet wet in 2015; they're joined by hulking four-star JUCO transfer Mark Thompson. Unless opponents are still able to load the box with defenders because of a lack of respect for the passing game, there appears to be a lot of potential.
It's the same story in the receiving corps. Seniors Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson could end up playing a larger role, but they are the only players not scheduled to return next fall. Antonio Callaway (who's currently suspended) had some brilliant moments as a freshman last fall. Juniors Brandon Powell and tight end DeAndre Goolsby, meanwhile, had a nice rapport with Grier before fading.
Callaway’s situation (per the link) is pretty awkward at the moment, and who knows if he will be available. Powell has shown flashes when healthy, and he could be immensely important, whether Callaway’s around or not.
Meanwhile, the most interesting player on the Florida offense could be Thompson. He looks like he was carved out of granite, and if he’s able to provide a clear efficiency option for a new QB, the passing game could have some weight lifted off of its shoulders. Florida couldn’t run last year and couldn’t pass by the end of the season either. We’ll see how much that’s changed.
3. Run defense should still be stout
The Gators didn't (and don't) have the biggest defensive line, which showed in short-yardage, but they were sixth overall in Rushing S&P+, and Jonathan Bullard and Antonio Morrison had a huge role in that.
Still, Joey Ivie and Khairi Clark are immense at the nose, and Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan are strong. And in Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis (7.5 non-sack TFLs in 2015), and company, the linebacking corps appears experienced and fast. Again, there's a leap of faith here; we have to assume that Anzalone breaks through, that players like Bryan and Clark are ready for more responsibility, etc.
There’s been quite a bit of turnover for the Florida defense, but it’s hard to worry too much. Geoff Collins is a fun, aggressive defensive coordinator, and he’s got a lot of athletes at his disposal. And he’s got enough of them in the front seven that I’m going to guess the Gators still flow to the ball awfully well.
4. This might be the first Mizzou opponent with a better run defense than pass defense
If a problem emerges for Florida's defense in 2016, it will probably come from iffy depth in the secondary. Six players with at least 7.5 tackles return, and all of them are either juniors or seniors. And in Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye, the Gators have at least a couple of proven entities. But in theory, they are just a couple of injuries away from playing newcomers.
That's a reach, though. This is going to be a really good defense. Again. Depth and experience should result in improvement on standard downs, and that should account for any sort of passing downs regression that might take place with new (and experienced) starters in the secondary.
The secondary lost Vernon Hargreaves III, easily the most renowned of Florida defenders, but Tabor’s still awfully good. Still, if given the option, you might choose to prod the pass defense instead of the run. After games against Georgia and LSU, which have nasty secondaries but questions up front, this might be a shift.
5. Sandwich game!
Mizzou will be coming off of a bye week, and Florida will be catching the Tigers right after a visit from LSU and right before the rivalry game against Georgia. That’s pretty much perfect for the Tigers, but based on what we know about each squad, it’s clear that Florida should still be considered a healthy favorite. Mizzou won’t be intimidated by its surroundings, but it will still be an underdog.
S&P+ projection: Florida by 12.9 | Mizzou win probability: 23%