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While waiting on Saturday's season opener against Toledo, Inside the Gators is ready to get your 2013 college football season started off on the right foot. With a tip of our cap to USA Today political pundits Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, staffers Bryan Holt and Jesse Simonton go back and forth trading barbs, insults, observations and maybe even a couple of roundhouse rights and submission attempts as they debate the world of Florida football.
Holt: Alright, Jesse. It's time to set aside the "Road Rules-Jersey Shore Challenge" recordings or whatever it is you've been watching the past seven months. College football season is here. Games officially got underway last night but 2013 won't feel real for Florida until Toledo -- arch rival of Bowling Green, I think -- rolls into town Saturday for a 12:21 p.m. kickoff because ESPN hates all of you. The Gators are coming off arguably the most unremarkable remarkable season. Thanks to defense and an offense that usually didn't lose games, Florida went 11-2. How's this for a broad question: what's your initial outlook for this fall?
Simonton: CT and Johnny Bananas are so disappointed in you. It's simply called, "The Challenge" now. Come on Holt, TURNT UP! As for Florida -- the consensus No. 10 team in the country -- I'm skeptical. I joked in a separate season preview the team reminds me of Jim Carrey's insane character (The Riddler) in "Batman Forever". "There's too many questions. There's too many questions." Every team has uncertainties to start the season, but it just seems like the Gators have a helluva a lot right now to seriously compete for an SEC title. I am in no way prophesying some doomsday season (we'll get to our predictions later). With a pulverizing ground game and a still-scary defense, Florida could reach Atlanta. But with so many questions, it might not be until 2014. What say you?
Holt: Predicting this season is nothing more than measuring how much you trust Will Muschamp. Call me crazy -- I might be -- but he earned my trust in 2012. It's not pretty -- we're talking Renee Zellweger not pretty -- but the dude has a formula and has stockpiled enough talent to win the American Athletic Conference (that's a real thing) with his backups. Atlanta might be a stretch until 2014, but the Gators aren't nearly as distant of a third as one might think. The reason is the two Rs: recruiting and rotating. Florida loses seven starters on defense but in most cases, those players are replaced by young players who are ready for a role increase. Dante Fowler Jr., Marcus Maye, I AM ANTONIO, the list goes on. Anyone who wasn't injured saw extensive playing time in 2012 because Florida played reserves every other damn series during the first half of games. That's the only reason I'm confident a Leon Orr or a Damien Jacobs can replicate Florida's 2012 run defense. Offense is another story. The Gators won't play in Atlanta until that unit doesn't resemble 2012. I don't see that happening this season.
Simonton: Few people are higher on Fowler Jr. than me. I think he and Dominique Easley will lead a menacing front-four, as Florida should have no issues getting to the quarterback in 2013. But the linebackers: Where's the versatility? The quality depth? The Gators obviously have talent -- three top-five recruiting classes in the last four years will that do for ya -- but their success last season was particularly predicated on three things: turnover margin, rush-defense -- both No. 4 nationally -- and Caleb Freakin' Sturgis. Are any of those things not going to regress in 2013? The offense isn't ready to shoulder the load. "Murderball" -- as the esteemed Bill Connelly calls UF's attack -- is effectively ugly, but can Florida duplicate last season's success with the same formula, only with worse luck?
Holt: I'm not as concerned about the linebackers as you are ... barring injury. A lot of that has to do with Neiron Ball emerging at Will and Antonio Morrison holding down the Mike. It's a strange mix of bad and young after those two, but I don't see there being a major first-team drop-off. Ronald Powell is the biggest mystery to me on defense. I have no idea what to expect from him. Looking solely at Florida brings up plenty of questions, but I'm not so sure they're more severe questions than other teams on the schedule face. I'm not sold on South Carolina being this juggernaut people are writing them up to be, and Georgia might have lost more on defense than Aaron Murray will be able to account for in Jacksonville. Even Death Valley doesn't look that scary this year. If there was a game against Alabama on tap, I'd predict it to be ugly. I'm just not blown away by the East.
Simonton: I'm actually pretty bullish on LSU and just the opposite on South Carolina. The East is a tricky pickle, but the annual Cocktail Party should decide the division again. The Aggies, Tigers (purple, not navy), Dawgs and 'Cocks all have question marks too, but to me the Gators are the league's hardest team to handicap -- and we're around this team everyday! Is the offensive line actually better? Will the losses of Jon Bostic, Matt Elam and Josh Evans be more significant than many anticipate? Can (a potentially blossoming) Driskel stay healthy? Is Demarcus Robinson more Amari Cooper or George Farmer? Florida absolutely has some studs -- head nods to Matt Jones, Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, D.J. Humphries, Fowler Jr. -- but as a whole I see it as a good, but not great team. How do think it all shakes out?
Holt: You mean how do I handicap the most unhandicapable (word?) team? I believe the Gators are a 10-2 team. The key word in that is "believe" because to predict a 10-win season for the Gators is to believe a number of players we don't know too much about game-wise will fill their given roles in a respectable fashion. I'm looking at Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood, Tyler Moore, Kelvin Taylor, Max Garcia, even Jones and Driskel, when I say that. Florida is relying on a ton of unknowns to be a contender in 2013, but this is college football and unknown isn't always a synonym for bad. The go-to national prediction seems to be 9-3. I just don't see Florida not winning two games out of LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and FSU. Your turn, Le Batard.
Simonton: Last season, I said Rome wasn't built in a day, but hey, Muschamp damn near built the Coliseum in 20 minutes. Florida -- winning with an ugly-duckling blueprint -- quickly reestablished itself among the nation's elite, so a 10-win season is a solid bet. But an 8-4 year might be too, so, I'll hedge at 9-3, with explanation. When motivated, the Gators (talent-rich despite so many question marks) can compete with anybody. They can absolutely split the fearsome foursome (UGA-USC-FSU-LSU). And yet, Florida, forcibly playing with such a small margin for error, could totally get knocked off or upset or stunned, whatever by Miami or Vanderbilt or Missouri. By season's end, this group could actually be a more complete team than the 2012 boys, but right now I just have a bunch of questions.