Heading into the 2022 season, there are a lot of question marks and unknowns for the Florida Gators football program. Between having an entire new coaching staff under head coach Billy Napier, to having a lot of new starters and newcomers on both sides of the ball, the Gators have a lot to figure out this season.
These questions, combined with a very tough schedule, has created the narrative that this will be a rebuilding season of sorts for the Gators. While there have been many opinions on how the 2022 Florida Gators will fair, I'm going to give you my five biggest or hottest takes on this Gators team, depending on how you feel about it.
Florida wins 9+ games, including wins over Utah, LSU and FSU
While many might see this as a hot take, I think that this Gator team is more than capable of hitting the 9-win mark in Billy Napier's first season in charge. Like I mentioned earlier, the Gators have a tough schedule this season as you can see below (image via FBS Schedules).
With matchups against teams like Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M and FSU, the Gators are faced with a tall task of having a successful season. However, I think that this Gator team will surprise many people around the country. Vegas oddsmakers set the Gators win total for 2022 at 7.5 wins. I believe that the Gators will exceed this win total and finish the season winning 9 games and going 9-3, with losses coming to Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M and securing key wins over Utah, Kentucky, LSU and FSU.
While there are a lot of tough games, I think that this team will show a lot of fight and discipline that the 2021 team just simply lacked all season. The catalysts for this Gator team are going to be the likes of Anthony Richardson, Montrell Johnson, Justin Shorter, Nay'Quan Wright and a whole host of others offensively while defensively, Trey Dean III, Ventrell Miller, Gervon Dexter Sr. and Brenton Cox Jr. will set the tone and be the difference. The way these guys go the team will go and I think that this team is really going to shock a lot of people this year.
Gators Finish Top-10 in Total Rushing Yards and Yards Per Game
The Florida Gators enter the 2022 season with a trio of talented running backs in their backfield. This trio consists of sophomore Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson Jr., redshirt junior Nay'Quan Wright and redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard. These three are all extremely talented and have the experience to become one of the best rushing attacks in the nation.
Looking back to last year, the 2021 Gator rushing attack wasn't so bad itself. Between the likes of primary backs Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay'Quan Wright, along with contributions from Demarkcus Bowman, Lorenzo Lingard, Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, the Gators rushing attack finished 23rd nationally in rushing yards with 2,714 yards total as a team for the season. Along with this, they finished the season also ranked 23rd nationally in yards per game, averaging 208.8 yards per contest.
This is great news for Gator fans, as two of the three projected key contributors in the backfield this season in Nay'Quan Wright and Lorenzo Lingard are returning from that top-25 rushing attack from last season. These two, along with starting quarterback Anthony Richardson and 2021 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Montrell Johnson, have the Gators in line to pickup right where they left off and then some from last season.
The key factor for the Gators is going to be the run-heavy offense that Billy Napier likes to run. In 2021, Coach Napier's Louisiana team finished 22nd overall in total yardage on the ground, just one spot ahead of Florida, with 2,715 total yards rushing on the year. Even more so, in the Covid-19-shortened 2020 season, Napier's Ragin' Cajuns finished 12th in the nation in total yardage and even better in 2019 when they finished 7th in the country in total rushing yardage.
As you can see, Billy Napier led teams had a lot of success running the football at Louisiana and I would be shocked if he doesn't try to continue to do that here. With the talent Florida has in their backfield this year combined with Napier's run-focused offense and a big and experienced offensive line, don't be surprised to see this Gator rushing attack finish in the top-10 in total yardage on the season and yards per game.
Anthony Richardson finishes as a Heisman Finalist and First-Team All-SEC selection
We all know that as Gator fans Anthony Richardson could be THAT guy. The type of guy who could be up there in the same conversation with the likes of Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel, Steve Spurrier, Rex Grossman and a select few others who are the best to ever call the signals in the orange and blue.
While Anthony had an up and down 2021 season that was plagued by injuries and lack of consistent playing time, he still played pretty well when he got his chances. Finishing the season with 529 yards and six touchdowns in the air to go along with 401 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, Richardson showed the world just how good and versatile he can be. Though having turnover troubles at times, for the most part he showed the flashes of greatness that left Gator fans wanting more of him all year long.
Richardson, who stands at 6-foot-4 232 pounds, obviously has the physical tools that allow him to have enormous upside. Those tools combined with a year of game experience under his belt and a new offensive scheme under coach Napier have made many predict a huge season for him. We've seen him do it before, between his hurdle against FAU, his throw rolling left against USF or even his three second half touchdown passes at LSU, he showed what he can do when given the chance.
Injuries also plagued Richardson last season. A nagging knee injury forced him to have surgery late in 2021. Back healthy now, though, Richardson hopes to have a healthy 2022 season. If he does, I think you will see him finally put his physical tools and playmaking ability together and become a first-team all-SEC player and Heisman finalist come years end. We all know he is capable of doing it and I believe you will see it this year.
