The best- and worst-case scenarios for Florida Gators football in 2017

By Adam Silverstein
August 31, 2017
The best- and worst-case scenarios for Florida Gators football in 2017
Football

Image Credit: ESPNI

There’s generally a feeling of how a season will go for a college football team before it takes the field for the first time. With the Florida Gators in 2017, there are so many variables that Florida could head toward the extremes of “great” or terrible.”

Most likely, the Gators’ campaign will fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but still, it’s important to take a look at how things can go very right or really wrong for Florida in Year 3 under head coach Jim McElwain. It should be noted that we are not going to include injuries as part of the worst-case scenario but rather stick to on-field performance.

Best-case scenario

Suspensions: The incident that has led to nine players being suspended ahead of Florida’s season-opener against Michigan is ultimately determined to be much ado about nothing and team-related punishment will suffice. No additional players are suspended, and among those that are away, only one gets kicked off the team as a scapegoat because as he also faces a legal charge. Suspensions last through the Northern Colorado game, but UF has junior starters wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett available for Tennessee in Week 3.

Offense: Redshirt freshman Felipe Franks shines in a Week 1 win over Michigan, winning the starting job gaining confidence in a dominant Week 2 showing as graduate transfer Malik Zaire becomes an effective complimentary piece as a runner. Callaway and Scarlett return with redemption on their minds, sophomore WR Tyrie Cleveland supplants Callaway as the team’s top pass catcher, redshirt senior WR Dre Massey and freshman athlete Kadarius Toney prove to be long-needed gamebreakers, and the Gators’ offensive line remains moderately healthy over the course of the season.

Defense: Florida takes a step back early in the season due to the bevy of new starters and Randy Shannon‘s change in style but begins to gel by midseason and takes advantage off less-talented opponents. The defensive line becomes a dominant force behind redshirt junior Taven Bryan, who plays like J.J. Watt-light, and junior Cece Jefferson, allowing the young linebackers to play fast and giving the inexperienced secondary the benefit of rushed throws no matter which quarterback they face.

Special teams: Becoming consistent returning kicks and punts, the playmakers also find a way to return the Gators to their tradition of being dominant on field goal and punt defense. Redshirt senior punter Johnny Townsend and redshirt junior kicker Eddy Pineiro replicate their 2016 seasons and never make Florida think twice when looking to put up points or flip the field.

Overall: This leads to Florida squeaking by Michigan in the opener and starting 5-0, getting revenge on Tennessee in The Swamp and making quick work of a trendy Kentucky team. October proves to be tough as UF splits home games against LSU and Texas A&M but rebounds to finish 4-1 with another loss to Florida State in the regular-season finale. At 10-2 with one conference loss, Florida returns to the SEC Championship Game were it falls to Alabama by less than two touchdowns. Though the Gators drop consecutive games to the Seminoles and Crimson Tide in order for the third straight season, they wind up in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta against a Group of Five team or possibly the Orange Bowl against Clemson and pick up their second straight bowl victory.

Worst-case scenario

Suspensions: The Gainesville Police Department investigation expands to include another handful of players with an additional starter suspended ahead of the Northern Colorado game. In all, the suspended players miss four games with a couple kicked off the team. The off-field issues put the team in a rut it is unable to get out of during the season as some early struggles are compounded by a tough schedule.

Offense: Franks gets intercepted on his first drive against Michigan, and though he rebounds, it becomes apparent he still needs development. Redshirt junior Luke Del Rio takes over after halftime and does not relinquish the job the rest of the season as Zaire is not able to beat him out in practice either. Though Del Rio does just fine as a game manager, Florida’s offensive line is not as improved as McElwain contended before the season. There is no improvement in the running game from a year ago, and the Gators’ receivers struggle to get open just as they have the past few seasons. Though Massey and Toney help improve the offense’s numbers, the difference is marginal and not what fans want to see in Year 3 under McElwain.

Defense: The extensive losses to graduation and the NFL Draft are too much for the Gators to make up in one season. McElwain’s failure to recruit as well on defense as his predecessors shows up on the field, and Shannon’s defenses — though they don’t break — bend way more than what Florida has grown accustomed to. Though the defensive line is solid, it does not pressure the quarterback consistently. The linebackers flash talent, but the still-thin group cannot make up for the deficiencies of the secondary, which struggles to gel and loses games the Gators would have won a year ago.

Special teams: Florida remains mediocre in the return game and completely ineffective defending field goals and punts as it continues to play passive on special teams. Though Townsend is solid, Pineiro misses some chip-shot field goals early in the season from overconfidence and becomes a less-reliable version of himself. McElwain relies too much on Pineiro when his offense struggles and every short-yardage play on fourth-down from outside the red zone is questioned for the majority of the season.

Overall: Down its top two offensive players, UF drops its opener to Michigan and loses to Tennessee at home for the first time since 2003. Florida finds a way to bounce back and even takes down LSU but drops consecutive games to Texas A&M and Georgia. A coached-up Jake Bentley leads Will Mushcamp to an upset win over his hometown team at South Carolina, and FSU once again rolls UF, ruining the Gators’ positive recruiting momentum over their in-state rival. At 6-6, Florida sneaks into a bowl game, playing Syracuse in the Independence Bowl. McElwain officially takes a place on the hot seat and the Gators wonder whether they’ll be looking for their third coach in nine seasons at the end of 2018.

14 Comments

  1. Gator Boys says:

    That turned from being a fun read to a terrifying nightmare.

  2. TheBearJew says:

    Ever the optimist, huh Adam?

  3. GATOR1980 says:

    Well thanks, that’s ruined my day. Hopeful as I am, the worst case is the most likely.

  4. SW FL Joe says:

    Any chance the current scandal involves some of the basketball team as well?

  5. GATOR-6 says:

    What, me worry? Actually, yes. I didn’t like the tone of a sports writer from the Orlando paper recently when he essentially accused Florida of growing a culture of thugs and indiscipline, but he was correct in the possibility of a ruined season. Who knows…but it’s most likely a different trajectory now than was expected a month ago. Gators around the country are growing tired of C+ to B- teams, as well as annual beat downs by FSU and, presumably Alabama. Sports media essentially ignored Florida as irrelevant during the off season, until the transfer of Zaire. What the hell is going on? Mac, IMO, is a great coach and his staff is top notch. Recruiting? I don’t know, it looks good for next year and the year beyond so far…….what’s the answer?

  6. Jeff DeBroka says:

    So what one do you see happing in your opinion? I see the 10-2 a real possibility with Franks .

    • GATOR-6 says:

      I do too, even assuming that criminal charges result in the loss of all 10 suspended players for the entire season. BUT. But that depends on what’s left of the team stepping up big time….and I do mean big time….like they’re capable of. Otherwise, I do think 8-4, 7-5, or 6-6 is a possibility. All three frankly make me sick to my stomach. What a hell of a mess we suddenly find ourselves in (again). Hanging in there no matter what, if worst case I fear the impact on recruiting more than one bad season.

  7. GATOR-6 says:

    Game just ended.
    I am depressed.
    If FSU beats Bama tonight, I’ll lose the will to live.

  8. Mike says:

    Worst case scenario seems to be the winner.

  9. Mike says:

    Let me clear. The game just ended (the Michigan highlight show)and it seems the Gators have opted for the worst case scenario.

  10. Aligator says:

    Everyone,We are all spectators, alumni and fans. Some of us have actually played for the Gators in the past or just been a part of the team. These are 18-23 year old young men. Whether it is 8- 4 or 10-2, we will all stick togther. This may not be the year, but it is coming! Go Gators!!

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