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Florida Team Rankings, 2
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser , Phelan M. Ebenhack

The state of Florida is famously intense when it comes to its college football rivalries. The three-way rivalry between Florida, Florida State and Miami is one that is fought all year long, not just during the season. But who is the most talented program right now?

If you missed Part One, I am ranking Florida’s three big football programs at each position group, the way I see it at this point in the offseason. This is based off of the talent left at each position and how they compare to the other schools heading into the spring.

The defensive side of the ball for these three teams is definitely interesting because they all have a history of really good defenses. Miami has been dominant the last two seasons under Manny Diaz (now the outspoken head coach), Florida has been really good for the last decade, and Florida State, though they struggled last season, is traditionally good as well.

All three teams lost talent on this side of the ball from last season, many of them being the best players on their team. The Hurricanes probably lost the most — in terms of number of players — but the Seminoles lost the most in terms of production outside of one player. But how does this change the best groups across these three teams?

Defensive Line

1. Miami Hurricanes

2. Florida Gators

3. Florida State Seminoles

Last season, the defensive linemen from these three teams were just outrageous. Each team lost quite a bit, but I think Miami has the most returning, even without Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson. Miami returns Jonathan Garvin, who may be the most overlooked player in the state, finishing last season with 17 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Jabari Zuniga is a player to watch for Florida, finishing last season with 6.5 sacks. The Gators lose Jachai Polite, the most important player in their front seven who accounted for 11 sacks last season. His loss forces other players to step up, which should make the rest of this line play much better. I still think the Hurricanes still have more talent left, though

Florida State lost basically the only true playmaker on the defensive line in Brian Burns. The junior accounted for 10 of the teams 28 sacks last season and will likely be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Obviously, this comes down to more than the top player from each team, but each team is going to have a bunch of talent to show off. Miami’s Garvin, Nesta Silvera, Scott Patchan, and Pat Bethel are a nice group with Jonathan Ford and Gregory Rousseau rounding it out. They also brought in a group of transfers that should help solidify the group.

Linebackers

1. Miami Hurricanes

2. Florida State Seminoles

3. Florida Gators

The easiest defensive position to decide upon is linebacker. The Hurricanes have three returning seniors who have all started for the past three years. Shaquille Quarterman is one of, if not the best linebacker in the country, and Michael Pinckney isn’t far behind him. If Zach McCloud was on any other team, he would probably lead that team in tackles.

Romeo Finley should be mentioned here as well, though he technically plays a different position. But I will include him here because he plays a unique linebacker position, and he had a breakout season last year and should be extremely important in 2019.

Florida State returns their top-three tackling linebackers in Dontavious Jackson (76 tackles), Jaiden Woodbey (59), and DeCalon Brooks (46).

The Gators lost their top linebacker in Vosean Joseph. David Reese (77 tackles) has also been good the last few seasons, and there are several guys chasing him looking to step in and become that second guy. Rayshad Jackson (36 career tackles), Jeremiah Moon (31), Kylan Johnson (27), and James Houston IV (26) are each in a position to take their next step and get a bunch of playing time.

Cornerbacks

1. Florida Gators

2. Florida State Seminoles

3. Miami Hurricanes

The Florida Gators return their best corners from last season, a group that was really good. C.J. Henderson is one of the top corners in the country, while Trey Dead and C.J. McWilliams picked up a ton of experience last season, and Marco Wilson returns after tearing his ACL a year ago.

Not only does Florida State return some talented corners, but they are also adding some of the highest-rated recruits in the country. This is a group that was one of the worst at stopping the pass last season, but it also hurt them that they were on the field for so much because of a terrible offense.

Miami is the third team here because of a lack in depth and experience. The Hurricanes could once-again have the top passing defense in the country, but right now only have one corner with a decent amount of experience in Trajan Bandy. They did pick up a huge recruit on signing day in Christian Williams to go along with Te’Cory Couch, so that will definitely help this group.

Safeties

1. Florida State Seminoles

2. Florida Gators

3. Miami Hurricanes

Not only does Florida State return their top tackler in safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, but they are also bringing in Akeem Dent, one of the top safety recruits in the country. Nasirildeen led the team in tackles last season with 91 total, so hopefully he can pair well with Dent to patrol the back-end of the ‘Noles defense.

The Gators lost their best safety in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, but there are some pretty good players to fill the hole he left. Jeawon Taylor and Brad Stewart Jr. should make a nice duo along with some depth coming in behind them.

The Hurricanes lost their top two safeties in Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine. It will be tough to start, but Amari Cart and Gurvan Hall are expected to compete for the starting jobs as well as transfer Bubba Bolden from USC.

Kickers

1. Florida Gators

2. Florida State Seminoles

3. Miami Hurricanes

Yes. Kickers are getting ranked, too.

Florida’s Tommy Townsend is the best punter in the country. I have no doubts about that. Evan McPherson was a pretty good kicker for the Gators last season as well. So as much as I want to give this to Miami just because Louis Hedley is the coolest looking guy to ever kick a football, he hasn’t played yet and I can’t give it to him for that reason.

Florida State’s Ricky Aguayo may have struggled at times last season, but Logan Tyler was one of the better punters averaging 43.2 yards per punt for the ‘Noles. It won’t take much of Hedley kicking in-game to put Miami’s Bubba Baxa and Hedley above this group, but until game one, they sit at number three.

Returners

1. Miami Hurricanes

2. Florida Gators

3. Florida State Seminoles

Jeff Thomas and Deejay Dallas were great as returners last season. When they had chances, they were making kicking teams pay. After those two, Kadarius Toney and Freddy Swain of Florida were pretty reliable. D.J. Matthews was solid for Florida State at returning punts, coming up with his biggest against Miami.

READ MORE: Some Miami Hurricanes Rise, Others Fall Hard at the NFL Combine

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