Brenton Cox Jr. and Gervon Dexter Sr. Finish First-Team All-SEC; Trey Dean III and Ventrell Miller Finish Second-Team
Following a lackluster 2021 season defensively, one which saw defensive coordinator Todd Grantham being fired mid-season, the Gators defense will look to reverse course and get back to the Gator defenses of old in 2022. The catalysts on this year's defense are going to be the likes of edge Brenton Cox Jr., defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr., safety Trey Dean III and inside linebacker Ventrell Miller, who will all look to put the pieces together and each use their experience to have a big year for the Gators.
To start with, Gervon Dexter Sr. is one of those guys that you use the term "the sky is the limit for". Standing at 6-foot-6 312 pounds, Dexter is coming off of a solid year in which he recorded 51 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a pass deflection and 2 fumble recoveries in just 9 starts. Now heading into his junior season with two years of experience under his belt, Gervon is going to put it all together, using his size and ability along with a lot of experience to finish First-Team All-SEC. In his first year as a full-time starter, look for Dexter to be a monster presence on the interior and disrupt opposing offenses all year long and record 60+ tackles, 7+ sacks and double-digit tackles for loss.
Along with Dexter on the defensive line, redshirt senior Brenton Cox Jr. is another guy who I believe is going to have a huge year and finish on the First-Team All-SEC team. Cox , who stands at 6-foot-3 252 pounds, is coming off a strong 2021 campaign in which he finished with 41 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections and a forced fumble. Outside of the 41 total tackles, these were all improvements from the 2020 season in which Brenton was named AP Second-Team All-SEC. Like Dexter, Cox is a guy who has all the upside in the world and is extremely athletic coming off the edge. Expect him to have a monster year, putting up 50+ tackles, double-digit sacks and tackles for loss.
Behind Dexter and Cox is inside linebacker Ventrell Miller. Miller, who is a 6th-year redshirt senior, has tons of experience under his belt and is coming back to Florida for one more season to try and improve his draft stock and help win ball games along the way. After coming off a 2021 season in which he missed most of the year after getting hurt against USF, Miller is on a mission to show the world that he is an elite-level SEC linebacker. His veteran leadership and football IQ is going to be vital to the Gators success this year defensively and look for him to have a big year.
Last but not least is the guy who is the backstop of the defense, Trey Dean III. Dean, who is entering his redshirt senior season, is coming off his best statistical season in the orange and blue, where he recorded 92 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception and 10 pass deflections. Though having been inconsistent at times both in coverage and as a tackler in his time in Gainesville, Dean is a guy with plenty of talent and great ball skills that is ready to finish off his college career with a bang. I believe that he will shake his inconsistencies this year and be that reliable backstop of the defense that the Gators need and put up big numbers along the way, recording 90+ tackles, 6+ tackles for loss, 2+ sacks, 3+ interceptions and 10+ pass deflections.
Gators Offensive Line Shines and Becomes a Top-10 Unit in the Nation
With all these offensive projections I am giving, none of it can happen without a good offensive line. The anchor in front that Top-10 rushing attack I predicted as well as Anthony Richardson's predicted First-Team All-SEC and Heisman Finalist season by me, this unit is going to be the best we have had in a long time at Florida. Coming off of a season in which O-Line coach John Hevesy was let go mid-season and the Gators, despite putting up good numbers on paper, struggled with inconsistent play up front all year. A combination of experience as well as new talent will lead this unit to be one of the top offensive line groups in the country.
The projected starters on the offensive front this year are from right to left, redshirt junior right tackle Michael Tarquin, senior Louisiana transfer right guard O'Cyrus Torrence, redshirt junior center Kingsley Eguakun, senior left guard Ethan White and redshirt senior left tackle Richard Gouraige. 3 of these 5 are returning full-time starters from the 2021 group, in Eguakun, Gouraige and Ethan White. Tarquin started just two games last year but appeared in 12, so he has a lot of experience coming into the 2022 campaign and will look to be effective in a full-time starter role.
The catalyst for this Gator offensive line this season is going to be Louisiana transfer O'Cyrus Torrence. Torrence, who came with Napier to Florida along with running back Montrell Johnson, was one of the best offensive lineman in college football last season. He finished the season as a First-Team All-Sun Belt selection as well as being named to PFF's College Football All-American First-Team , with a PFF grade of 87.2. Over the course of three seasons in his collegiate career, Torrence has allowed just 17 pressures, with only five of those coming in 2021 and has never allowed a sack. Never allowing a sack throughout three complete seasons of a college career is incredible and Torrence will look to be just as good, if not better in 2022 for the Gators.
While the Gators offensive line has been inconsistent in years past, the likes of Kingsley Eguakun, Ethan White and Richard Gouraige who have all had a ton of experience in a Gator uniform as well as Torrence and Tarquin, will look to have a big 2022 season and lead the Florida offense to be one of the best in all of college football.