Week by week we’ll break down each 2018 opponent and see how the Gators might fare. You can check out our preview of the first two games – Charleston Southern and Kentucky here. Next on the slate: The Colorado State Rams and the Tennessee Volunteers
2017 Record: 7 – 6 (3rd overall in Mountain West Mountain)
Toughest 2017 Opponents: #1 Alabama (lost 41-23), Boise St. (lost 59-52)
Best 2017 Win: 44-42 over Nevada Wolf Pack (…I guess?)
2018 Outlook: Colorado State had what many might call a ‘Bell Curve’ Season in 2017. They started the season firing on offense, winning 6 of their first 8 games with one of their losses coming from the would-be National Champions Crimson Tide – where they were still able to hang 23 points in their defeat in Tuscaloosa. The CSU football team looked primed to contend for a Mountain West title through the first half of the season… and then the wheels came off. The Rams spiraled after back-to-back rivalry losses to Air Force and Wyoming and quickly fell completely out of contention for the conference title.
Much of the problem seemed to stem from the inconsistency of the defense. CSU forced nine turnovers in the first three games of the season; then the Rams only forced four in the following seven games combined and never more than one in a conference game. The Rams struggled mightily against Nevada, allowing 564 yards of offense, but CSU’s offense bailed them out. New Mexico ran well on the Rams, but CSU had enough stops to win. It all unraveled against Air Force, with the Falcons running for 413 yards. The Rams were good almost all game against Allen and Wyoming but were unable to get a game-winning stop in the fourth quarter.
The Rams had the highest scoring offense in the Mountain West, but there has been a couple of specific times when it didn’t perform to title-winning standards and clearly a defense that has a hard time maintaining consistency through a season, likely wearing down as the games go on. The biggest question mark for CSU will be the starting Quarterback. This upcoming season was supposed to be Collin Hill’s time. The 6-foot-5 Hill took the quarterback job from Nick Stevens as a true freshman in 2016 before tearing his ACL in October of that season. Hill’s takeover of the program has been derailed by the news that he suffered a second torn ACL in his left knee. The latest came while playing basketball last week, and he’ll have surgery in mid-March. After Hill the QB competition is very murky. History would show an improvement for the Rams in the coming season, but with few answers to their previous woes, another middle of the pack finish in the MWC should be expected.
How do the Gators fair? Our Prediction: Florida 31, CSU 17 – Ah yes, the ‘We took Jim McEwlain from you so now we owe you an early season game’ Game (That’s the official nickname for this match-up, by the way #WTJMFYNWOYESG – not quite the same ring as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but to each his own). I’m sure that many fans thought this would be a fun thank you for allowing us to buy out Jim McElwain’s contract from the Rams, after he turned around the program and led them to an impressive 22-16 in three seasons as the Head Coach. But alas, we were the suckers in that agreement and now we pay for our end of the bargain with a visit from Rams.
Unlike Charleston Southern, Colorado State is not quite as soft as many of the other cupcakes that the Gators could have scheduled in this spot. In fact I wouldn’t really call them a cupcake at all as they frequently contend with Power 5 teams every season. That said, they are also not the elite of the Mountain West Conference.
Quick Timeout/Rant – how annoying is that that they Mountain West has the Mountain Division and the West Division. So we have the Mountain West Mountain and the Mountain West West. That is dumb. Dumb dumb. Anyway…
Florida will have hopefully gotten many kinks out of the system when Colorado State makes its way to Gainesville. If all goes right in the first two games the gators should have some good confidence in themselves while continuing to play in the Swamp. Colorado State can turn the ball over and, regardless of who the Gators have lined up behind center, the Rams will get some opportunities at making plays on defense. At the end of the day Florida has too much talent and play makers to not put points on the board and with a new quarterback taking over for the Rams it will be a similar game plan as their previous match-up with Kentucky. With a trip to Tennessee looming this will be an important game for the Gators not to overlook. CSU will be battle tested after it makes a trip to play the Arkansas Razorbacks in the previous week, its 3rd game of the season. At the end of the day we’ll take the ‘W’, thank them for nothing, and pack our bags for the trip North.
