Never in its history has the State of Florida seen its college football competition this stacked. For the first time ever, four schools appear in the Preseason Top 25 Polls and at least one is a favorite to bring a 12th National Championship to the peninsula. Florida is bursting at the seems with high school talent (and the best weather in America) and high profile coaches are gobbling up every FBS vacancy in the state. 2017 is the year of the rock star coach in the Sunshine State. Buy your tickets and find a seat - the show is about to begin!
USF Bulls (Last Season: 11-1)
Charlie Strong takes center stage in Tampa on the heels of Willie Taggart's decision to jump to the Oregon Trail. Whether the Bulls or the Quack Attack got the better deal on the headsets remains to be seen. But on the field, Strong inherits a fortune. Quinton Flowers could and should surpass 4,500 yards combined passing (3,000) and rushing (1,500) at quarterback. That will be good enough to lead potent USF to an AAC Title, despite a likely late season slip up in conference. PREDICTION: 11-1.
Florida Atlantic Owls (Last Season: 3-9)
Lane Kiffin and his army of headline grabbers march into Boca Raton on a mission to flip an Owls team that has won nine games total the last three season. Kiffin has resurrected former Florida State quarterback and high school blue-chipper De'Andre Johnson from the JuCo circuit. Additionally, he's resuscitated the career of Offensive Coordinator Kendal Briles from the Baylor trash heap. The former allegedly punched a female, while the latter was close by during the Bears' sex abuse scandal. The experience on the sidelines and the talent on the gridiron will double FAU's win total from last year and make it bowl eligible. PREDICTION: 6-6.
UCF Knights (Last Season: 6-6)
Scott Frost won six more games in his first year at UCF than George O'Leary did in his final year. That still only got the Knights to .500, thanks to the 2015 victory goose egg. Frost's desired up-tempo style offense doesn't yet have all the pieces to make it a "Knight-mare" for opposing defenses. Too much turnover on both sides of the ball will keep Central Florida from challenging for the AAC Championship, but a winning season and a bowl berth will feel good to the monster student body in Orlando. PREDICTION: 7-5.
Florida International Panthers (Last Season: 4-8)
One winning season for FIU since 2011 is the reason why Butch Davis is back in sunny Florida. The man who rebuilt the "U" once upon a time has 15 starters back from last year. That fact, along with a solid influx of new faces should help the defense improve on the overly generous 35 points per game it allowed last year. The other side of the ball really is where the Panthers have the experience, led by an Alex or two. If four-year starting quarterback Alex McGough can cut down on the interceptions (11 last season) and senior tailback Alex Gardner can set up 2nd and 3rd and short situations, Florida International could reach its third bowl game in school history. PREDICTION: 7-5.
Miami Hurricanes (Last Season: 9-4)
You get the feeling Mark Richt has Miami edging towards the brink of a breakthrough - one that will truly spell the return of the "U." It was a topsy turvy first year in Coral Gables, with the Canes winning their first four, losing their next four, and waking back up to finish with five consecutive wins. Nearly everything on both sides of the football is better this season, with one exception... quarterback. Redshirt Junior Malik Rosier was named starter in late August, with incoming freshman N'Kosi Perry a strong backup, Count the FSU game game as a loss right now, and two others on the schedule, but expect nine wins from Miami. PREDICTION: 9-3.
Florida Gators (Last Season: 9-4)
Jim McElwain's first win this season will be his 20th at Florida. Happily for the Gators, they play in the slightly better than pedestrian SEC East, where they've won two division titles in a row. But until the Orange and Blue find "the" quarterback, challenging the best from the West will be only a pipe dream. Is that man ready to burst through this season in the form of redshirt freshman Felipe Franks? That's the difference between an 11-win season and an 8-win year. October is the crucial part of the schedule. It looks daunting for UF, except for the fact that they get LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia all inside state lines. PREDICTION: 9-3.
Florida State Seminoles (Last Season: 10-3)
How fabulous is it for Jimbo Fisher that he has star quarterback-in-the-making Deondre Francois back under center... Now, who's there for him to throw or hand to since his four favorite targets at receiver are gone from last season, along with workhorse running back Dalvin Cook? Fisher recruits well enough to plug and play, but it could take some adjustment time early in the season. And, oh by the way, the Noles open with Bama in Dallas! I see that as FSU's only loss on the campaign, however. And who's to say those two don't meet again in the final football game of 2017-2018? PREDICTION: 11-1.