Now that it’s looking more and more like there’s going to be a season in some shape or form this fall, it’s time to start getting fired up about college football again. You know, about the actual players and games and rivalries and big-time matchups that could dictate who reaches the College Football Playoff.
Here’s the perfect way to get started: head to your local bookstore or newsstand, where the preseason college football magazines have started to arrive. Two are on the shelf already — Street & Smith’s College Football and Athlon Sports SEC.
Florida fans will find both magazines entertaining and informative — and very positive for their Gators.
In both publications, quarterback Kyle Trask is on the regional cover and the Gators are in the preseason top 10 in the nation and the pick to win the Eastern Division, knocking Georgia out of the top spot. Neither has UF winning the SEC Championship Game (against Alabama) and advancing to the CFP, but both have the Gators projected to play in the Orange Bowl, their third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game under Dan Mullen.
Florida is No. 6 in Athlon’s preseason top 10. The Gators are projected to go 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC and play North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
“There’s one more step for the Gators to take (under Mullen) — and that’s winning the SEC East and getting into the College Football Playoff,” the magazine says. “There is a dropoff after Georgia and Florida in the division, making the Halloween showdown in Jacksonville essentially a play-in game for a trip to Atlanta.
“Do the Gators have enough firepower to overcome Kirby Smart’s overflowing cupboard of talent? The answer is yes, with QB Kyle Trask leading the way. … Will it be a playoff season in Gainesville? There’s no doubt that Florida will be in the running to the very end.”
Though the magazine thinks highly of the Gators as a team, there is not much in the way of player accolades. There are no UF players in Athlon’s top 50 players in college football, and junior tight end Kyle Pitts is the only Gator who is an All-SEC first team pick. Trask is not listed among the top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates and is second team All-SEC along with senior wide receiver Kadarius Toney (all-purpose player) and sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam.
Elam is listed as one of Athlon’s breakout players in college football this season.
“Elam capped his freshman year with a standout performance in the Orange Bowl. (He) played in 13 games last season, collecting 11 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups,” the magazine says. “Elam is slated to step into a starting role in 2020.”
In Street & Smith’s, the Gators are No. 7 in the nation and projected to win the East and go on to play Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. UF is No. 2 on the magazine’s list of first-time playoff threats, behind Penn State.
“When Dan Mullen took over the top spot at Florida after helping make Mississippi State relevant for nine years, people wondered how long it would take him to get the Gators in a position to compete for a College Football Playoff berth,” the magazine says. “As it turns out, two seasons.
“If there was any doubt whether athletic director Scott Stricklin made the right call in luring Mullen to UF from Starkville, it has been eradicated. Now, it’s time for the Gators to go from ‘almost good enough’ to champions.”
Trask and Pitts are the only two Gators on Street & Smith’s preseason All-SEC team. Trask is not among the publication’s top five Heisman contenders. Pitts is listed as UF’s top NFL prospect.
“Pitts returns to create substantial matchup problems throughout the SEC,” the magazine says. “Bigger defenders can’t run with him, while small cover men aren’t able to handle his size, catch radius and ability to go up and get the ball.”
Mullen receives some love in both publications.
Street & Smith’s rates him as the most innovative coach in the SEC.
“Mullen is a wizard at creating offensive opportunities and standout playmakers on that side of the ball,” the magazine says.
In Athlon’s ranking of the head coaches in the SEC, Mullen is second behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.
“Mullen is one of the best coaches in the nation at maximizing his roster,” the magazine says. “In just two years at Florida, Mullen has returned the program to national prominence.”
One of the most interesting sections in the UF preview is “Scouting the Gators,” where an unnamed opposing coach analyzes the team and coaches.
In the Gators’ case, it’s not all flattering.
“They have a chance to be really special this year, but there are a lot of questions,” the unnamed opposing coach said. “Where are they in terms of talent and firepower? Can they beat Georgia. You feel really good about what they’ve done in comparison to the rest of the East, but they’re still behind one school. …
“There’s still a question of Dan as a big-game coach. He’s a great play-caller, he’s a great scheme guy, he’s a great developer. But where is the signature win? In many ways Florida’s 2020 comes down to Georgia. They could lose that game, win 10 and be a disappointment.”
Yes, it’s time to start getting fired up about football again.