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Our SEC football predictions: Not great for the Florida Gators

Matt Baker gives his projected order of finish as part of SEC media days. Spoiler: Alabama will be good.
Billy Napier and the Florida Gators aren't predicted to finish in the top three of the division, according to our college football reporter.
Billy Napier and the Florida Gators aren't predicted to finish in the top three of the division, according to our college football reporter. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Jul. 19

ATLANTA — The Florida Gators will finish fourth in the SEC East, if my preseason predictions are correct.

The SEC will release the media’s predicted order of finish in the coming days, but here’s the ballot I’ll be submitting:

Related: Will Florida Gators, FSU and Miami ever be the Big Three again?

SEC West

Nick Saban, left, and Jimbo Fisher, right, should have two of the best teams in the SEC West.
Nick Saban, left, and Jimbo Fisher, right, should have two of the best teams in the SEC West. [ BOB LEVEY | Getty Images North America ]

7. Auburn

It’s a shame Bryan Harsin didn’t really get a chance with the Tigers. I don’t see how he recovers from an offseason of turmoil.

6. Mississippi State

5. LSU

4. Mississippi

3. Arkansas

I have no idea what to make of 3-6. I gave the Razorbacks the edge because of returning quarterback KJ Jefferson and a schedule that doesn’t include Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee or Florida. I trust Lane Kiffin’s offense enough to put them ahead of LSU, which will look completely different under new Brian Kelly.

Related: LSU’s Brian Kelly sees renewed ‘fight’ in Florida State under Mike Norvell

2. Texas A&M

It’s time for Jimbo Fisher to start earning the exorbitant contract that lured him from Florida State. Beating Alabama last year was nice, but he has had enough time and signed enough big-time recruits to do better than 8-4.

1. Alabama

Nick Saban has arguably the best offensive player in the country (quarterback Bryce Young) and the clear best defensive player (Will Anderson). Easy choice.

SEC East

Billy Napier and the Florida Gators will have a tough road in the SEC East this year.
Billy Napier and the Florida Gators will have a tough road in the SEC East this year. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]

7. Vanderbilt

Until further notice.

6. Missouri

The Tigers missed out on some quarterback transfers, which gives me enough pause to put them below …

5. South Carolina

The Gamecocks impressed me last fall in Shane Beamer’s first season and added a veteran quarterback (Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler) with a lot of talent. If Rattler can shake off his struggles last year with the Sooners, South Carolina gets a nice upgrade.

4. Florida

If Anthony Richardson lives up to his potential, the Gators will be better than 7-5. If not, Florida will finish in the middle of the division.
If Anthony Richardson lives up to his potential, the Gators will be better than 7-5. If not, Florida will finish in the middle of the division. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

I went back and forth with the Gators and Tennessee at Nos. 3 and 4. I put the Volunteers ahead because I have too many concerns about UF’s depth and because their meeting is in Knoxville. If Anthony Richardson stays healthy and plays up to his potential, the Gators could steal a couple games and make this prediction look foolish. But Richardson’s sample size (seven career touchdown passes, six interceptions) isn’t enough to convince me yet. I pegged Billy Napier for a 7-5 first season months ago, and I’m sticking with it now.

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Related: Florida coach Billy Napier says Gators are a ‘work in progress.’ He’s right.

3. Tennessee

Former UCF coach Josh Heupel did better than I expected last year (7-6). I’m still skeptical about his long-term future, but his 15 returning starters should be a big boost.

Related: SEC, save the Florida Gators vs. Tennessee football rivalry

2. Kentucky

Mark Stoops continues to work wonders with the Wildcats. He has a highly touted quarterback (Will Levis), plus a nice backfield. I think Kentucky wins 10 games for the third time in the last five seasons.

1. Georgia

The Bulldogs should regress slightly from last year’s national championship team, but they’re good enough to earn another trip to the SEC title game.

SEC championship prediction

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will lead the Crimson Tide past Georgia for the SEC title.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will lead the Crimson Tide past Georgia for the SEC title. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

Alabama over Georgia. The Crimson Tide get revenge from the loss in last season’s national championship by beating the Bulldogs in Atlanta. ‘Bama makes the College Football Playoff (again) and faces Ohio State in the title game.

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