By Zach Buckley
Florida’s college football scene is collectively rising.
At least, that’s the view of Athlon Sports, which pegs five different Florida schools as programs on the rise or ones to watch in 2017.
The first distinction went to three teams: Florida State, Florida Atlantic and South Florida.
The Seminoles finished last season eighth in both the AP and Coaches polls after edging past Michigan 33-32 in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles lost star running back Dalvin Cook, who’s NFL-bound following a year with 1,765 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns. But they’ll have another summer of seasoning for redshirt-sophomore-to-be quarterback Deondre Francois (3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns), plus incoming five-star running back Cam Akers.
The Owls’ outlook shines mostly due to changes in the coaching ranks. Head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles (from Baylor) both need to repair their reputations, but each was deemed a character risk worth taking for their football minds. Former four-star FSU quarterback De’Andre Johnson is seeking his own second chance after being dismissed by the ‘Noles when video surfaced of him punching a woman at a Tallahassee nightclub in 2015.
The Bulls lost head coach Willie Taggart to Oregon but grabbed former Texas and Louisville front man Charlie Strong to replace him. South Florida also returns quarterback Quinton Flowers, who accumulated 42 touchdowns last season while passing for 2,812 yards and rushing for another 1,530.
Miami and Central Florida were both listed as programs to monitor.
The Hurricanes must find a replacement for quarterback Brad Kaaya. Still, Miami went an encouraging 9-4 during its first season under head coach Mark Richt, while Mark Walton ran wild (1,117 rushing yards and 14 scores) and Wellington product Ahmmon Richards broke Michael Irvin’s freshman receiving record with 934 yards.
The Knights saw a six-win improvement during head coach Scott Frost’s first year at the helm. Quarterback McKenzie Milton passed for 1,983 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman.