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Florida College Football Power Rankings: Preseason

The Gators Have the In-State Target on their Backs, but the Canes Are Lurking. And Could UCF Unseat FSU among the State’s Big Three?

Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs still on SEC East collision course, even after first losses Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As rumors spread in the college football community about a potential NCAA-wide conference re-alignment, the possibility of in-state and reinvigorated rivalries could soon be upon us. However, for the time being and due to limited in-state matchups, we will need to rely on national rankings and projections in order to determine the best of Florida football bragging rights.

Below, is the current state of the state of Florida football preseason rankings:

1: Florida Gators

Ranking: 13th (AP Top 25), 11th (USA Today Coaches Poll)
Week One Matchup: vs. Florida Atlantic (-24.5)
Key Departures: Kyle Trask, Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, Kyle Pitts, Stone Forsythe, Brett Heggie, Tedarrell Slaton, Kyree Campbell, Marlon Dunlap, Marco Wilson, Shawn Davis, Donovan Stiner, Brad Stewart Jr., Chester Kimbrough, Evan McPherson
Key Additions: Demarkcus Bowman, Diwun Black, Jadarrius Perkins, Jason Marshall, Corey Collier, Jeremiah Williams, Tyreak Sapp, Kaleb Boateng, Daquan Newkirk
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 9

Two years removed from the last Miami vs. SEC contest - which the Canes saw slip through the fingers of a muffed punt in the opener - the Gators appear to have the edge as the team to catch in Florida for all major pre-season polls. Last year, the Gators’ playoff hopes were stomped out due to the infamous Marco Wilson shoe-throwing incident against middling LSU. Outside of Wilson’s impressive but untimely throw, Florida’s other aerial attack mostly departs for the NFL: Kyle Trask put up Heisman-worthy numbers throughout most of the season working with 2021 first round picks, TE Kyle Pitts and WR Kadarius Toney.

To that end, HC, Dan Mullen, primarily relied on his lethal passing barrage. However, Mullen, considered a QB whisperer by some, is more in his wheelhouse operating with dual threat QB, Emory Jones, or ultra-talented backup, Anthony Richardson. Whichever QB plays, they will have the benefit of quality wide receiver returnees in Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter. Florida employed a subpar ground game last year but have a number of four- and five-star RBs, including Miami transfer, Lorenzo Lingard. The Gators will rely heavily on bellcow back, Dameon Pierce. Florida loses monster left tackle, Stone Forsythe (6’8”, 308lbs), to the NFL Draft and have questionable depth across the OL. Defensively, Florida loses their shoe-tosser to the NFL, as well as safety, Shawn Davis, and DT Tedarrell Slaton, but returns promising talent in CB Kaiir Elam, LB Ventrell Miller, DE Zachary Carter, LB Brenton Cox, Jr., DT Gervon Dexter, and brings in number one JUCO recruit, Diwun Black.

If it plays out right, Florida could be headed toward another SEC title and be a darkhorse playoff contender. The latter bold prediction often being proclaimed by one optimistic Gator fan in my University of Miami MBA alum group chat that provided the insight for this analysis. The group chat is fittingly titled “Gators Suck.”

2: Miami Hurricanes

Ranking: 14th (AP Top 25), 16th (USA Today Coaches Poll)
Week One Matchup: vs. Alabama (+18.5)
Key Departures: Jaelan Phillips, Gregory Rousseau, Quincy Roche, Brevin Jordan, Jose Borregales
Key Additions: Charleston Rambo, Deandre Johnson, Tyrique Stevenson, Leonard Taylor, James Williams, Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, Andres Borregales
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 9.5

According to the pundits in the preseason rankings, the U is the main challenger to Florida’s in-state supremacy as they rank just one spot behind the Gators in the AP Top 25 poll and five spots in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Even though the programs do not play head-to-head in 2021, the most useful indirect barometer for best in state should come by way of the results against Alabama (Miami plays the Crimson Tide on 9/4 while Bama visits Gainesville on 9/18).

Florida fans can cite to playing the SEC Championship against Bama tight after losing 52-46 last December as the closest game against the defending national champions. However, both of those teams experience turnover at key positions. Thus, the September matchups should be a better comparator. To that end, if Miami keeps it respectable against Bama, they should maintain their ranking. If the Canes get blown out, then a dip is expected. The Gators, on the other hand, have their first real test against the Crimson Tide so should hold a stable ranking until the 18th. Keep a close eye on each team’s respective matchup, which could very well determine the state’s premier program (Gators open the season against two in-state teams against FAU and then at USF).

3: UCF Knights

Ranking: 34th (AP Top 25 - 5 points), 37th (USA Today Coaches Poll - 29 points)
Week One Matchup: vs. Boise State (-5.5)
Key Departures: Richie Grant, Aaron Robinson, Jacob Harris, Tay Gowan, Tre Nixon, Marlon Williams, Otis Anderson, Greg McCrae
Key Additions: Big Kat Bryant, Jordan Johnson, Ricky Barber, Marco Domio, Isaiah Bowser, Mark Anthony-Richards, Nate Craig-Myers, Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, Anthony Hundley, Mikey Keene
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 9.5

The former “national champions” welcome a new coach in Gus Malzahn. And despite a slight dip in success under HC, Josh Heupel, UCF is already back on the rise. The Knights open up against Boise State at home in a highly anticipated group of five matchup. UCF’s success, however, will hinge on the success of QB, Dillon Gabriel, who possesses the skillset and leadership traits to rise to the occasion.

