College Football Picks: Florida Ready For Bounce-Back Season?

Matthew Jordan

Friday, August 28, 2015 10:11 PM GMT

The University of Florida coaching job is one of the five best in college football, without question. That's why some are perplexed the school hired Jim McElwain for the job in December. Can he fix the program? UF has a 5Dimes' win total of 7.

Recapping 2014
Under former coach Will Muschamp, who is a defensive guru and now the coordinator at Auburn, the Gators were a very good defensive team last season. But from  a passing perspective, they were one of the worst clubs in the country. This isn't 1995 when you can win with a stout defense and running the wishbone or something. You have to be able to throw the ball some and UF couldn't do that.

The Gators opened the season with a very misleading 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan, which is a god-awful program. Then UF needed some luck to beat Kentucky 36-30 in triple overtime, extending the Gators' winning streak to 28 games in that series. Really, that showed some cracks.

The next week, UF was no match at Alabama, losing by three touchdowns. UF did win at Tennessee but managed only 10 points doing so. Then the Gators lost by three at home to LSU, which brings me to the Oct. 18, 2014, game against Missouri. This one had the most unusual score of the 2014 season when you consider the statistics. The Tigers had just seven first downs and 119 total  yards. Yet they won 42-13 thanks to six Florida turnovers and four return touchdowns: scored on a kickoff return, a punt return, a fumble return and an interception return. Many thought Muschamp would be fired literally the next day, but that game essentially sealed his fate.

The Gators' best win the rest of the way was a surprising 38-20 win over No. 11 Georgia in Jacksonville. I don't know why the Dawgs didn't just put 10 guys in the box as Florida rushed for 418 yards but attempted only six passes. UF closed the season at 7-6 with a Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina. It was the Gators' first bowl win since 2011. Hard to believe this program has lost at least five games in four of the past five seasons.

 

McElwain Really The Best Choice?
So Muschamp was predictably canned and athletic director Jeremy Foley decided on McElwain. Don't get me wrong, he seems like a good offensive mind. He turned Colorado State into a 10-win team last year and quarterback Garrett Grayson into one of the nation's top passers (he was a third-round pick by New Orleans). McElwain also had won two national titles while the offensive coordinator at Alabama, so he knows the SEC landscape. But hiring McElwain cost UF more than $11 million without counting his salary -- $6.3 million to buy out Muschamp and $5 million to Colorado State to buy out McElwain. A chunk of that $5 million, however, was Florida agreeing to play CSU in a game. The Rams will get $2 million to play at Florida on Sept. 15, 2018. I just wonder if Foley could have aimed higher. Michigan waited and got Jim Harbaugh. Just saying.

Florida brings back only 10 starters, the second-fewest in the SEC. And we still don't know who the starting quarterback will be. McElwain says he will play both Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier, UF's top recruit in the Class of 2014, in Saturday's opener against New Mexico State. Harris started the final six games last season, completing 49.5 percent of his passes for 1,019 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 338 yards and three scores. Grier is a pocket passer type. McElwain's coaching history suggests he's going to settle on one guy and stick with him obviously barring injury. New Mexico State is one of the worst programs in the country so might as well use that game as a final tryout.

The offensive line already was a concern and now it's more so. Five-star true freshman Martez Ivey has been lost to knee surgery. He will miss at least a month. Ivey, the nation's top offensive line recruit, was to start at left tackle. UF also lost leading rusher Matt Jones (166 carries, 817 yards, six TDs) to the NFL but it has a handful of good young backs. Gators will be fine there. Leading receiver Demarcus Robinson (53 catches, 810 yards, seven TDs) returns. And UF gets tight end Jake McGee back. He broke his leg in the 2014 season opener but was granted a rare sixth year. He's transfer from Virginia.

Defensively, UF has perhaps the nation's best cornerback in Vernon Hargreaves III, a probable Top-10 if not Top-5 pick in the 2016 draft. The wild card is the health of star linebacker Antonio Morrison, who suffered a major knee injury in the bowl game (or would have gone pro) and then had a setback and an additional surgery. Morrison probably won't play the first two games as UF would hope to get him ready for SEC action.

The non-conference schedule is a joke other than the season-ender at home vs. No. 10 Florida State. Florida's season will be decided in a five-game stretch: Sept. 26 vs. No. 25 Tennessee, Oct. 3 vs. No. 17 Ole Miss, Oct. 10 at No. 24 Missouri, Oct. 17 at No. 14 LSU and Oct. 31 vs. No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville. I suppose the good news is no Alabama or Auburn on the schedule.

College Football Free Picks: UF is  +3100 to win the SEC title and +675 fourth-favorite to take the SEC East. The Gators aren't ready for those yet; I do expect a jump in 2016, however. I think the 7 regular season wins will be a push. Not sure I see 8, so go 'under' at +105 college football odds at 5Dimes.