The level of football being played by the Florida Gators’ defense right now is one of the more overlooked stories in college football. It’s the best defense in the Southeastern Conference, which means it’s arguably the best unit — offense or defense — in college football.
Consider this: Florida’s defense is giving up an average of 202.5 yards per game. The league’s second stingiest unit based on total defense, Mississippi State, is allowing 107.5 more yards per game than the Gators. Of all the major defensive categories in which Florida leads the SEC, the number that sticks out most prominently is 17.8. That’s the percentage of third-down conversions by opponents against the Gators.
In Florida’s only loss, a 21-16 defeat to Miami, the Gators’ defense allowed just 10 first downs. Meanwhile, UF’s offense gave the ball away five times. For the purposes of Joe vs. the Pro, the Gators’ defense makes things tricky. Despite losing its starting quarterback, UF has been favored by double digits the past two weeks. It’s a quandary that’s not going to get any easier as the season progresses. Joe missed on the Gators last week to go 5-1-2 against the spread.
Meanwhile, the Pro hit on the Gators but missed on FSU after its slow start at Boston College. Overall, Joe is 32-8 straight up and 26-12-2 against the spread. The Pro enters this week 30-10 straight up and 29-9-2 against the spread. On to the picks!
Georgia Tech at Miami, Miami by 5
Joe’s pick: With its quarterback struggling in option sets and unable to complete forward passes, the Yellow Jackets are currently experiencing an identity crisis. Canes know who they are. Miami 36, Georgia Tech 20
Pro’s pick: The Canes defense has figured out how to stop the triple option. Offense now has the weapons to score on any play when a running back or wide receiver touches the ball. Miami 30, Georgia Tech 18
Arkansas at Florida, Florida by 11
Joe’s pick: The Hogs averaged 6.7 yards per carry against Texas A&M last week. Arkansas’ ground game keeps it close. Florida 28, Arkansas 21
Pro’s pick: Hogs offense led by sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen, who’s averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt, and 6-8 tight end Hunter Henry could make this game interesting. Florida 24, Arkansas 20
Maryland at Florida State, Florida State by 15
Joe’s pick: The Terrapins shut out West Virginia, but the Mountaineers had six turnovers. Still, with two weeks to prepare, I’m thinking Maryland throws Famous Jameis a few curveballs. Florida State 30, Maryland 24
Pro’s pick: Terps are improved at 4-0 straight up but their opponents have a straight-up record of 1-12 against BCS opponents. Noles defense will be motivated after giving up 34 points last week to Boston College. Florida State 45, Maryland 14
FIU at Southern Miss, Southern Miss by 16 1/2
Joe’s pick: The Golden Eagles haven’t won since December 2011 and their offense has scored a combined total of 10 points in the past month. Still, can’t bring myself to pick FIU against anyone. Southern Miss 17, FIU 0
Pro’s pick: Normally it’s a no-brainer to go against the Panthers, but Southern Miss is almost as bad — it leads the nation with a minus-11 turnover ratio and has lost 16 consecutive games. Southern Miss 27, FIU 13
Alabama-Birmingham at Florida Atlantic, UAB by 4
Joe’s pick: Call me crazy, but I think FAU is trending in the right direction. Feels like a breakout week for the Owls. FAU 35, UAB 30
Pro’s pick: The Owls’ ranking of 114th or worse in the four major offensive categories can be traced to playing musical quarterbacks. UAB 28, FAU 20
North Carolina at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech by 7 1/2
Joe’s pick: One-dimensional Tar Heels poised for another embarrassing blowout. Virginia Tech 45, North Carolina 30
Pro’s pick: No other team in the country has underperformed like the Tar Heels. They have been flat in blowout losses to East Carolina, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. Can’t back Virginia Tech, which hasn’t scored more than 17 points in five of its past seven games. Virginia Tech 26, North Carolina 23
Cincinnati at South Florida, Cincinnati by 11 1/2
Joe’s pick: Get to the stadium early and help USF tailgaters burn Skip Holtz in effigy. Cincinnati 42, South Florida 28
Pro’s pick: If you’ve tortured yourself by watching an entire South Florida game, then you know like the Netflix show “Orange Is The New Black” that the Bulls are the "new" FIU. They are that bad. Cincinnati 35, South Florida 16
Central Florida at Memphis, Central Florida by 10 1/2
Joe’s pick: Knights take out frustrating loss to South Carolina in major-conference debut. Central Florida 35, Memphis 18
Pro’s pick: A combination of good defensive backs and special-teams play should keep the Tigers in the game. Sandwich game for Central Florida after emotional loss to South Carolina and Louisville up next can’t be ignored. Central Florida 31, Memphis 24