As we make our way through the dark days of little college football news, we longingly look ahead to the start of Spring Practice and the march towards the 2018 campaign. With likely more questions than answers for this Gator football team as they look to begin turning around the program under new head coach Dan Mullen, we thought it would be fun to pass the time by combing through Florida’s upcoming season schedule and make way too early predictions.
Week by week we’ll break down each opponent and see how the Gators might fare. To get us started, here is our preview of the first two games – Charleston Southern and Kentucky:
2017 Record: 6 – 5 (3rd overall in Big South)
Toughest 2017 Opponents: #19 Miss. St. (lost 49-0)
Best 2017 Win: 20-19 over Liberty
2018 Outlook: Charleston Southern had a pretty average season in 2017 where they lost to teams they should have lost to and beat teams they should have beaten. At 6-5 they finished right smack in the middle of the Big South. Yeah, we had to look it up too. Looking as deep as we could into the Bucs team, they do boast some impressive athletes, especially on defense – they finished the 2017 season with a Big South record 34.0 team sacks, making them the only team in conference history to record a 30-plus sack season. It is hard to deny numbers like that, regardless of the conference quality. Outside of that we really can’t say too much and one would expect them to finish with right around the same record as in 2017.
How to the Gators fair? Our Prediction: Florida 51, CSU 7 – Charleston Southern is, what we in the Power 5 conferences like to refer to as, a ‘cupcake team’. Scheduled purely for the more talented school, in this case Florida, to get an easy win early, boost the confidence of players, and sort out their starting roster before conference games begin. It’s not all bad for the smaller school – they are likely getting around $1 Million to make the trip and it will help continue to fund their program. Florida will win this game. It’s more a question of by how much. We went really bold here and think Florida will just get over that 50 points mark. While they will be installing a new offense and will certainly have some bumps, the Buccaneers are just that much more inferior. And you can be sure Dan Mullen will want to make the fans happy in his debut as head coach by lighting up the scoreboard. Heck, he hung 49 on them last year with the Bulldogs.
We’ll give the Bucs 7 just because the Gators have always had a tendency to allow scores late in games like this. You can also expect the Gators to really push Grantham’s aggressive 3-4 style of defense in this game as well – it’s a great opportunity to work out the kinks while they continue to sort out positions moving forward.
2017 Record: 7 – 6 (4th overall in SEC East)
Toughest 2017 Opponents: #2 Georgia (lost 42-13), #17 Northwestern (lost 24-23), #19 Miss. St. (lost 45-7)
Best 2017 Win: 23-13 over South Carolina
2018 Outlook: Kentucky looked to be playing with a newfound energy and carried a 3-0 start into their home match-up with the Gators in 2017. Looking for their first win in the last 30 meetings, which is notably tied for the 4th longest win-less streak in NCAA football history, the Wildcats looked prepared to finally snap the Gators fortune. The Wildcats dominated much of the game and even forced the Gators to bench Feleipe Franks for veteran Luke Del Rio. But Old Man River would end up being the hero on this day – down 27-14 in the fourth quarter, Florida got within a touchdown on Brandon Powell’s 6-yard TD run with 7:58 left. Del Rio then marched the Gators 58 yards for the winning score to stun a blue-clad crowd. Kentucky’s desperation attempt to win ended when Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yard field goal fell short as time expired. Thirty-one straight, baby!
Yet even after this punch to the gut at home, the Wildcats bounced back in a strong way and were bowl-eligible by the end of October. There were some missed opportunities for Kentucky, notably against Florida, Ole Miss and Northwestern. But, overall, this was a step forward for the Wildcats. Kentucky will return 16 starters from its season-ending depth chart, including star rusher Benny Snell, who ran for a very impressive 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. The big question for Kentucky on offense is who will follow Stephen Johnson under center. Incoming junior college recruit Terry Wilson and sophomore Gunnar Hoak will compete for the job in off-season workouts. Running will be the focal point in Lexington, but the concern will be if the offensive line can hold up. Stoops’ defense won’t lose much in the way of key players, and linebacker Josh Allen and safety Mike Edwards decided to return for their final year.
How to the Gators fair? Our Prediction: Florida 31, Kentucky 24 – Kentucky always plays the Gators tough. Yes, my heart still races when I think about that overtime battle where Jeff Driskel *just* got the snap off in time to throw the game winning touchdown a couple seasons ago. While I do think the Wildcats will keep the Gators honest in their second game of the season, I think Florida will mostly stay in control of this game throughout. After a nice and easy start against CSU, the Wildcats will certainly try to come into Gainesville with their claws sharpened and ready for another streak-ending attempt.
We can expect some bumps in the road here as Kentucky’s experienced defense will certainly want to test the composure of Feleipe Franks or newcomer Emory Jones. The mix of the 3-4 and 4-3 defense could go either way in terms of success for Florida; if they execute the blending of the two well it will certainly rattle Kentucky’s new QB, but if they are still sorting out assignments then Snell could have himself a day on the ground. When all is said and done, Florida boasts a bit more talent than the Wildcats and we really can’t see Dan Mullen losing a game at home against a team they should beat. ‘Owning the Swamp’ will be this teams mantra and we think they’ll do so while extending that streak one game more.
W vs Charleston Southern Buccaneers
W vs Kentucky Wildcats