The Florida football team heads into its bye week with a 5-1 record and a comfortable resting spot atop the Southeastern Conference East Division.
The Gators control the rest of their season. As long as they win the remainder of their games, they’ll have a guaranteed spot in the SEC Championship Game come December. But which player has been the main reason for UF’s success?
Football writers Patrick Pinak, Jordan McPherson, Ian Cohen and Ethan Bauer debate who should take home Florida’s midseason MVP award.
Patrick: Quincy Tabor
Or Jalen Wilson.
Choosing between Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson for UF’s first-half MVP is a lot like picking between crunchy and creamy peanut butter at the supermarket.
You can’t go wrong.
The pair of cornerbacks has been arguably the best in college football and leads all Southeastern Conference defensive back duos with seven interceptions.
Two of those, pick sixes in Florida’s 40-14 win over Missouri on Saturday, may have put the country on notice and furthered first-round draft pick discussions.
But intercepting opposing quarterbacks isn’t all this tandem has done well.
Tabor and Wilson are true shutdown corners who have blanketed wide receivers all season.
Consider this stat via Pro Football Focus: Pitted against SEC passing leader Drew Lock, the Gators surrendered just two completions on passes that traveled beyond the Missouri line of scrimmage.
The driving force behind that? Tabor and Wilson.
The two feed off each other and have often said that when one nabs a pick, the other wants to one-up him. That competitive nature has helped lead Florida to allow a conference-best 132.8 passing yards per game.
And while teams will likely start picking on nickel corner Duke Dawson more, they’ll still have to throw out wide every so often.
UF coach Jim McElwain could only smile at the thought of that after the win over Missouri.
“You’ve got to pick one side of the field, right?” he said. “Pick your poison.”
Jordan: Johnny Townsend
The Gators have strived for consistency all season long.
But six games into the year, only one player has done his job consistently and at the highest level possible every time he steps foot on the field.
That’s right, it’s punter Johnny Townsend. The redshirt junior’s 47.54 yards per punt leads the SEC and ranks third in the country. Through six games, 15 of his 28 punts have traveled at least 50 yards and only two have resulted in touchbacks.
He’s the defense’s best friend, pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line on 13 of his 28 punting attempts this year.
On those 13 drives, Florida’s defense has given up zero touchdowns, one field goal and forced a safety.
In other words, when Townsend pins the opponent deep in its own territory, Florida’s defense is only being outscored 3-2.
He’s also the offense’s best weapon, stretching the field every time a Florida drive stalls before reaching midfield.
And he’s probably the only player on the team who can rival special teams partner Eddy Pineiro’s fan base.
While Pineiro’s name is chanted each time he steps up for a field goal, Townsend has a movement on Twitter, with fans calling for him to become the first special teams player to win the Heisman.
While he probably won’t be named the best player in college football, Townsend has been the Gators’ best player so far this year, without a doubt.
Ian: Jarrad Davis
The gap between Jarrad Davis and the rest of the candidates on this list is huge.
Through seven weeks, no other player has meant more to this team than Davis, the senior linebacker who doles out instructions to his teammates before each snap and wreaks havoc in opponents’ backfields.
Davis leads Florida with 48 tackles and is tied for fourth on the team with two sacks.
And while his production alone jumps off the stat sheet, it’s clear when talking to his teammates that Davis is Florida’s vocal leader.
He’s the first player leading the Gators out of the tunnel before each game and the on-field coach at the line of scrimmage.
He tells his teammates where to be and hypes them up for big moments, a quality that has unquestionably contributed to Florida’s dominant defense this season — UF is allowing a stunningly low 12 points per game, second in the nation.
Yes, you can argue that Florida is truly DBU (Defensive Backs University), and with Wilson and Tabor at corner this year, you’d have a strong argument.
But with his play, Davis is making an even stronger one for LBU.
Ethan: Cameron Dillard
Cam Dillard isn’t flashy. When he talks with reporters, he won’t generally say much. And even when he does, it’s usually in a very soft-spoken voice.
But so far this season, the center’s play has been just the opposite of his personality: raucous, violent and potent.
Dillard is the leader of a much-improved offensive line, which has been able to protect the quarterback a year after it struggled mightily.
Last season, the Gators allowed a league-worst 45 sacks. But this season, the group is tied for 12th-best in the nation in sacks allowed.
And that improvement starts with Dillard.
As the center, he’s the leader of the unit. He’s also a veteran playing in his fourth year at Florida, and he’s excelled at leading a bunch of youngsters.
Through sophomore Fred Johnson’s struggles, sophomore Tyler Jordan’s injury and the emergence of true freshman tackle Jawaan Taylor, Dillard has been the glue binding the line together.
“Cam’s a guy that’s got his hands full with this group,” offensive line coach Mike Summers said, “trying to make sure that we’re in the correct blocking scheme, that we’ve identified the targets the right way. Those are all jobs that he has to do. ... And he has really shown a lot of improvement in an area that may have been a concern.”
Indeed, the whole offensive line was a concern heading into the season after a campaign that its players would certainly like to forget. But in large part thanks to Dillard’s leadership and consistent play, the offensive line has given the offense a chance to excel.
And even though the skill players haven’t broken through yet, Dillard is deserving of midseason MVP honors just for giving them that chance.
Who do you think is Florida’s midseason MVP? Vote online at alligator.org/sports.