This season the Sunshine Seven see a turnover on talent throughout the state. Whether it be through on the field personnel like at Florida State or via the coaching ranks at Florida, the state is seeing a changing of the guard. In this preseason primer I'll rank the teams on how I think they'll finish the season. This will be based primarily on how last season ended, the schedule each team plays this upcoming season and of course, the overall talent on each team to combat their opponents.
With that said, let's get to it!
1) Miami (ACC) - Last Season's Record: 6-7 (3-5)
Before you go ranting and raving that I'm a homer let me present my reasons. First, I think Miami, led by Brad Kaaya, has a real chance to compete for the Coastal Division title if not win it outright. Second, the Canes plays a retooling Nebraska team at home and also play a reloading Florida State team early in the season. Yes, Miami ended last season with a thud losing the bowl game to the Gamecocks but it seems Coach Golden has this team refocused and ready to roll heading into 2015.
For my prediction I have Miami going 9-3 and heading to an above average bowl game, something like the Peach Bowl.
2) Florida State (ACC) - Last Season's Record: 13-1 (8-0)
Last season the Jameis Winston led Seminoles had an underwhelming yet spectacular year. Yes, they went 13-1 and their sole loss was in the first annual college football playoff game to Oregon but throughout the season itself, the best that the Noles could be described as would be "playing well enough to win." During the 2014 season the Noles had seven of their games be decided by seven points or less and the other six were an average victory of only 18.8. That's a pretty small spread considering they splurged and beat Wake last season 43-3.
Heading into this season the Noles look to be reloading with new talent after Jameis Winston has turned pro as well as looking to for a new number one wide receiver with the ever dependable Reshad Greene moving on to the NFL as well.
With that said, I think the Noles go 9-3 or 8-4. Clemson may pass them this year on the way to the ACC Championship Game. Don't expect the Noles to stay down for long, their recruiting classes are too good for that to happen. I do expect a step back year though for a new QB to emerge and the defense to get its footing again.
3) Central Florida (AAC) - Last Season's Record: 9-4 (7-1)
George O'Leary and his UCF Knights do what they usually do: go 8-4, 9-3 or 10-2 year in and year out. Last season was no exception. What was unique about last season however is that the offensive philosophy changed from a ground it out run game to an aerial attack spear headed by future first round pick at wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Even with the change in philosophy, the results at the end of the season were the same, UCF played a few tough out of conference games (Penn State and at Missouri) and then ran rough shod over the talent deprived AAC.
This season looks to be another carbon copy of last season. They play at Stanford and South Carolina which will be tough games to open the season (week two and four respectfully) but again, the AAC is the AAC. With their main competition for the conference title being ECU and having them lose their starting quarterback to a knee injury last week, expect the Knights to have an even easier journey through their conference foes.
For the end of season mark I expect either a 10-2 type of run for the Knights or possibly ending up 9-3. Anything less could be viewed as a disappointment for this program.
4) Florida (SEC) Last Season's Record: 7-5 (4-4)
The Gators had a trying season last year. If you look at the box scores and then rewatch the games there were so many chances for the Gators to come out on top in a lot of their contests but they just fell flat in crunch time. Besides wilting in the fourth quarter in a few games, the offense was downright dreadful at times. Coach Muschamp wanted to instill a grind-it-out running game and a smothering defense. He got the latter goal almost perfect as his defensive units were almost always ranked in the top 15 in the country but his offensive game plans and execution was often times horrendous which earned him a respectful firing at the end of the 2014 season.
Enter Jim McElwain, former offensive coordinator under Nick Saban and the man who is noted for turning former doormat Colorado State into an offensive power in the Mountain West. He brings with him charisma, character and a belief in his offensive gameplan. Unfortunately, trying to cut your teeth with a new program in the SEC, even though it's the SEC Eastern Division, is a daunting task. The other hindrance is the fact that Florida as a whole has had huge roster attrition over the last few years that simply haven't been addressed and are looking to be filed in the upcoming recruiting classes. Look for Florida to be playing lots of freshman along the offensive line next season and also in the backfield both at quarterback and running back.
I like McElwain and I think he can do well at Florida if given the time. With that said, I think the Gators could potentially bottom out at four wins this year, I think optimistically they keep their winning streak against Kentucky alive and maybe trip someone else up to get to six wins but that could be a tall order for the undermanned team.
5) South Florida (AAC) Last Season's Record: 4-8 (3-5)
The best way to describe the 2014 season for the Bulls: nothing went right. Neither Mike White nor Steven Bench asserted themselves as QB1 for the team and thus the air attack floundered to throw for only 2,300 total yards last season. Although Marlon Mack had a stupendous individual season as the team's running back by gaining over 1,000 yards, the unit as a whole only gained 1,300 yards. With the lack of production in the air and on the ground the team wilted yet again in Willie Taggert's second season at the helm losing four of their last five games.
Even though they improved from their record in 2013 (they went 2-10) the coaching seat Taggert is sitting on may start to grow warmer as 2015 progresses. South Florida resides in a tremendous state for recruiting and a turnaround should yield more fruitful results. Taggert was the man who turned upstart Western Kentucky into a respectable program in a three year period so this year could be the lynchpin season for him and his staff at USF.
6) Florida International (C-USA) Last Season's Record: 4-8 (3-5)
7) Florida Atlantic (C-USA) Last Season's Record: 3-9 (2-6)
Trying to pick between FIU and FAU to round out the Sunshine Seven was a tall order. In the end I went with FIU because they won their second to last game and were relatively competitive the last half of the 2014 season.. FAU lost their last five and the highlights of their season were for their opponents. Nebraska and Alabama lit up the Owls the first two weeks of the season for huge smack downs.
Looking ahead to next season I see FIU having at least three possible wins on the schedule. I highlight "possible" because this is the same team that lost to Bethune-Cookman last season of the 1AA ranks and the newly minted ODU Monarchs who had just risen from 1AA to 1A. I'll take a swag and say they get five or six wins in 2015.You never know what to expect from the Golden Panthers so strap on in!
For FAU I'm leaning more towards five wins just because their out of conference schedule lends them no favors. They stay in state for two of the games, the issue is that the two opponents are Florida and Miami. Coach Ron Turner has been trying to get the wheels turning for the program but it will probably be another tough season.
Season Outlook for the State
Overall, I think this will be a down year for the state. Florida State has held the torch for the last three or four seasons but they will be looking to reload based on yet another mass exodus by players to the pro's. Miami is looking to have a breakthrough season but has question marks throughout the roster as well as inquiries into whether the staff can properly make adjustments come gameday. Then you have Florida who isn't reloading but rather rebuilding and they're starting from the ground floor. With two of the three "Big Three" regrouping and the third uncertain of success, the state looks to be in uncharted waters heading into 2015. Get your popcorn ready because this could be a wild ride.