Coming off of back-to-back double-digit win season, expectations surrounding the Florida Gators are the highest they've been in years.
Last season, the Gators finished 11-2 for the first time since 2012. In head coach Dan Mullen's first season at Florida, the team finished 10-3. Now fans are thinking of a potential trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta and maybe College Football Playoff.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SEC will fill its schedule by expanding from an eight-game conference schedule to a 10-game conference-only schedule. Mullen has done an excellent job in a short time turning around the Gators program, but this will be a challenge in more ways than one.
Florida is scheduled to host LSU and Kentucky, while they will travel on the road to play Tennessee and Ole Miss. The Gators will also play the Georgia Bulldogs, but there's no telling if the game will remain in Jacksonville, Florida, due to the pandemic.
Let's take a look at the best case for and against Florida getting into the College Football Playoff.
Three Reasons Why Florida Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. Kyle Trask
The Gators have finally found an answer at the quarterback position in Trask, who was much better than expected after taking over for Feleipe Franks. In 12 games, Trask threw for 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions as he helped the Gators reach and win the Orange Bowl over Virginia.
Trask gave the Gators stability at the quarterback for the first time since 2015. Unlike Franks, Trask was also a strong decision-maker, which was evident by his 66.9 percent completion rate last season.
If Trask can continue to progress under Mullen's tutelage, the Gators will have an excellent shot to be in the national championship discussion.
2. Florida's defense should remain a strength
Although the Gators will need to replace a few stars defensively, the team does return a lot of talent on that side of the ball. Defensive linemen Kyree Campbell, Zachary Carter, and Tedarrell Slaton are all experienced and played better during the course of last season. At defensive end, Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr., who had to sit out last season, is finally eligible, and Carter also has the potential to start as well.
James Houston IV, who played a lot last season, will likely take David Reese II's starting linebacker, and Ventrell Miller is expected to start again at the other linebacker spot.
Florida's strongest unit defensive is their secondary, where everyone returns outside of safety Jeawon Taylor, who graduated, and C.J. Henderson, who was drafted ninth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Marco Wilson, will likely move from the nickel to the outside due to Henderson's departure, and he will probably be paired with Kaiir Elam, who played a lot as a true freshman.
3. Kyle Pitts is one of the better tight ends in the country
They're a lot of questions about the Gators receivers entering 2020, but there's no question about their starting tight end. Pitts is not only arguably the best tight end in the SEC but the best in all of college football.
After recording just three catches in 2018, Pitts led the Gators in receptions with 54 and finished second in receiving yards with 649. Pitts finished the year being a First-Team All-SEC tight end. Having a weapon like Pitts should provide Trask with an excellent security blanket.
Three Reasons Why Florida Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. The departures leave a lot of questions
Florida does have a lot of talent remaining from their 11-2 team, but there are a ton of questions the team needs to address. Pitts is a stud at tight end, but the team lost its top four wide receivers (Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Josh Hammond).
Not only that, but they also lost three of their best defensive players in Henderson, Reese, and Jonathan Greenard. That's a lot of excellent players to replace in a short span.
2. The offensive line also remains an issue
The success of the 2020 Gators could hinge on the way their offensive line performs. Now, the good news: three starters return, led by redshirt senior Brett Heggie at center. This unit has help coming in the was of way Mississippi State transfer Stewart Reese, who started a 34-game starter in Starkville.
The bad news is Florida's offensive line struggled in 2019 to generate any running room for any of its running backs. The Gators desperately need an established running game to help pressure off off Trask and the passing game.
3. The schedule
Not only will the Gators have to navigate their SEC schedule as usual, but they will pick up two additional teams during conference play. Along with that, Florida will play LSU and Kentucky at home, and there is the game against Georgia.
The Gators have lost their last three games against the Bulldogs, including their 24-17 defeat last year. Before Florida can be included in any College Football Playoff conversation, they will first need to defeat their bitter rival from Athens.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.