Thanks to wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee, Florida has gone from a fringe top-25 team to one that is ranked among the top 10-15 teams in the nation. The Gators were expected to show improvement after a disappointing 2011 season, but this team has been better than expected. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is improving, while the defense is allowing only 17 points a game.
Although the Gators have made significant progress under coach Will Muschamp, should they be considered one of the frontrunners to win the SEC East title?
Can Florida Win the SEC East?
Coach Pat Dye, former head coach of the Auburn Tigers, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
Well, I do. You've got to be impressed with what they've done the last couple of weeks against Texas A&M and Tennessee. I think the emergence of the quarterback, and him getting settled has been the key. He looked good against Texas A&M, but he looked really good against Tennessee. I think it will be between Florida and Georgia. And Florida may have an advantage because they're playing Georgia in what really is a home game for them in Jacksonville.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
The East still tilts in favor of South Carolina and Georgia, two teams with elite defenses and at least one reliable centerpiece on offense -- Marcus Lattimore for South Carolina and Aaron Murray for Georgia. Florida is getting to the same place, but the Gators aren’t quite there yet even with back-to-back SEC road wins. With only one true SEC road game left (at Vanderbilt), Florida could be in position to play for an East title when it faces South Carolina and Georgia in back-to-back weeks in October. A healthy Mike Gillislee has proven he can anchor the Florida rushing attack and Jeff Driskel is getting more confident as a passer and runner each week. For an SEC East contender you’ve got to love a team that’s strong in the fourth quarter and on the road, two traits Florida discovered the last two weeks. I’d still pick South Carolina or Georgia, but Florida is a clear No. 3 that’s probably closer to the Gamecocks and Bulldogs than the rest of the division.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
Absolutely. What did we know about Florida before SEC play began? The Gators have a nasty defense that has loads of speed, the road schedule is front-loaded with few late-season tests and no Alabama, and that the SEC West was going to be tougher. What didn't we know about Florida? Does this team have a quarterback who can make key throws and be a leader on offense? Is Will Muschamp capable of coaching at an elite level in the pressure-packed SEC? Will the early schedule knock the Gators out of the race by Week 3? Well, consider all three questions answered definitively. Jeff Driskel was brilliant in Knoxville, the coaching staff made tremendous halftime adjustments two weeks in a row, and Florida returns home 2-0 after two brutal road tests in the SEC. Florida has owned Georgia and it gets LSU, South Carolina and Mizzou in The Swamp. There is one road trip outside of the state left: at Vanderbilt. All signs point to the Gators being right in the middle of the SEC East race.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
Florida has been one of the most impressive teams through the first three weeks of the season and is absolutely a threat to win the SEC East. The opener against Bowling Green wasn’t the team’s best effort, but the Gators have scored back-to-back road wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee. The biggest question mark heading into this season for Florida was the offense, which has grown up over the last two weeks. Quarterback Jeff Driskel hasn’t posted huge numbers but has yet to throw for an interception and has 113 rushing yards. The defense has been solid and can only get better as the young players get more experience in the SEC. I still think Georgia is the frontrunner in the division, but Florida hosts South Carolina, LSU and Missouri and has only one road conference game the rest of the year. The Gators have closed the gap and the Oct. 27 game against the Bulldogs in Jacksonville, Fla., could decide the East crown.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
Sure, Florida can win the SEC East. I’d still favor Georgia, who I believe has the most complete roster in the division, but the Gators have made a significant statement in the last two weeks. Right now, I’d consider Florida to be a bigger threat to Georgia than South Carolina. Will Muschamp’s team has been strong on defense (as expected) and has made significant progress on offense since struggling in a Week 1 win over Bowing Green. The quarterback position, considered a weakness before the season, is now a strength with Jeff Driskel showing everyone Saturday night why he was so highly rated coming out of high school. The Gators still lack elite talent at wide receiver, but this team now looks capable of contending for the SEC East title.
Florida has already demonstrated what this team is capable of as the Gators have gone into both College Station and Knoxville and come out victorious. However, there's still plenty of work left to be done, as dates with LSU, Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia remain. Florida's defense appears to be capable of shutting down any opponent, as evidenced by its second-half performances against the Aggies and Volunteers, but the offense is not on the same level. Quarterback Jeff Driskel continues to make strides and has been impressive in his own right in the Gators' two SEC wins, but this team doesn't seem to have enough weapons to complement him. Florida can win the East because they hold their fate in their hands with their remaining schedule. However, the meat of their conference schedule, which starts with LSU on the first Saturday in October and finishes with a three-game stretch of South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri on consecutive Saturdays, will be too much for this relatively young team to get through with no fewer than two losses. I still have Georgia winning the East, but the fact that Florida is even in the hunt should give Gator fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the program's future under the leadership of Will Muschamp.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
Absolutely. The Gators already have two league wins on the road, and an athletic defense should keep UF in every game. The LSU contest in Gainesville will be difficult, but taking care of business versus the division is the key for Will Muschamp’s bunch. Florida will have the chance to claim an SEC East crown on successive Saturdays in late October, with South Carolina coming to the Swamp and then the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville against Georgia. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is showing an ability to make more plays each week, and running back Mike Gillislee is a physical presence who can wear down defenses. With offensive coordinator Brent Pease finding ways to effectively use weapons like Trey Burton, Frankie Hammond and Jordan Reed, the Gators offense is showing solid potential. Muschamp’s emphasis on the trenches is producing success in the second half of games, and that factor may be the difference when Florida battles rivals South Carolina and Georgia.
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