That being said, it will be interesting to see how Malzahn operates with new personnel in the offense. Namely, the Knights lose key skill position players in WRs Jacob Harris, Tre Nixon, and Marlon Williams, as well as RBs Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae. However, they welcome bigger-bodied RBs via the Transfer Portal in Mark-Anthony Richards and Isaiah Bowser. Defensively, the Knights lose quality contributors in the secondary in Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson, but are expected to rely on a strong front seven led by graduate transfer DE, Big Kat Bryant, and former blue chip recruits, DE, Tre-Mon Morris-Brash, and LB, Eriq Gilyard.

With the recent success on the field and recruiting trail, the Knights appear to be in prime position to claim a perennial spot in Florida’s big three, as they seek to oust Florida State.

4: Florida State Seminoles

Ranking: 58th (USA Today Coaches Poll - 1 point)
Week One Matchup: vs. Notre Dame (+7.5)
Key Departures: Asante Samuel Jr., Marvin Wilson, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Tamorrion Terry, Janarius Robinson, Joshua Kaindoh, D’Anfernee McGriff
Key Additions: McKenzie Milton, Jermaine Johnson, Jammie Robinson, Destyn Hill, Hunter Washington, Malik McClain
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 5.5

The last time FSU ended a season as a ranked team was when Dalvin Cook was leading the Noles’ backfield. Going into 2021, it is not even clear who will be the signal caller as veteran, Jordan Travis, and transfer, McKenzie Milton, battle for QB1. Milton could be a special player if he plays at full strength - as he proved in UCF’s “national championship” run - but he is returning from a catastrophic lower leg injury.

Milton is not the only quality transfer as the Seminoles were active in the Portal this year. They picked up 12 total transfers such as in-state portal victories in CB, Jarques Mclellion, and Miami Central grad, DT, Keir Thomas. They will not lie down to UCF in the fight for in-state big three, but the current disposition of the Noles roster is a far cry from the Jameis Winston national championship days. Even more, FSU could feel the effects of key departures in CB Asante Samuel Jr., S Hamsah Nasrildeen, DT Marvin Wilson, DEs Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson, and even WR Tamorrion Terry (granted they should be happy Terry is gone now due to significant off-field drama).

FSU needs to get the program back on track but that will be tough especially if they can’t maintain consistency at the QB position. If they can’t quickly determine the answers to certain important questions they may continue their skid of mediocre play (21-26 over past four years). Even worse, the Noles will likely start out behind the eight ball after facing 9th ranked Notre Dame in the season opener.

5: Florida Atlantic Owls

Ranking: 87th (CBS Power Rankings)
Week One Matchup: @ Florida (+24.5)
Key Departures: Leighton McCarthy, BJ Emmons
Key Additions: N’Kosi Perry, Amari Wansley, Jymetre Hester, Brandon Schabert, Andrew Boselli, John Dunmore, Keyshawn Greene
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 7

N’Kosi Perry should be exciting to watch after he showed immense poise filling in for D’Eriq King during the Cheez-It Bowl last year. As a Canes fan, you gotta root for Perry as he continues his career in-state, which could mainly be as a platform to transfer to another power five program. He opens up as QB1 against the Gators, where the Owls will be 24.5-point underdogs in Gainesville.

6: South Florida Bulls

Ranking: 110th (CBS Power Rankings)
Week One Matchup: @ NC State (+18.0)
Key Departures: KJ Sails, Noah Johnson, Odunayo Seriki, Devontres Odoms-Dukes, Mike Hampton
Key Additions: Christian Williams, Jarren Williams, Gunnar Greenwald, Jimmy Horn Jr., K’Wan Powell, Demarcus Gregory, Matthew Hill
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 3

The Bulls experienced success in 2016 and 2017 under HC, Charlie Strong. However, they have not had much to show for in recent years, especially after finishing 1-8 last year, and are currently one of the worst teams in the county. USF does have potential as they bring in a few key transfer, including a couple that previously played at Miami: CB Christian Williams and QB Jarren Williams. The expected starting QB, however, is UNC transfer, Cade Fortin who will replace outgoing transfer, Jordan McCloud, who heads to Arizona. The Bulls also ranked 5th in 2021 recruiting among AAC teams, so they may surprise a few people if their additions play near their ceiling.

7: Florida International Panthers

Ranking: 117th (CBS Power Rankings)
Week One Matchup: vs. Long Island (-33.5)
Key Departures: Noah Curtis, D’Antne Demery, Shane McGough
Key Additions: Savion Collins, Demetrius Hill, Jeramy Passmore
O/U Win Total (BetMGM): 4.5

Despite bringing up the rear for the preseason state power rankings, the Panthers have the trump card against the Canes due to their 2019 Jose Borregales-led victory in the cross-town showdown. FIU has had a number of recent players go through their program that ended up in the NFL such as Borregales, TY Hilton, Teair Tart, Jonnu Smith, Johnathan Cyprien, and Stantley Thomas-Oliver. However, they cannot seem to put it altogether on Saturdays in the lowly C-USA conference.