2017 Record: 4 – 8 (7th overall in SEC East)
Toughest 2017 Opponents: #2 Georgia (lost 41-0), #1 Alabama (lost 45-7), Florida (ha!) (lost 26-20)
Best 2017 Win: 42-41 2OT win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2018 Outlook: Oh Tennessee; what a strange and painful ride it’s been on Rocky Top. Another season of many Vols fans believing ‘This is the one!’ at the start ended up leaving the Champions of Life with even more questions than answers after they completely stumbled to an 0-8 record in the SEC. Ouch. And we thought out season was rough (it was, FYI). There are disasters, and then there is what has become of the Volunteer football program. Coach Butch Jones was fired amid the first win-less SEC season in school history. There were a couple close losses, but also some embarrassing ones along the way. The offense never got going, and the Vols struggled mightily because of it. The situation had only gotten worse as the coaching search become an absolute circus, to say the least.
Tennessee averaged a 13.2 finish in recruiting rankings from 2013-17. New coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t inheriting a cupboard that’s completely empty, but the former Alabama defensive coordinator is going to have a busy offseason. The Volunteers are looking for answers for an offense that averaged only 19.8 points a game in 2017 and lost standout running back John Kelly to the NFL. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano should benefit from a full offseason to work as the No. 1 option, with running back Ty Chandler poised to have a breakout year as the starter. Guard Trey Smith is already one of the SEC’s top linemen after starting all 12 games as a true freshman in 2017. Pruitt’s impact will be noticed right away on defense. This unit has finished ninth in the SEC in scoring defense in three out of the last four years, and top defensive back Rashaan Gaulden is leaving Knoxville early to go to the NFL. Darrin Kirkland’s return from injury should also bolster the linebacker unit.
How do the Gators fair? Our Prediction: Florida 24, Tennessee 21 – The Gators have won this match-up 12 of the last 13 years, with the most recent loss coming in 2016 when the Vols failed to capitalize at the end of the season and still allowed Florida its shot at getting thumped by Alabama in Atlanta. Last season was certainly a nail biter for the Gators, that ended in pure joy and likely the only worth-while memory of the 2017 season for Florida fans:
I could watch that all day… and probably will. It was the beginning of the end for the Volunteers season as everything seemed to not quite come together after their heartbreak in the Swamp. Even after forgettable 2017 seasons, both of these teams will be looking for a strong start and a quick turnaround. New coach Jeremy Pruitt, regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators, surely will improve the defense, which will return eight starters. This is where Florida’s new offensive system will be tested as you can expect the Volunteers to pressure the quarterback and force him out of the pocket. If the Volunteers are going to make it a sad trip to Knoxville for the Gators, it will certainly be on this side of the ball.
Where Florida will have an advantage is with their own defense, who will look to do the same to Tennessee’s new quarterback and running back tandem. Guarantano is nothing to write home about, but he can get the job done if given the opportunity. Games against LSU (239 yds passing) and Kentucky (242 yds passing) were some of his best, but he was largely mediocre in the Vols ugly season. Chandler will be a back looking to give defenses some trouble, as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season and will likely have an improved offensive line to run behind. You just never know with this game for the Gators, as it always comes down to the wire. I’ll feel more comfortable with my pick after seeing the ugly-orange-crew take on West Virginia and former Gator QB Will Grier to kickoff the season. That said, Dan Mullen knows the importance of these games and until Tennessee can start to put things together I think Florida has a stronger foundation for the quicker turnaround. It will probably be an ugly game, but one Florida can and should win.
W vs Charleston Southern Buccaneers
W vs Kentucky Wildcats
W vs Colorado State Rams
W vs Tennessee Volunteers