For those of you who have been living under a rock the past few (read 20) years, Phil Steele (@philsteele042) is considered to be one of the top college football prognosticators in the business. He has been publishing his award winning college football preview magazine since 1995 and guess what? This year he loves our Florida Gators. He currently has them #10 in his power rankings and is predicting them to win the SEC EAST. Here is a excerpt from an exclusive interview (read transcribed from an ESPN interview) with Phil Steele where he talks about the Gators as being this year’s team to greatly exceed expectations. If this doesn’t get you excited for the upcoming season, I don’t know what will.
You know one of my Georgia’s is actually coming out of the SEC East as well and that’s the University of Florida. Now nobody’s talking about Florida because last year they finished 3-5 in the SEC East. And South Carolina and Georgia were both way above them at the top and everybody’s pick for the east this year is either South Carolina or Georgia. But one of the reasons I picked Alabama to win the national title last year was that they had my #1 ranked defense in the country. Well Florida is extremely strong defensively. First off all Will Muschamp last year was in his first year as a head coach. Sometimes that’s a learning experience plus it was his first year back at Florida so he had to learn the players’ strengths and weaknesses, players had to learn new schemes. They only had 3 returning starters on defense last year. You would have expected a step back but instead they only allowed 300 yards per game. There was nothing wrong with the defense despite the fact they were 3-5 in the sec. Well this year they don’t have just 3 returning starters, they’ve got 10 returning starters. In fact they only lose 3 letterman off of last years team. And If you look at the size strength and speed of the players they’ve got my #3 rated defensive line, #5 set of linebackers, #9 set of DBs. Overall I’m calling them the 2nd best defense in the country. And here is a very surprising statement, I’m gonna call them the best defense in the SEC. Because it’s a more veteran unit and its one that was fairly close to both Alabama and LSU but they’ve got more coming back this year.
Now you look at them offensively, they were putting up the points last year. They had 40+ points per game in the first 4 games and they’re giving Alabama a heck of a game in game 5 but then Brantley gets injured. They go to Driskell at QB in the second half. Driskell gets injured at the end of the game. They go into LSU, Death Valley, which is one of the toughest places in college football to play. They take a true freshman in Jacoby Brisset and they say take your first snap from center in a college game, oh by the way it’s on the road at Death Valley against the Honey Badger and company, and naturally he struggled in that game. And then Driskell and Brisset and Brantley were all banged up in the second half of the year and struggled. Their numbers were not great but I like the talent level of both Driskell and Brisset. These were some of the top QBs coming out of high school. They’re big. Driskell is 6’4, 232. Brisset is 6’3, 229. They’re mobile, they both have solid arms. They both know how to run the offense. I think whichever quarterback wins the job will have a much better year especially with my #10 rated offensive line in front of them and an improved running game. So they’re gonna have that improved offense. They don’t have to score 40 points a game with that defense. And then factor in special teams, they have my #1 rated special teams in the country. Sturgis the kicker, Christy at punter, they’ve got Andre Dubose in the return game. Overall they’re a very complete team and an underrated team, one that underperformed last season. Then you factor in the schedule. I’d give them a shot at knocking off LSU on October the 6th. They’ve got a bye the week before the game. And they’re not gonna be playing a true freshman quarterback on the road. This time LSUs got a first time starting quarterback coming into the swamp taking on an excellent defense. They always fare well against Georgia in Jacksonville, and in fact they only have 3 SEC road games this year; at Texas A&M, at Tennessee, and at Vanderbilt. All 3 of those games are winnable, so I think when the dust clears your gonna see Florida in the SEC title game and nobody really expects it.