The Gators finished 5th in the SEC East in Billy Napier’s Season 2.

SEC media predict Florida will finish fifth in the Eastern Division for the season after the Gators were 3-5 in league play during coach Billy Napier’s rookie season.

Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky all led the Gators, who were 6-7 in 2022 and suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the late 1970s.

At SEC Media Days on Wednesday, Napier was bullish despite naysayers and a lack of buzz outside of the UF program.

“Gator legend Steve Spurrier said it best when he said it was talk season,” Napier said. “The games are coming, and in the meantime, this group will continue to work the same way as before.”

Florida head coach Billy Napier speaks on July 19, 2023 during the SEC SEC Media Days in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

The Gators are returning just seven starters — just three on defense, one of the worst in the SEC. Napier has yet to name a starting quarterback, but Wisconsin transfer Graeme Merz is expected to replace Anthony Richardson after an uneven career with the Badgers. Mertz was 19-12 as a starter with 38 touchdowns and 26 steals.

“He played a lot of football,” SEC Network analyst Jordan Rodgers told the Florida Today News. “When I see him in a film, I really think he is talented. Whether it was the situation or the scheme, he made a lot of balls go into the coverage area.”

The shortage of Florida stars was evident on All-SEC preseason teams. The Gators were unable to put anyone on the first or second preseason team.

Tailback Trevor Etienne, cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. and cornerback Prinsley Umanmilen made the third team.

In 2022, Louisiana transfer offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrens made the preseason offense for the first team and eventually earned All-American honors.

Florida head coach Billy Napier watches from the sidelines as the Gators lose 31-24 on November 19, 2022 at Vanderbilt. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Missouri selected to finish sixth in the East ahead of Vanderbilt. The Commodores defeated the Gators Nov. 31-24, 19, Wendy’s first win over UF in Nashville since 1988.

Florida will face one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2023, with their rivals going 96-60 (61.5%) in 2022.

Napier’s team opens Aug. 31 at the Pac-12 championship tournament in Utah and hosts Sept. 23 in the Tennessee Swamp, a year after the Vols’ 38-33 victory over the Gators. After a September 30 visit to Kentucky, the winner of three of the last five meetings, and a trip to South Carolina on October 14, UF has a farewell week ahead of a three-game showdown against two-time defending national champions Georgia, Arkansas and LSU in Baton Rouge.

Florida State visits the Swamp on Nov. 25 to close the regular season. The Seminoles are likely in the top 10 preseason after quarterback Jordan Travis, a Heisman Trophy nominee.

American football’s annual edition of Athlon Sports predicts Florida to win 5-7 and miss out on the bowl game.

Edgar Thompson can be contacted at [email protected].

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