Ready or not, the pigskin party is set to kick off! Can UCF cling to its claim as the best team on the peninsula (if not the nation)? Have the Gators and Noles found the coaches that will return them to a spot among the sport's elite? Can anybody beat Miami? The time is now - my 2018 Sunshine State College Football Preview is here!
Miami Hurricanes (Last Season 10-3)
He has the tan, he has the Ray-Ban shades, and Coach Mark Richt might have the "U" on the verge of partying like it's 1987. The best team in the state is buoyed by two stellar recruiting classes and a classic Canes chip on its shoulder. Despite coming off a 10-win season, Miami was smothered by Clemson in the ACC Title game and wants a fresh crack at the Tigers. (Usually) accurate Malik Rosier will open the season as the Hurricanes' starter at quarterback with a trio of talented underclassmen nipping at his heals. Loads of skilled dudes on offense will help take the pressure off whoever take the snaps. PREDICTION: 12-2.
UCF Knights (Last Season 13-0)
As college football's only undefeated team in 2017, UCF proclaimed itself "National Champions." It was a Fall in Orlando that will be remembered forever. A year later, new coach Josh Heupel (replacing Scott Frost) will lean on Heisman Trophy candidate McKenzie Milton at quarterback, hoping he can duplicate the type of highlights that often made the Knights must-see TV last season. Even though UCF lost five starters on each side of the ball many of its play-makers are back. If the Disney darlings can handle distractions and hype this should be the team to beat once again in the AAC. PREDICTION: 11-2.
FAU Owls (Last season 11-3)
Mired in slow traffic during a 2-3 start last season, the FAU Owls shifted into the "fast Lane" for Coach Kiffin, en route to an 11-win campaign and a Conference USA title. Can one of college football's most sly offensive minds find 41 points/game for a second straight season with a new quarterback and the youngest Offensive Coordinator in history (25 year old Charlie Weis Jr.) as his running buddies? In conference, that's a reasonable goal, but how the Owls do in three key road games will determine whether or not they get to double-digit wins again. (9/1 @ Oklahoma, 9/21 @ UCF, 11/3 @ FIU). PREDICTION: 10-4.
Florida Gators (Last season 4-7)
Remember when the Gators consistently churned out a new stud quarterback on the heels of the last? Few Florida fans under the age of 18 do. That void has Dan Mullen is back in the Swamp, hoping to resurrect the days when he was coordinator for an offense led by a guy named Tebow. He's basically starting from scratch. The good news for Gator fans is that Mullen has a pension for making the good ones great. Meanwhile, the Gators should be able to run the ball with Jordan Scarlett and several other big play backs. Because of Mullen's SEC head coaching experience and spunk (his predecessor had neither), UF should get an automatic boost in win total. PREDICTION: 9-4.
Florida State Seminoles (Last season 7-6)
So it's official... Deondre Francois is back. Monday, new Florida State Coach Willie Taggart announced that, after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury, Francois will start the opener September 3rd vs. Virginia Tech. Keeping him on the field could be challenging from more than just a health standpoint. Francois had two off-season run-ins with the cops (a domestic violence dispute and a marijuana arrest). Assuming all is fine in both departments, Taggart's new up-tempo offense should work well with Francois at the controls. On the flip, less encouraging is the fact that a young defense won't have the Noles ready for a run at Clemson just yet. PREDICTION: 9-4.
FIU Panthers (Last season 8-5)
Butch Davis knows winning and South Florida recruiting - VERY WELL. The man that helped bring Miami back to prominence at the dawn of the millennium did what he was hired to do in his first year at Florida International. Steering the Panthers to its first bowl game since 2011 means expectations get ratcheted up in 2018. There's lots of skill position talent on the FIU roster, but the unknowns will be at quarterback and running back, with longtime starters Alex McGough (QB) and Alex Gardner (RB) now gone. Davis' plug and play recruits will have to produce immediately if the Panthers plan on getting back to a bowl game. PREDICTION: 6-7.
USF Bulls (Last season 10-2)
The good news is Charlie Strong will have his coaching style firmly in place in his second season at USF. The unknown is how his new quarterback Blake Barnett will fit in. Its a one-year dash for the grad transfer from Arizona State. An abundance of talent and experience on defense could make that side of the ball the real bellwether for the 2018 Bulls. If the newer look offense has inconsistent moments, it could be up to the defense to carry the day. Ready for another War on I-4 epic in November? It could come down to that for an AAC Conference Title. PREDICTION: 8-4.