Way back when, before all of us were wearing masks (OK, some of us) and when hangin’ out did not require a head count, there was a lot of hype surrounding this Florida football season.
The reasons were threefold:
- Dan Mullen and his staff had won 21 games in their first two seasons at Florida.
- Florida was returning a quarterback who engineered most of those wins in an SEC that would be searching for quarterbacks and the roster was the strongest Florida has had for the last decade.
- The UF schedule set up perfectly for the Gators.
Then along came COVID-19 to take away so much. Caught in the crossfire of collateral damage was a new schedule that would be shorter and more difficult at the same time. Not just for Florida, but for everybody in the league.
New Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz pulled Alabama and LSU. Tennessee saw its momentum from last year slip a bit when Texas A&M and Auburn were added to a schedule that already has Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
The league had to put the old schedules in a paper shredder and come up with all new dates since the season wouldn’t start until Sept. 26.
So here’s a look at the next schedule, which most of you will only be watching on TV:
- No non-conference games, which means Florida gives up some easy wins, you know, like Eastern Washington, South Alabama and, of course, Florida State.
- It will be a grind to play 10 conference games with only one open date. There could be another open date if a match-up gets postponed because the league left an open date the week before the SEC Championship. “It’s similar to last year when we played 10 good teams with Miami and FSU on the schedule,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “We just had more bye weeks. It is what it is. I’ve been in this league long enough to know you’re going to play a tough team week after week.”
- I’m not sure there is a real gauntlet here. There’s no brutal three-game stretch that pops up on the schedule every once in a while. The closest thing would be early in the season when Florida faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and LSU in three consecutive weeks. But the bookend games of that stretch are at home. (Sidenote: The only other time UF played at College Station, it was Johnny Manziel’s first game and the Aggies first-ever SEC game.)
- We like to talk about trap games, and if you want one it would be Florida’s home game against Arkansas the week after Georgia.
- Feleipe Franks (4JM) was as popular with his teammates as he was unpopular with the fans. “It’ll bring a lot of things up. I don’t know how good that is for anybody,” Mullen said. “He’ll be motivated to play here again and our guys will be motivated against him. I’m not sure if that’s a great thing or not.”
- Of the 14 teams in the league, 11 of them will have to play back-to-back road games. Florida is not one of them. I get it that road games won’t be the same this year in terms of crowd support. But travel does take its toll on players. It is still a factor. In fact, Florida has one stretch where the Gators don’t leave the state for five straight weekends. Three home games, an open week and the Georgia game in Jacksonville.
- The sneaky game to me is Kentucky in the penultimate game, even though it’s in the Swamp. Mark Stoops has built a rugged team that can make it through this difficult schedule. Also, a Nov. 28 contest against Florida takes you back to the old-cold game against the Wildcats.
- The bookend games are interesting in that the Gators travel to Oxford minus the atmosphere (the Grove won’t be the Grove) to play a coach (Lane Kiffin) with nothing to lose in his opener. And the Gators close with Tennessee, which is the first time that has happened since 9/11 forced the game to be postponed. Much will be written about that 2001 game, but none of it will have anything to do with this year’s game.
So, basically, Florida’s new schedule is manageable and a lot more interesting. Remember that by the time the Gators play Georgia on Nov. 7, the Bulldogs could already be in trouble because they will have played Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky leading up to it.
Also remember that this is a new world with 10 conference games, and the theory that you have to run the conference is out the window. I think 8-2 will do just fine, perhaps in both divisions.
Heck, 8-2 might get you into the College Football Playoffs.
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