The 2023 Florida Gators football team enters this season with a ton of question marks. It's a low floor and semi-high ceiling kind of season that is certainly capable of leaving many sports bettors wary of their games. The Gators are coming off their second consecutive 6-7 season, where the second-year head coach Billy Napier hopes to improve upon that. But as always, there's tons of pressure down in Gainesville, where victory isn't just expected, it's demanded. What exactly will this Gators team be in 2023? What will be their identity? Let's start by making some bold predictions.
4. Florida football will beat Utah again
In what ended up being a thriller to start off the season for both teams and the college football season itself, Florida and Utah will offer a return matchup to start the 2023 year. This time, however, the Gators will be making the long trek to Salt Lake City to face the Utes on their home turf.
What's interesting about this game is how the point spread has increasingly been changing. It went from -10.5 for Utah, down to -8, then to -7.5, and is now all the way down to -4.5. What does Vegas know?
Well, the uncertainty of Utah quarterback Cameron Rising probably has a lot to do with that. Rising had a great game against the Gators in last year's contest. He went 22-of-32 for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while also rushing for 91 yards. His one interception was costly, however, that was thrown in the end zone at the end of the game. The Utes ended up losing by three points.
But still, Rising's experience and skill are crucial to this game. I believe if he doesn't play, the game is definitely a Gators victory.
3. Graham Mertz will be as good as he was at Wisconsin
Graham Mertz wasn't bad at Wisconsin. But he was definitely more of a game manager-type quarterback — and I believe that's what he's going to do in Gainesville as well. Mertz's numbers won't blow you away; he just last year threw for just over 2,000 yards for the first time in his career. His number of touchdowns is also pretty pedestrian, although they have increased every year, but his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions isn't spectacular.
Luckily for Mertz, he'll probably be utilizing a strong backfield that will be taking the brunt of the offensive production, where all he'll have to do is hand the ball off most of the time. Mertz isn't going to wow anybody, and he'll probably have some head-scratching moments this season, throwing some off-the-wall picks. But then there will be times where he might make something unbelievable happen that will either get the Gators scoring in good field position or even a touchdown. He'll probably be anything from solid to mediocre. However, most intel from the Gators' camp has said that he's been looking pretty good, thus why he was named starter. We shall see.
2. Improved defense helps make Cocktail Party closer
Last year, Florida football gave up an average of 29.8 points per game. Most of that probably came because they were one of the worst third-down teams in the country, ranked 129th, where teams converted on them just over 50 percent of the time. To fix that, Napier has brought in one of the youngest coordinators in the league, Austin Armstrong, from Southern Miss. Initially, Armstrong was hired by Nick Saban at Alabama to be the inside linebackers' coach, but Napier quickly swooped in and grabbed Armstrong to run his defense.
Armstrong, who is just 30 years old, had a Golden Eagles bunch that ranked 42nd nationally in total defense. His defense was also one that ranked in the top 10 in first downs allowed, fumbles recovered, red zone defense, and defensive touchdowns.
Georgia will be starting new quarterback Carson Beck this season to replace Stetson Bennett. The Bulldogs also have some question marks entering this season at the running back position, in large part due to injuries. With some talent returning along with transfer portal additions in Deuce Spurlock, Teradja Mitchell, and Mannie Nunnery, the Gators' defense can take a massive step forward this season. And one that may give Georgia some fits in late October. That's not saying the Gators will win the rivalry game, but that could make it closer than what some expect. As weak as the rest of Georgia's schedule is, the Bulldogs may be resting on their laurels during this game.
1. Florida football could have the best running back duo in the country
A majority of the Florida football offense will probably come from the likes of running backs Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr. This is especially the case given the season-ending injury (per ESPN) to Cam Carroll. As mentioned earlier, they'll be a catalyst for keeping Mertz consistent, offering him opportunities for more play-action and options throwing out of the backfield. As long as the offensive line can stay healthy and likewise stay consistent in run-blocking, there's no reason that Etienne and Johnson can't be explosive this season. If the Gators can control the game by dominating the time of possession with their talented running backs, they'll surprise some teams this season.