New games add colorful storylines, but Florida's 2020 season is still all about the Cocktail Party
Friday night, after a week-long wait, the SEC released the additional 2 opponents for each program in the 10-game, conference-only slate the league adopted last week. Florida’s added opponents? Arkansas and Texas A&M, with the Razorbacks slated to visit The Swamp and the Gators headed to Kyle Field for the first time since 2012.
A look around the league shows the league did the best it could with the hand it was dealt. Sure, there will be complaints in CoMo, where Eli Drinkwitz added LSU and Alabama and there will be conspiracy theorists that wonder how Kirby Smart managed to add only a rebuilding Arkansas and Miss State.
But the reality, as Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin noted in a statement Friday night, is that the league office worked tirelessly to provide the safest option that was the most fair to all programs involved.
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) August 7, 2020
As for Florida’s 2 additional opponents, there shouldn’t be much griping in Gainesville.
For one thing, both new opponents offer compelling storylines.
Arkansas will visit Florida with Feleipe Franks as its starting quarterback. That means Franks gets a curtain call in the stadium and against the program he started at for 3 seasons, where he was cheered, booed and ultimately only replaced when he was injured early last season at Kentucky. That he’ll start against his longtime backup, Kyle Trask, who became a program cult hero in guiding Florida to 11 wins and an Orange Bowl victory last season, is an SEC football writer’s dream.
Texas A&M is also an intriguing game with plenty of things for a wordsmith to wax poetic about. The Gators visit Kyle Field for the first time since spoiling Johnny Manziel’s college debut in 2012. That means Kyle Trask, the unheralded 2-star recruit who now figures to be the 1st-team All-SEC quarterback, gets to start a game in his home state in a stadium named for a guy named Kyle. That alone is fun, and that’s before you toss in the Jimbo Fisher factor.
Fisher, as you may recall, is a familiar foil to Gators fans, having fathered Florida for most of a decade while the head coach at Florida State. Fisher lost to Florida only once in 8 seasons in Tallahassee, and for the most part, none of the games were close, with 6 of Fisher’s 7 wins over the Gators coming by 2 touchdowns or more. Will Fisher’s ownership of Florida continue in College Station, or is Dan Mullen and a steady QB — something Florida didn’t have during Fisher’s tenure in Tallahassee — enough to turn the tide? We’ll find out, and it will be fun to write about.
But for all the color and compelling stories those games will provide, the truth is they don’t change Florida’s outlook or bottom-line reality in 2020.
Florida’s season still comes down to the Cocktail Party, and anyone who tries to tell you anything different is blowing smoke.
If Florida wants to play in Atlanta, have a chance at a College Football Playoff, prove its turned the corner and climbed back into the thick of the national conversation under Dan Mullen — the Gators have to beat Georgia.
Florida’s fans know it. Georgia’s fans know it and are quick to remind Florida fans about it.
Kirby Smart knows it. As a Georgia player, he lived it, going 1-3 against Florida. As a coach, he’s made it his defining game — he’s 3-1 so far and twice winning in decisive fashion.
“In almost any season, all of our goals as a football team are ahead of us when we arrive in Jacksonville. There’s a privilege to that, and we take that very seriously at Georgia,” Smart said before last year’s game. His record proves it.
Steve Spurrier has known it for decades, matter-of-factly declaring that “the road to Atlanta goes through Jacksonville” back in the 1990s, a statement that has proven prophetic in the SEC East.
Florida or Georgia have represented the SEC East in 20 of the league’s 28 SEC Championship games. More telling, the loser of the Florida-Georgia game has gone to Atlanta just 3 times: 2002, 2003 and 2005. Florida has never gone to Atlanta in a season when it lost to Georgia. I’ll repeat that: Florida has never gone to Atlanta without beating Georgia.
In a 10-game conference slate, it’s almost certain Florida and Georgia will falter somewhere along the way. Maybe for the Gators, it’s in College Station, where a senior quarterback and an old coach they haven’t defeated in almost a decade awaits. Maybe for Georgia, it’s Alabama, a game everyone has had circled for a year.
But the likelihood is no matter how the schedule looks next week, all roads in the SEC East lead to Jacksonville.
What happens there will define Florida in 2020.