With college football officially kicking off next week, fans packed the Jacksonville Sports Council's inaugural Speaker Series luncheon Thursday to hear ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit's take on the upcoming season.
Herbstreit said he likes Florida State's chances to repeat as national champion, particularly with the return of Heisman-trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback.
“I think they have probably the best talent in the country,” Herbstreit said. “I'm anxious to see them play, I really am, because when you win a title, I think everybody wants to watch and they want to scrutinize what you're doing, especially Jameis for winning the Heisman.”
He said the Seminoles will have to avoid a potential letdown, however, if coach Jimbo Fisher hopes to prove that his team has staying power.
The Gators, on the other hand, are out to prove something else: that last season was just a blip. Herbstreit said he thinks Florida can reverse last year's woes that led to a 4-8 season, including an embarrassing loss to Georgia Southern.
The addition of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will help in that effort, Herbstreit said.
“They've got to stay healthy. Last year, they had to deal with more injuries than anybody in the country,” he said. “Things seemed to just spiral out of control from there. When your own fans are turning on you, it tells you how bad it is, so they need to get off to a really good start to re-establish some confidence and belief, and I think they will.”
Florida opens with games against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky.
While Herbstreit thinks the Gators can improve from last year, Georgia is his pick to win the SEC East.
Quarterback Hutson Mason and running back Todd Gurley lead a solid group of offensive players, and former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt comes over to take the reins of a talented defense.
“They start with some tough games: Clemson and South Carolina, but I think they're up to it,” Herbstreit said. “I like the Dawgs.”