GAINESVILLE, Fla. — ESPN and SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum is a believer in Florida football this fall — at least, more so than the voters who slotted the Gators No. 25 in the Associated Press preseason poll.
That’s where Florida finished in the final 2015 AP poll after climbing as high as No. 8 during its 10-4 campaign.
During an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday, Finebaum was asked which team from outside the preseason top-15 could be a surprise this season.
“I go all the way down to the bottom, No. 25. I think the Florida Gators are going to be better,” Finebaum said. “They’ve named their quarterback in Luke Del Rio. They surprised a lot of people last year getting to the SEC championship game, and then they had a crash and burn at the end of the season when they were struggling with the quarterback position. But I think they’re better this year. They don’t have that big game early on. They do have the big game at the end of the season against Florida State. They have LSU at home. They still have to go to Tennessee, but they’ve beaten Tennessee 11 years in a row.”
Despite winning the SEC East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season in Gainesville, the Gators are being picked behind Tennessee — preseason No. 9 — in the division by most pundits. Their showdown in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sept. 24 will be Florida’s first truly big test this fall.
The Gators host LSU (preseason No. 5) on Oct. 8, take on Georgia (preseason No. 18) in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 29 and close the regular season Nov. 26 at Florida State (preseason No. 4).
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.