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What will it take for Florida to be national title contenders in 2022?

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Heading into the first year of the Billy Napier era there aren’t many who are expecting the Florida Gators to compete for a national championship. The folks at ESPN like to push the boundaries of reality though and laid out what exactly needs to be done for Napier to claim glory in year one.

For starters, ESPN groups the teams by how many “ifs” it would take for them to be national title contenders. Florida is a four-If team and the first thing that has to go right is sophomore Anthony Richardson finding success. The upside is high but Napier needs to find some consistency from his young quarterback.

As a part-timer last season, Richardson produced passes of 75, 41, 38, 36, 36, 33 and 27 and rushes of 80, 73, 26 and 25. He’s got a big arm, and he is much faster than a 240-pounder has any right to be …

If Billy Napier coaxes steadier play from the sophomore, Florida goes from also-ran to contender very quickly. (“Quickly” is a must — Florida plays Utah, Kentucky and Tennessee in September.)

The next item on the list that would make Florida a contender is “if a thin skill corps makes plays.” When Dan Mullen left and Napier came in, the Gators lost a ton of talent to the transfer portal and also some to the draft.

Napier brought in running back Montrell Johnson, who tore up the Sun Belt Conference as a freshman under his coaching at ULL. He also brought in Ricky Pearsall to help out Justin Shorter at receiver, but there aren’t too many proven names behind those guys. ESPN points to Xzavier Henderson as a potential difference maker this season.

There’s also plenty of youth on the defensive side of the ball. Ventrell Miller and Brenton Cox Jr. returning helped bolster the front seven, but ESPN says that unit will need to be much better than expected for Florida to contend.

Four leading returning defensive linemen are all sophomores, and while veteran Brenton Cox Jr. is excellent, sophomores might carry most of the upside at linebacker too. That’s not typically part of a title recipe.

Finally, if all of those other pieces come together, Florida needs its new coaching staff to get creative. The defense needs to be better than good in this dream scenario where the Gators win it all, and that requires some ingenuity from co-defensive coordinators Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer. Coach Chaos (Spencer) has the nickname to match, but there needs to be true havoc on the field.

The Gators ranked 98th in havoc rate* last season. Defensive co-coordinators Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer have never worked together, but they need to very quickly craft a lot more disruption than Florida has produced of late.

With all that said, competing for an SEC East title might be enough for Billy Napier’s first year to be considered a success. Only a few of those “ifs” need to come true for that to happen, and it feels mildly attainable after going through hoops to make Florida look like national contenders

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire