Gators given fifth-best odds to win CFP National Championship

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) is congratulated by wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) after throwing a touchdown pass during a game against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Using the Caesars Sportsbook, the Florida Gators have the fifth-best odds to win the 2020 College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship at +1,200.

ESPN Staff Writer Bill Connelly put his own unique spin on these odds, sorting the contenders by the number of “ifs” necessary for these programs to realize these odds on June 2.

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s (ACC) Clemson Tigers, who have appeared in four of the last five CFP National Championship games, have the best odds to hoist the prestigious trophy at +250. Connelly gave head coach Dabo Swinney’s program two “ifs” to focus on.

“If … the offensive line is at least solid,” he began.

“Clemson has made five-straight CFPs, winning two national titles and, with the ACC playing at a mediocre-average level for three-straight years, continues to boast the easiest playoff road of any major contender.

“That, plus big-time star power (quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne), veteran role players and a glorious incoming recruiting class, make Swinney’s program a title favorite even without injured star receiver Justyn Ross, who’s out for the season, if not longer.

“Losing four offensive linemen with 126 career starts hurts, however. The cupboard is far from bare: Swinney’s insistence on deep rotations (and Clemson’s propensity for blowing teams out) means the Tigers return four players who logged at least 325 snaps, and three of them (tackle Jackson Carman, guard Matt Bockhorst, center Cade Stewart) have starting experience.

“Still, a unit that has never seemed quite as strong as the rest of the offense could be a weak link until proven otherwise.”

Connelly’s other “if” for Clemson revolves around the team’s young safety corps.

Slotting in one tier below the Tigers, the ESPN writer gave Florida three “ifs” to reach their CFP potential.

“If … the third-down defense improves (and without Jonathan Greenard),” was Connelly’s first point.

“Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes to keep the game simple when possible: If it’s third-and-long, he’s bringing pressure. When it works, it works – the Gators were eighth overall in sack rate, first on blitz downs (second-and-super-long, third-and-5 or more). But it didn’t get the defense off the field as well as it should have.

“The Gators ranked just 53rd in third-and-long success rate allowed, 54th on third-and-medium. And that was with Greenard racking up 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Most of the lineup outside of Greenard returns – 12 of 17 players with 250-plus snaps – and while first-round corner CJ Henderson is gone, Marco Wilson is back, and sophomore Kaiir Elam is ready for a star turn.

“There is no specific weakness that needs addressing, it’s just been a whole-vs.-sum-of-parts issue on third downs, and it has to be rectified.”

The second “if” for Florida stresses the improvement of John Hevesy’s offensive line. Outside of center Nick Buchanan, the unit returns all their 2019 starters. The group was improved further with the addition of Mississippi State Bulldogs graduate transfer Stewart Reese on May 16, a player who can line up at either guard or tackle.

Connelly’s last point focuses on the team’s wideouts. Redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask loses four of his top-five wide receivers from a year ago, Van Jefferson (657 yards), Freddie Swain (517), Tyrie Cleveland (351) and Josh Hammond (346), but returns senior Trevon Grimes, who caught 33 passes for 491 yards and three scores last season.

While not a wide receiver, junior tight end Kyle Pitts, 54 receptions for 649 yards and six touchdowns in 2019, returns, as well, and has a claim to the title of America’s best collegiate player at his position.

Senior Kadarius Toney will be counted on to produce more in 2020. Held to just 10 catches for 194 yards and a score as a junior, he has a chance to establish himself as the team’s No. 2 this fall, largely due to the departures ahead of him.

In addition to Clemson, the Ohio State Buckeyes (+300), Alabama Crimson Tide (+500) and Georgia Bulldogs (+700) were given better national title odds than the Gators. Reigning champion LSU checked in right behind Florida at +1,800.

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