GAINESVILLE — As the college football regular season hits its midpoint, Florida coach Billy Napier was asked for his mid-year grade for the Gators.
“I’m not into grades,” Napier said. “I’m into winning.”
We, however, are into grades. Here are our midseason report cards for the state’s five biggest programs:
External expectations were not high for Napier’s first season after he inherited a roster that lacked star power and depth. Because we’re grading on a curve relative to expectations, a 4-2 start is fine. UF beat a top-20 team (Utah) in the opener, was competitive against another ranked opponent (Kentucky) and had a shot at beating a very good Tennessee team on the road.
It has not always been pretty. The Gators probably should have lost to USF. Quarterback Anthony Richardson has more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (five). The third-down defense is tied for sixth-worst in the nation and the program’s worst — by far — since at least 2009. But the run game is strong, and UF is finding ways to win the close games it lost under Dan Mullen.
Outside expectations weren’t high for the Seminoles, either, as Mike Norvell continues his rebuilding process. But the outlook changed with the win over LSU — a down-to-the-wire triumph that recent FSU teams would have found a way to lose. Unfortunately for FSU, the Seminoles did find a way to lose last week at No. 14 North Carolina State, blowing a 14-point halftime lead against a backup quarterback.
The Seminoles are significantly better than they were this time last year and the best they’ve been since at least 2017. In July, rational FSU fans would have taken a 4-2 start. But it’s hard not to dwell on the missed opportunities against Wake Forest and the Wolfpack and see a team that could have done more.
The injury-plagued Bulls are hard to figure out. They looked like they turned a corner in a last-minute loss at Florida but were blown out by 38 the next week at Louisville. They looked hapless a week later in their conference opener against East Carolina but took arguably the AAC’s top team, Cincinnati, down to the wire on the road the next week.
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It was reasonable to think USF could challenge for a bowl appearance in Jeff Scott’s third season. That goal remains possible, but it’s a longshot. ESPN’s SP+ advanced metrics had the Bulls at No. 90 in the preseason and 102nd now. If you squint enough, you can see signs of progress. Just not enough.
The Hurricanes were the only state team to start in The Associated Press top 25. Five games in, they’re arguably Florida’s fourth-best team. Losing to North Carolina in Mario Cristobal’s ACC opener isn’t awful. Maybe you can downplay the defeat at Texas A&M, too.
But a double-digit home loss to Middle Tennessee State is on the short list of the worst performances in the program’s modern era. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke played like a high-level NFL prospect last season but is No. 74 nationally in passing efficiency (134.88). It’s not all on him — the offensive line and receivers haven’t helped enough — but it’s a major disappointment.
Let’s be clear: Cristobal’s job isn’t in jeopardy, nor should it be. But a 2-3 start raises questions about how he manages games and what must change before Miami can start vying for championships again.
The 4-1 Knights are the top team in the state according to some advanced metrics and at or near the top of the AAC, too. UCF’s lone loss came to Louisville after getting outscored 13-0 in the second half. Every other victory was at least a 17-point triumph, including a 27-10 win that got Geoff Collins fired at Georgia Tech and a big win over SMU thanks to 31 consecutive points. This isn’t a great UCF team like 2017, but it is solid and living up to expectations.
Offensive MVP: FSU quarterback Jordan Travis
Defensive MVP: Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller
Top offensive transfer: Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence
Top defensive transfer: FSU defensive end Jared Verse
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