Florida football: 10 bold predictions for the 2020 season
Unlike a couple of my SDS colleagues, I get the benefit of writing this story following the SEC’s decision to adopt a 10-game, conference-only schedule. That’s a huge advantage, as the conference-only slate will both inform and temper the predictions that follow. It’s going to be hard to break records and light the world on fire without the usual advantage of a cupcake or two to feast on, post some high school numbers and build some confidence.
Then again, maybe, when this whole sad, complicated mess of a year is over, we’ll appreciate a special college football season — from a player or a program — a little more.
While a conference-only schedule might complicate the pathway to the record books, it doesn’t change the huge expectations at the big SEC programs. Florida, coming off back-to-back New Year’s 6 bowl winning seasons, is no different. Gators fans love that they’ve won 21 games and an Orange Bowl in Dan Mullen’s first 2 seasons on campus. But they want more. They want to beat Georgia. They want to go to Atlanta. They want to win championships. Will this be the year for the breakthrough?
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Florida Gators’ 2020 football season. Be sure to bookmark and CC Old Takes Exposed.
1. The quarterback room is the best in the SEC
This isn’t that bold. There’s uncertainty at the position around the SEC and based on returning production, Florida starter Kyle Trask should be a consensus first-team All-SEC pick.
Except oddly, he isn’t. Many preseason publications have tapped Georgia’s transfer QB Jamie Newman, who has electric ability but hasn’t even won the starting job yet and struggled against top-tier competition last season (even by Wake Forest standards), as the first-team All-SEC choice.
The Dawgs also landed the immensely talented gunslinger JT Daniels from Southern California, giving the Dawgs a QB room that features two guys who have been productive, though not like Trask, Power 5 starters.
Is that quarterback room, which also features freshman blue-chipper Carson Beck, who per the 247 composite was the No. 2 quarterback prospect from Florida, the best in the SEC?
It would be if Florida’s room didn’t exist.
The Gators don’t just have Trask, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards in 10 starts last season on his way to winning an Orange Bowl. They also have blue-chip Emory Jones, now in his 3rd year on campus, who would start at most programs in America this season. And the Gators added Anthony Richardson, the No. 1 quarterback prospect from Florida per the 247 composite.
Given Florida’s misery at QB over the past decade, it has been a while since the Gators had the best QB room in the league. They do now.
2. The Tennessee game will be a 4-quarter, season-defining battle, just like old times
It’s hard to believe that most players at SEC programs were infants and toddlers when Florida-Tennessee was a game that shaped the national landscape. Has it really been that long?
It has, but for the first time in a long time, both programs are trending up at the same time.
After a brutal start to the Jeremy Pruitt era in Knoxville, the Volunteers won their final 6 games in 2019, including a thrilling comeback victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl. That win marked only the 3rd New Year’s Bowl game win for the Vols in the past decade, but with what might be the SEC’s best offensive line and a defense that returns plenty of key pieces, another one might be coming in 2020.
The Vols have not, however, solved the Florida riddle.
Now they get the Gators in a game moved to December thanks to a national tragedy. Sound familiar? What could go wrong, Gator fans?
3. Mohamoud Diabate is the next great Florida linebacker
A blue-chip recruit from Auburn, Alabama, the Gators stole from right under Gus Malzahn’s nose, Diabate was a pleasant surprise as a freshman, bucking the perception he needed to add weight and redshirt by producing 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and plenty of big special teams plays.
He has a nose for the football and a great first burst, and with added muscle and some weight and is a guy that Todd Grantham can move around, whether he lines up at Buck or in the Star or inside on passing downs where he can use his boundary-to-boundary speed to cover opposing tight ends.
Expect a breakout season from the sophomore.
4. Kyle Pitts is a first-team All-American tight end
The best “football player” in the SEC might be Kyle Pitts, the sensational Florida tight end who made almost every defense look silly in 2019.
The junior led the Gators with 54 receptions as a sophomore — and his production was steady despite defenses keying on him with their best players as the season went along, like on the play below against LSU’s All-American Grant Delpit.
