Florida Football Preseason Superlatives

2023 Preseason Superlatives

by Inside the Gators Staff

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Inside the Gators staffers Rafael De Los Santos, Zack Weiss, Mark Wheeler and Chris Will take an in-depth look at Florida football just days before the start of the 2023 season. Here are our superlatives, predicted statistical category leaders, and our game-by-game predicted outcomes.


Who will be the Offensive MVP?

De Los Santos: One would have to think that the run game will be more heavily relied on with Anthony Richardson off to the NFL. My pick is Montrell Johnson Jr. Expect the junior to break the 1,000-yard mark this season.

Weiss: I’d go with Ricky Pearsall, given he’s so far-and-away the Gators’ top receiving threat, but we know this is going to be a run-heavy offense. I’d go with Montrell Johnson or Trevor Etienne, given the aforementioned, but they’re naturally going to take production away from one another. So, that leaves the cliché answer: Graham Mertz. If Mertz can complete close to 60% of his throws, and not give the ball away, he’ll be a breath of fresh air for Florida fans. And I do expect that to be the case.

Wheeler: Though they may start out on equal footing, as the season goes on I would expect to see Trevor Etienne start to move ever so slightly ahead of Montrell Johnson as the go-to back simply because he has a bit more breakaway capability.

Will:  Montrell Johnson – The run game is going to be vital to a successful season for the Gators. I’d expect them to run the ball and run it often. Trevor Etienne and Johnson will be Co-MVPs, but I am giving Johnson the MVP because I think he will get a few more touches to add some more to the stat line.

Who will be the Defensive MVP?

De Los Santos: JACK Princely Umanmielen played in all 13 games last season, making 11 starts at defensive end, totaling 39 tackles (16 solo), 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries. Florida’s new No. 1 on defense has already been named to the Chuck Bednarik (best defensive player) and Lombardi Award watchlists for a reason, he’s headed into a season that could spark his NFL career.

Weiss: Defensive tackle Cam Jackson — The 6-foot-6, 371-pound transfer from Memphis is expected to pair nicely with Desmond Watson on the interior line and play a big role in this team’s defense (which was ranked 97th nationally last season) improving drastically.

Wheeler: The only way for Austin Armstrong to be as aggressive as we all believe he wants to be is to have cornerbacks on the back end who are capable of covering receivers one-on-one, which would allow for more blitzing. I don’t know that Jason Marshall Jr. will be able to put up big numbers statistically, because I don’t believe he will be challenged enough to afford him many opportunities for interceptions and pass break-ups.

Will: Princely Umanmielen – He’s a highly touted defensive end going into the 2023 season. He showed he can perform at this level last season. I expect that growth to continue.

Who will surprise on Offense?

De Los Santos: Florida will desperately be looking for a secondary passing option away from Ricky Pearsall and I believe Caleb Douglas can definitely be that man, his 62-yard touchdown reception against EWU last season was a sign of what’s to come.

Weiss: I know this doesn’t seem like the smartest place to put your money, given the depth chart that was released for the season opener and the fact that he’s not high up on it, but Andy Jean is quick, strong, has sticky hands and looks the part. What I’ve heard is that he hasn’t been grasping the playbook; but if he can get that down as the season progresses and earn himself time on the field, I have no doubt he’ll impress.

Wheeler: I do believe that a couple of the incoming freshmen receivers will have impactful years, but they are already receiving so much hype, that it would be hard to consider them as a surprise. A true surprise to me, considering his position seems to be an afterthought, would be Jonathan Odom. I believe he will be a short-distance and red-zone weapon. A big, reliable body for Graham Mertz.

Will: Graham Mertz – I think he will be efficient where Florida needs him to be. Fans might end up pleasantly surprised.

Who will surprise on Defense?

De Los Santos: A glaring lack of depth on the interior defensive line in 2022 forced eventual second-rounder Gervon Dexter to play 65 snaps per game on average. I expect newcomer Cam Jackson to shine in Austin Armstrong’s explosive defense.

Weiss: Jordan Castell — A true freshman who earned a starting spot at safety for the season opener by having a great camp? Easy answer for me. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman out of Orlando has earned Billy Napier’s trust enough to step into the shoes left behind by Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence. I’m eager to see whether his camp will translate.

Wheeler: I would love to pick defensive transfer Cam Jackson, but for some reason, I can’t get Tyreak Sapp out of my mind. He doesn’t have great length for a defensive end, but I think he has the motor and enough burst to move up and down the line and make an impact as a situational pass rusher who can also hold the edge against the run game.

Will: Teradja Mitchell – The loss of Ventrell Miller leaves a hole in the defense. I think Mitchell will surprise fans by being an efficient plug for that hole (even if it’s temporary).

Who will disappoint on Offense?

De Los Santos: Tight end Dante Zanders has been a nonthreat in the air who’ll be nothing more than a blocker for a stellar backfield. The days of electric Florida tight ends will have to wait another season with Zanders.

Weiss: I think Gators fans may be getting their hopes up just a little bit too much as it pertains to this tight end room, and Dante Zanders is simply at the forefront of it. Since Kyle Pitts, Florida hasn’t seen much of any tight end production. And in what’ll be yet another year of run-heavy offense, I wouldn’t expect that to change too much.

Wheeler: I have to go with the obvious choice. I don’t think Graham Mertz is going to be Wisconsin bad, but I think his slightly above-average performance in the open practice has raised expectations to an unrealistic level. We’ll see how he performs under pressure when teams realize that perhaps UF will have an issue stretching the field.

Will: Richie Leonard IV – With O’Cyrus Torrence out, Leonard has big shoes to fill. Leonard is smaller than his other starting offensive linemen and will be a target for opposing teams.

Who will disappoint on Defense?

De Los Santos: This was the hardest pick by far but Jaydon Hill’s 2022-23 season was marked by a stellar Missouri game and a steady decline thereafter. I expect him to cede to JD Perkins and Sharif Denson at the STAR early on.

Weiss: I hope I’m wrong about this, because I think he’s an awesome person and hard-worker, but 6-foot-5, 435-pound junior Desmond Watson just has so much hype around him after his few viral plays last season. I’m not sure he’ll quite live up to the expectations that some have for him. Especially with Cam Jackson coming into the fold and stealing some of that run-stopping limelight.

Wheeler: This is difficult because I haven’t seen any one defender really receive any over-the-top false praise to this point. I believe the disappointment will come from those who expect an unrealistic step forward. UF was terrible last year. Getting back to just average or slightly below average is a more realistic outlook than some of what I have been seeing.

Will: Kamari Wilson – his five-star status out of high school has put pressure on him to perform. The clock is ticking for Gator fans.




RUSH YDSJohnson Jr.EtienneJohnson Jr.Johnson Jr.
RUSH TDJohnson Jr.EtienneJohnson Jr.Johnson Jr.
REC YDSPearsallJacksonPearsallPearsall
REC TDPearsallOdomPearsallPearsall
INTSKimberHillMarshall Jr.Marshall Jr.

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  1. The season record and game-game prediction were much harder to do this year because even after seeing them in the spring and fall camp, we really know so little about this team with so many new faces.

    Is Graham Mertz reinvented or is he what he is after four years of college football?

    Can a revamped receiver corps, offensive line, defensive line, and safety spot play up to their potential (especially receivers and safeties) while learning on the job?

    Is Napier a better game-day coach and could that in turn help UF steal a win or two this year compared to last year when his decisions (clock management and play calling) put UF in a bad spot a few times?

    Last year I predicted 8-4, and felt pretty good about it (and it could have happened if UF didn't roll over and play dead down the stretch). This year, I really don't know about my 6-6 prediction.

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