The Florida Gators finished just 9-4 in 2016 but that record came with an SEC East championship and a dominant bowl victory, providing some optimism for the immediate future. To that end, KC Joyner of ESPN Insider has put forth Jim McElwain’s team as something of a darkhorse contender for the 2017 College Football Playoff.

Joyner’s breakdown includes many things that tilt in Florida’s favor, ranging from strong recent recruiting to experience on offense (including Antonio Callaway) and immense depth defensively. However, the Gators also receive the benefit of a favorable schedule in 2017, with no game scheduled against Alabama, a season opener against an inexperienced Michigan and home contests against Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M.

With that in mind, Joyner had this to say about the “bottom line” for Florida’s chances to make a real run next season.

The CFP formula for Florida is quite simple. If the Gators win the SEC championship game, they would almost certainly make it into the CFP final four. If they make it to the SEC title game with only one regular-season loss and then fall, they could have a case similar to the 2016 Penn State team that nearly made it into the CFP with two losses. Either scenario may be considered unlikely, but each is also far from impossible and thus places the Gators firmly into the CFP sleeper category.

Florida’s questionable situation at the quarterback situation has to be mentioned but the Gators proved that the SEC East can be conquered without strong play under center. It remains to be seen as to whether McElwain’s crew actually can put together the campaign that combines every positive check mark on Joyner’s list but, if they do, the rest of the division and, potentially, the conference should be on notice.

ESPN names a shocking team as a 2017 Playoff darkhorse Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Rowland is a lifelong Atlanta sports fan that also grew up in a Michigan Wolverines household. He previously worked with FanSided, SB Nation and UPROXX sports and covers college football for FanBuzz.
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