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College football top 25 countdown: No. 9 Florida

The Gators could be a contender for the national title, but they will have to be significantly better on offense than they were last season.

August 20, 2013

Florida's offense last year was uglier than a wicked witch from Oz.

Some weeks, the police should have secured the huddle's perimeter with caution tape and given the admonition, "Move along folks, there's nothing to see here."

The only thing worse than the 14-7 victory over Missouri was the 27-20 win over Louisiana Lafayette.

Or maybe it was the 27-14 win over Bowling Green.

Florida's defense forced three interceptions against Georgia but couldn't overcome its own six turnovers in a 17-9 loss.

The Gators finished No. 103 overall on offense, No. 76 in scoring and No. 114 in passing — out of 120.

Don't worry, though. The experts say Florida will be much improved this season — despite the returning quarterback undergoing a late-July appendectomy and the featured back getting taken down by a viral infection.

But really, this is a top-10 preseason team.

"I'd love to have some 40-point wins," third-year Coach Will Muschamp said at Southeastern Conference media day earlier this summer. "At the end of the day I worry about one stat, and that's winning. It doesn't matter how you do it."

Somehow, mostly because of the defense, Florida finished 11-2 last season even though that unit collapsed in an embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.

We wonder now how Florida is going to hold its lofty ranking against a schedule that is razor's close to brutal.

Most years, the Gators mitigate the SEC schedule with a series of close-to-home exhibitions. Florida hasn't left the state for a nonconference game since 1991, when it played at Syracuse, and hasn't ventured west of the Mississippi since 1983, when it played USC at the Coliseum.

This season, Florida plays nonconference games against Miami and Florida State and the SEC slate includes trips to Louisiana State and South Carolina.

And as good as the defense was last season, allowing only 14.5 points per game, it's returning only three starters.

The faith in Florida is a faith that defensive-guru Muschamp can harness the talented pieces into a cohesive unit.

The offense should be improved because it has nowhere to go but up. There is confidence Jeff Driskel can shake off a season in which he threw for only 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns. That used to be three games worth of passing yards in the Fun-and-Gun days of Steve Spurrier.

Muschamp believes Driskel can have a breakout season. "He's a guy that has tremendous arm talent," the coach said.

Driskel had a minor setback with his unexpected appendectomy, yet he missed only six practices and was back at work on Aug. 8. The offensive line is solid and the Gators should be strong a receiver, too, with freshman Demarcus Robinson joining junior star Quinton Dunbar.

There is a more serious issue at running back, where Matt Jones figured to be the replacement for Mike Gillislee until he was stricken with a viral infection.

Jones will likely miss at least the Aug. 31 opener against Toledo.

The defense will miss star tackle Sharrif Floyd, but the line should still be a roadblock with returning tackle Dominique Easley.

The backfield is anchored by future NFL first-round cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who will also see a lot of action at wide receiver.

It is conceivable Florida will be a better team this season but end up with a worse record.

The upside is that it is not conceivable Florida's offense could be any worse.

Top 25 so far: 25. Oklahoma; 24. Wisconsin; 23. Fresno State; 22. UCLA; 21. Texas A&M; 20. Notre Dame; 19. Oregon State; 18. Oklahoma State; 17. Arizona State; 16. Nebraska; 15. Louisiana State; 14. Florida State; 13. Michigan; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas; 10. Northwestern.

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