Whether you plan to watch games in person or from your couch, these facts will keep you up-to-date with your favorite team.
In a word, the 2020 college football season was, well, weird.
The only thing normal about it was that we had the usual suspects playing it off for a championship. But everything else was weird.
Zoom interviews, small crowds (and in some places no crowds), announcers working games from home, fans who were allowed to attend muffled by masks, opt outs and contact tracing, empty campuses an hour before games, no Gator Walk, Power 5 teams playing as many as 11 and as few as four regular season games.
But we made it, crowned a champion, played some bowl games and hoped like heck we’d see a more normal 2021 season.
Maybe it will be the new normal, but hopefully it will be a lot closer to what we used to see on Saturdays than what we saw last season.
That’s one reason you can feel it in the air, that electricity that began at SEC Media Days and carries football-crazy fans out of the summer through the fall and into winter.
We still don’t know what to expect. But we have an idea.
So, here are 10 things to know as you get ready for this college football season.
August 24, 2021
1. There’s only one Kyle
As we all know, the two Kyles left for the NFL. No Pitts. No Trask. It was a real pleasure to watch those two stars play.
But they are gone and the only player named Kyle on the team is a walk-on named Kyle Engel. He is listed as an athlete on the roster and played quarterback for St. Thomas Aquinas. He has not played in two seasons as a Gator.
So, this will be a different look to the offense without Pitts and Trask, but Dan Mullen has said he won’t try to fit a round peg into a square hole and the offense will be a lot different with Emory Jones at quarterback and a plethora of quality running backs including two five-star transfers.
2. But there will be a new Tebow… kind of.
Yes, there is a quarterback who will wear No. 15, a big strong player who can run the ball and played in four games last year. He is Anthony Richardson from Gainesville Eastside, and Mullen has already said you can expect to see him playing this year.
There are some people who want to see him take over the starting job, but that wouldn’t be fair to Jones, who has waited for this chance.
Still, there is a reason to break out those No. 15 jerseys again. For the record, he didn’t switch to that number to emulate Tim Tebow. It was his high school number.
3. It’s an interesting schedule
The biggest issue for Florida is that four of its five biggest games will be played away from the Swamp. At the same time, the most difficult opponent – Alabama – will be in Gainesville and should draw a huge crowd.
There was a time when a home schedule that included Alabama, Tennessee and Florida State would be a great home package, but the latter two have fallen on hard times.
Florida will have to go to Kentucky, LSU and Missouri, which will all be difficult games and, of course, play Georgia in Jacksonville.
The good news is that Mullen is 10-2 in true road games at Florida with the only losses being to national champ LSU in 2019 and Texas A&M last season. The bad news is that Georgia drew Arkansas and Auburn from the West.
4. Once again, the O-Line is the key
It seems like Florida has been searching for a great offensive line for almost a decade. They have been promised, but have not delivered.
I’ve said this a million times, but the season will depend on whether the offensive line, which returns three starters, will be able to open holes for those running backs.
Florida was 96th in the nation in rushing offense a year ago, in part because of the effectiveness of the passing game but also because the Gators had to abandon the run because of the inability to run block.
There will be some heat on offensive line coach John Hevesy to put together a line that can deliver this year without losing the ability to pass block. This will be especially difficult because defenses are more likely to crowd the line of scrimmage until Jones can show that he can move the ball through the air.
5. There’s a new RV City
For years, the RVs have been scattered around, some in the north end zone, some at Flavet Field (which is not fun on a rainy day) and some in the old field area for track.
This year, Florida is offering an RV city where fans can pull them in on Friday and enjoy the camaraderie of a group setting. It will be located in the parking lot of the state-of-the-art new baseball stadium and fans will be shuttled to and from the games.
This is really a smart idea and effective use of that space. Whether it will be available for the opener remains to be seen.
6. Mullen will be interesting to watch
The head coach stepped in it a couple of times last year and it affected his national image. I heard someone say during SEC Media Days that they would like to see Mullen be a little more buttoned-down this year.
But that’s not his style.
Begging for a full crowd after the loss to Texas A&M (with a pandemic in full force) was a bad look. So was the “show cause” he received for recruiting violations. And then there was running out on the field to have a tirade at halftime of the Missouri game that didn’t help anything. And then wearing a Darth Vader costume to the postgame zoom call.
And, of course, Florida’s no show in the bowl game.
I don’t know how different he will be in 2021. But he could certainly scale back a little bit.
7. The defense had better be better
Well, it can’t be worse. Last year’s defense set school records for points per game allowed and first downs allowed, and shoes thrown.
Mullen will argue that it was something different every time, that when they plugged up one hole in the dyke another would spring a leak.
So, quit having so many leaks.
Florida’s front seven should be really good and if the corner spot opposite Kaiir Elam can be filled by a transfer portal player such as Elijah Blades (Texas A&M), the Gators will only need to figure things out at the safety positions to get back to being an elite defense again.
Don’t forget, this was the ninth-ranked in the land in 2019 with the same defensive coordinator. Certainly, there will be a lot of heat on Todd Grantham this year. He knows that.
8. There are some changes in the stadium
For one thing, they have built up and improved the concession area in the north end zone. They also will have way more kiosk ordering with more iPads for a contact-free experience.
Florida has made efforts to have more staff outside the stadium helping people with their paperless tickets, as well.
And UF has come up with a good way to let you know which bathroom stalls are available with software and signage with digital messaging to speed up lines.
9. Did I mention the beer?
Beer sales will be offered at more spots this year.
“We’re trying to replicate the best we can what fans get in their living rooms,” said Chip Howard, Florida’s senior athletic director.
10. It’s about what you will see in the stands.
During talking season, Mullen has talked about Florida being a more physical team and about finding leadership. But this last one isn’t about what you will see on the field. It’s about the team behind the team.
Florida will continue to work with UF Health as far as guidelines go. After a year of not being able to fill the 17,000 seats permitted for home games, it will be interesting to see if and how the fans pack the stadium again.
These new variants aren’t messing around and because so many people are fighting the ideas of getting vaccinated, it’s going to be on a game-by-game basis what kind of crowds show up.
So, will it be the Swamp again in 2021? That’s the question that maybe be the most difficult to answer.