The Florida Gators are looking to return to prominence after a decade of highs and lows. Billy Napier is the fourth coach hired by the Gators since Urban Meyer stepped down after the 2010 season. Each of the previous three coaches found success early in their tenure winning at least 10 games within their first two seasons. Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen won at least 10 games in their first season while Will Muschamp reached double digits in his second season. The fanbase is desperate for success after watching their arch rival, Georgia, win a national title last season. Napier needs a similar track record early in his career or the fan base will get restless quick. The first season for Napier is number 18 in our series 99 Things.
Florida’s quarterback is likely to be led by Anthony Richardson. He split snaps with Emory Jones last season but Jones transferred to Arizona State. Richardson will be challenged by Ohio State transfer Jack Miller but should still prevail as the starter. Richardson is viewed as one of the highest ceiling quarterbacks in the country due to his dynamic playmaking ability. His arm talent is inconsistent but has shown the necessary traits to be successful in the SEC. Richardson has a strong arm but his accuracy still needs work. He completed only 59% of his passes last season which needs to improve in order for Florida to be competitive in the SEC. One of Richardson’s best attributes are his running ability. He rushed for over 400 yards last season while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
Napier used the transfer portal to bring a few players from his former school to Florida. One of those players is running back Montrell Johnson. Johnson was just a freshman at Louisiana last year. He managed to rush for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns in his only collegiate season. He has the inside track to playing time after spending a season being coached by Napier. Florida’s backfield will also have former five star Lorenzo Lingard. Lingard finished with just 11 rushing attempts last season.
The Florida defense was in the middle of the pack in the SEC. The Gators finished 7th in the conference in total defense. They allowed 362 yards per game. They excelled with their secondary allowing just 208.6 passing yards per game which was good for fourth in the SEC. Florida must improve in their turnover margin. The Gators were 13th in the SEC finishing only ahead of Kentucky. Florida’s defense has playmakers which should allow them to at least maintain a middle of the road status on defense.
One of the key players on defense is Brenton Cox. The former five star pass rusher originally played for Georgia before transferring to Florida. Cox was the best at getting to the opposing quarterback on the team finishing with 8.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Trey Dean III is also going to be a key player on the defense. Dean was second on the team in tackles with 88. He also finished the season with eight passes defended, one interception, 4.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks.
The Gators open the season hosting Utah. The Utes are expected to be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 which will be a daunting opponent. Florida’s non-conference opponents also consists of USF, Florida State and Eastern Washington. The SEC schedule will also be tough. The Gators will host Kentucky, Missouri, LSU and South Carolina while they will travel to face Texas A&M, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Gators will play Georgia in Jacksonville per tradition. Fans of the Gators are anxiously awaiting the start of the Billy Napier era. He has lofty expectations but he might be the coach to take Florida back to the SEC Championship. Can Napier win at least eight games in his first season?