Florida's revamped SEC schedule presents opportunity and conjures up old memories
As fall camps kicked off Monday, the SEC took another step forward in the plan to play football through the COVID-19 pandemic this autumn when it announced the new 2020 football schedules.
This builds on last month’s SEC established Sept. 26 date as the new kickoff for its 2020 football season to allow its universities to focus on the gradual re-introduction of athletics as everyone continues to monitor developments related to COVID-19.
The 10-game, all-SEC schedule includes 1 bye week.
For the Florida Gators, the schedule generated intrigue and opportunity. Here are 4 thoughts on Florida’s revamped 2020 slate, which opens Sept. 26th on the road against Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss.
1. The opener at Ole Miss is a break for Florida
Had COVID-19 never happened and Florida played at Ole Miss midseason, as originally planned, the Gators’ trip to Oxford smelled like a trap, sandwiched between a high-profile tilt with defending national champion LSU and archrival Georgia.
Plus, Ole Miss figures to improve quickly under Kiffin, an offensive guru who inherits two very talented quarterbacks and a host of outstanding skill position players, including the electrifying Jerrion Ealy. Before COVID, it was easy to see a scenario where a Gators team banged up after an epic battle with LSU, but also looking ahead at its titanic tilt with Georgia, simply was flat in Oxford.
Given that, it’s easy to view opening the season against a Rebels team under new leadership, in an at-most low capacity stadium, as a huge break for Florida. The better question now is how will an offensive line learning a new blocking scheme handle the enormous pressure Todd Grantham figures to generate with the likes of Brenton Cox, Zachary Taylor (should he play), Mohamoud Diabate, Khris Bogle and the rest of the Florida front. It could be a long afternoon for John Rhys Plumlee or former Gator commit Matt Corral.
2. Early road game against Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M stands out as key early test
In the “thanks Captain Obvious” department, Florida’s toughest stretch in its first 5 games comes with back-to-back SEC West crossover games at Texas A&M and home against LSU.
The A&M game stands out as a true barometer of what this Florida team is all about. The state of Texas has been pushing for fans in stadiums and while the SEC will have a say, any capacity makes a trip to College Station formidable.
Plus, it’s no secret that Jimbo Fisher is Darth Vader to Florida’s Skywalker. In 8 years at Florida State, Jimbo fathered the Gators 7 times, winning 6 of them by 2 touchdowns or more. Fisher has recruited as well as ever in College Station and with a senior quarterback in his third year in the system in Kellen Mond, this game figures to be a must-see TV duel in the sun between Mond and Florida’s Kyle Trask.
Can Florida shake the Jimbo demons? Or will Fisher continue to be the surrogate father of football in the Sunshine State?
3. December date with Tennessee will conjure up bad memories
A December game against Tennessee that very well might have SEC Championship and national championship implications for Florida?
Forgive Gators of a certain age if they don’t shudder for a moment.
For the younger reader, Florida’s 2001 team was, by Steve Spurrier’s admission to SDS, “maybe the best I ever coached, other than the ’96 team.”
That Florida team was lethal on offense and the Gators, averaging over 40 points a contest, pulverized most everybody, covering the spread in all 9 of their wins, which included a 29-point win over eventual SEC champion Nick Saban and LSU. Leading into a Tennessee game that was moved due to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Gators lost only once, in the remnants of a hurricane against Auburn in a game that today never would have been played.
Rex Grossman, who won Walter Camp Football Player of the Year, should have won the Heisman Trophy, but back in 2001, no sophomore had never won. Grossman lost one of the closest votes ever to the far less talented and important Eric Crouch of Nebraska.
Tennessee came to The Swamp with a terrific football team, but the Vols weren’t expected to beat the Gators in Gainesville, where Spurrier had been mostly invincible. In an epic game that was the HBC’s final one in The Swamp, Tennessee and running back Travis Stephens bullied the Gators, whipping Florida up front on their way to a late 4th-quarter lead.
Florida was without star running back Earnest Graham, who was controversially injured vs. rival FSU the week prior. Grossman played valiantly, throwing for more than 400 yards despite intense pressure all game. In the end, however, a Florida 2-point conversion was stopped late and the Vols won. SDS did a tremendous podcast on the game, which is linked above.
If you are a Florida fan of a certain age, the idea of playing a Tennessee team that figures to be excellent up front late in the season, albeit this time in Knoxville, should be plenty scary.
4. It’s still all about the Georgia game
Win that game, and you likely spend a bit of the Christmas season in Atlanta. Lose it, and Kirby Smart does what only Steve Spurrier has done before him: win the SEC East 4 seasons in a row.