And with the 2nd of my 4th rounders i grabbed the top TE in CFB, Kyle Pitts. Looking forward to a big year for him especially in TE premium format. Here’s one of my favorite plays, an athletic sideline catch over Grant Delpitpic.twitter.com/YJnOnVkFFF
— Carl Vagle (@carl_vagleFF) May 12, 2020
Florida’s had some special tight ends, from Kirk Kirkpatrick under Steve Spurrier to Ben Troupe under Ron Zook to Aaron Hernandez in the Urban Meyer era. As a pure route runner and pass catcher, Pitts might be faster and better than all of them. With added weight and muscle (Pitts has gained 10 pounds in the offseason), Pitts now can line up inside or outside, making him even more of a matchup nightmare: too fast for your best linebacker and too big for your best safety.
The combination will yield All-American results.
5. Kyle Trask throws for 3,000 yards
In a 10 game schedule, this would be very bold. But Florida could play as many as 13 games and will almost certainly play 11, assuming non-Playoff bowl games are a thing in 2020.
Trask managed 2,941 yards in 2019 while starting only 10 football games. With more balance, his yards-per-game number might dip, but he’ll eclipse 3,000 in game 11, wherever that is played.
6. Trask is a Heisman finalist as a result
These predictions are supposed to be bold, right? I mean the Georgia column predicted UGA to win a natty — which hasn’t happened since Jimmy Carter was President.
Picking Trask, a low 3-star quarterback with almost no Power 5 offers who had not started a game since 9th grade to become a Heisman finalist a year after earning the starting job because of injury is tame by comparison.
But Trask will join Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Sam Ehlinger of Texas at the virtual Heisman Ceremony this December.
7. Kaiir Elam grabs 4 interceptions
In a 10-game slate, that’s a good haul, but I expect Elam to do it and with teams throwing away from LSU superstar Derek Stingley Jr. in 2020, that might be enough to lead the SEC.
Elam was Florida’s Orange Bowl hero, sealing the win with a late interception, a performance that put the finishing touches on a brilliant freshman campaign that saw him seize the nickel spot and land on the All-SEC freshman team. This year, he’ll be an anchor to a Florida secondary that will look to better last season’s dip in turnovers and overall production.
8. Trevon Grimes blossoms into an All-SEC wide receiver
The physical gifts are there: 4.5 speed, NFL size, the 40-inch vertical and the soft hands. The mental piece is there, too: Grimes is one of the most beloved players in the Florida locker room, a leader on the field and on campus.
Now, with Florida’s brilliant senior quartet of wide receivers gone, it’s Grimes’ time to shine. Expect the Ohio State transfer to build on a 33-reception, 491-yard and 3-touchdown junior campaign and deliver Florida a 50-reception season and All-SEC consideration in 2020.
9. Another L to Georgia
Bookmark it, screenshot it, save a draft of the section for Old Takes Exposed.
Are the Gators well-positioned to challenge Georgia for SEC East supremacy? Absolutely.
Has the talent gap closed, at least in terms of the number of blue-chip players on each roster? Yes — though Georgia fans would rightly say they still have more blue chips and their blue chips are more highly-touted. No one dominates recruiting natties like the Dawgs.
But shade or no, all the Florida fan chatter about closing the gap or catching Georgia doesn’t change the fact that until Dan Mullen proves he can beat Kirby Smart, you have to pick Georgia in this game. The Cocktail Party just means more to Smart, a Georgia alum who “gets” that game the way Steve Spurrier used to “get” it.
Mullen has to change that narrative, and I won’t pick Florida until I see it with my own eyes.
Any other take is just hope.
10. Florida goes to Atlanta as SEC East champ anyway
This one is truly bold, for a couple of reasons.
First, the loser of the Cocktail Party has gone to Atlanta exactly zero times in the past 10 seasons. The odds aren’t great. If I’m right about bold prediction No. 9, it will be hard to be right about this one.
Second, the new schedule produces an early stumbling block: Jimbo Fisher is Florida’s Dad (7-1 vs. UF at Florida State) and the game is in College Station.
But I’ll stick with this pick, for the following reasons.
First, Georgia’s uncertainty at QB and with a new offense, despite their talent, might make the Dawgs vulnerable early in the season. The new scheduling protocols only compound the complicated issue Kirby Smart must navigate trying to install a new system for a new quarterback. That should result in an early loss for Georgia. Second, Florida has a veteran football team that might not understand winning the Cocktail Party, but they have won everywhere else. They should be able to weather a Cocktail Party loss and in a conference-only season, get enough help elsewhere to earn Dan Mullen a shot at the SEC Championship Game.