Florida football schedule overview: Part 1

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College football fans must consider themselves fortunate to be having a season at all this year. With the pandemic crippling sports leagues at every level, getting a bunch of unpaid kids in different programs and different conferences around the country to buy into a risky, sterilized season was always going to be a long shot. Lo and behold, however, after a few weeks of the likes of Austin Peay and Oklahoma State holding down the Saturday fort, the class of college football is back and ready to go against all odds. The SEC kicks off its most unique season in history this weekend, which means Florida football is back. Here’s an overview of the first half of the blue and orange’s 10-game SEC schedule.

Week 1 @ Ole Miss

Lane Kiffin’s SEC homecoming serves as Florida’s first test of the season. The Rebels appear set to feature a dynamic run based attack with a stacked running back room and mobile prospect John Rhys Plumlee under center. Still, this remains a program in transition. Florida’s key advantage during this bizarre season will be the high level of continuity from last year within the program, the importance of which cannot be overestimated given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Kiffin’s gifted play calling could make this an entertaining game, but expect the Gators’ premier coach/quarterback combo, Dan Mullen and Kyle Trask, to have their way with an inexperienced defense and first year coaching staff.

Week 2 vs. South Carolina

This is another game which the Gators will enter as heavy favorites, as South Carolina comes in with some key changes over the offseason with defensive stalwart Javon Kinlaw off to the NFL and a new offensive coordinator in ex-Colorado State honcho Mike Bobo. Nevertheless, this is a team that relishes the underdog role and is unwise to underestimate (just ask any Georgia fan, after the Gamecocks ruined its season in early October last year). South Carolina has a lot of questions to answer on the scoring side of the ball with uncertain situations at wideout and under center. Keep an eye on first year back MarShawn Lloyd, who chose the gamecocks over Ohio State and hometown Maryland, as well as former four star recruit Ryan Hilinski, the favorite to take over the quarterback room. Even sans Kinlaw, the ‘Cocks feature a promising young defense, including five stars Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch on the line.

Week 3 @ Texas A&M

Florida’s first real test of the season comes in the third week against a Jimbo Fischer led Aggies squad that has quietly been gaining momentum as a premier program the past few years. Fourth year starter Kellen Mond will be a huge test for a Florida secondary that expects to remain elite after losing superstar C.J. Henderson to a top 10 draft selection. Mond isn’t quite the player Johnny Manziel was for Texas A&M when he was terrorizing the SEC, but the longest tenured starter in the conference has the talent to make premier throws to all levels of the field and takes care of the ball exceptionally well. The Aggies also return the majority of their defensive snaps from last season, and the interior line looks like a particular strength - keep an eye on behemoths Jayden Peevy and Bobby Brown III. This matchup will be a benchmark for the Gators offensive line and rush attack as much as their defensive backfield.

Week 4 vs. LSU

This is as big of a game as it sounds. The Tigers obviously won’t be the same David-less Goliath of a program that laid waste to the entire college football landscape last season. They lost elite weapons Justin Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jamarr Chase to the NFL draft and an opt out, respectively. They lost wunderkind play caller Joe Brady to an NFL job as well. And, of course, they lost that other guy to the Bengals named Joe Burrow. But Ed Orgeron’s program is one of the few in the country that can afford an exodus of those proportions and come out on the other side as contenders to go back-to-back. Orgeron chose two former head coaches to be his new coordinators, with former Nebraska skipper Bo Pelini tabbed to run the defense and ex-NFL boss Scott Linehan taking over for Brady on the other side of the ball. One of those programs that essentially doubles as an NFL Draft talent factory, the crazy turnover rate from their title winning team will be nullified by just the next wave of four and five star talent. Another game where Florida’s continuity on the field from last season will be an asset they must leverage to have their best chance to win, but the Tigers will have had three contests by this point to develop chemistry. Circle your calendar for this one.

Week 5 vs. Mizzou

With the LSU game just prior to this and Game Of The Year contest against Georgia coming up the next week, the Gators’ second consecutive Tiger matchup might be easy to overlook. However, it would be unwise to get caught up in the surrounding games as this unheralded Missouri team is one of those pesky programs that seems to overperform almost every year. Despite a faulty 2019, new coach Eliah Drinkwitz will fit that mold and get the most out of the talent he has available after doing just that with Appalachian State last season. These Tigers’ biggest strength will likely lie in their rushing attack and safety group. Keep an eye as well on linebacker Nick Bolton, the best player on this roster and among the best at his position in the nation. Still, though, the drop off in talent between this team and the ones Florida must contend with immediately before and after is staggering. This contest likely will serve more as a test of the Gators mental acuity and perseverance than of their actual play.

In Summary

Florida football, like all others this season, is going to have its hands full with conference opponents week after week. That said, the two-game leadup to the month-long gauntlet that includes Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia (we’ll get to the second half next week) will likely be the key to getting this team on the right page. High hopes abound for the Mullen/Trask combo. The first half of the season will be an excellent barometer for whether or not this Florida squad’s playoff aspirations are justified.

Photo courtesy of FloridaGators.com