Florida Football: Scouting The Schedule
Updated: Aug 22
They say, "If you believe it, you can achieve it."
So I thought maybe, just maybe, if I scouted each team Florida is set to play in 2020, we just might get to see the Gators play them.
@ Ole Miss – September 26
The first game of the season is never pretty. For proof, see Florida’s lackadaisical win over Miami last season. Interestingly, for the second year in a row, Florida will play its first game of the season with a first year head coach on the opposing sideline. Last year, Manny Diaz had recently taken over the reins of the Hurricanes’ program. This year, the Gators will step in front of the “Lane Train” at Ole Miss. Unfortunately for first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, his experience running championship-winning offenses doesn’t make up for his lack of experience rebuilding an offense in the midst of a global pandemic with no spring camp. All of this, being at the expense of the Rebels, is good news for the Gators.
Offensive notes: Lane Kiffin is burdened with a quarterback battle in Oxford. Sophomores Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee are both gearing up for a heated battle. Corral boasts pro-style characteristics, while Plumlee offers dual threat capabilities. Rest assured, Kiffin has molded high-caliber offenses around both types of signal callers. Last season, Florida seemed to have had better success against pocket passers… those not named Joe Burrow, of course.
Defensive notes: Like the offense, the Rebs’ defense will be completely rebuilt. Co-coordinators DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge have a full plate. A 4-3 implementation is expected from the pair of coaches. However, Ole Miss’ personnel is very different compared to last season. The Rebels’ defensive line took the biggest hit in the offseason as it graduated five players and transferred one more. Fortunately for guys like Kyle Trask, the Rebels don’t improve much, if any, in the defensive backfield. The Rebels’ secondary was the worst in the league last season. And though that means they can go nowhere but up, it’s bound to be pretty porous – especially in week one.
Vs. South Carolina – October 3
Truth be told, I never disliked Will Muschamp. Yet, there was no denying he wasn’t fit for the job in Gainesville. Too big for his britches, as I like to say. I always thought his gig in Columbia, South Carolina, was a good fit for him. And to date, I can’t put my finger on why he hasn’t gotten it figured out there. However, if there’s a year for him to do it, I think it has to be this one.
Offensive notes: Muschamp, who prides himself on stout defenses, entrusts Mike Bobo with the Gamecocks’ offense. And this year, Ryan Hilinski returns after a decent debut season. And the addition of blue-chip recruit MarShawn Lloyd could give South Carolina a break in the backfield – one they desperately need after graduating four running backs last season.
Defensive notes: But about that stout defense: it should be pretty good. Despite losing Javon Kinlaw to the draft, Muschamp’s defense returns two former five-stars to the defensive line: Jordan Burch and Zacch Pickens. The Gamecocks also boast a talented tandem in the defensive backfield with Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, who had three interceptions in USC’s upset over Georgia last season.
@ Texas A&M – October 10
The Gators and the Aggies have played one another just four times. And from their first matchup in 1962, to their most recent in 2017, neither team has ever won back-to-back contests. Texas A&M found itself to a big win over Florida in 2017 where the Gators sported their “swamp green” uniforms for the first (and hopefully the last) time. Typically, a trip to College Station for opposing teams isn’t the best of times. Kyle Field boasts a capacity of 102,000+. Hence being the “Home of the 12th Man”. But this fall, with reduced capacity, the Aggies are only allowed to have 11 on the field this year.
Offensive notes: The signal caller who led the Aggies to a win in The Swamp in 2017 will be the same guy taking snaps this October. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond is the most experienced passer in the league. However, in this situation, “most experienced” doesn't equate to “best”. Jimbo Fisher, now in his third season at TAMU, is still figuring out how to make the best out of his inconsistent, but veteran quarterback. Thankfully, this season the Aggies not only return Mond, but they also return their leading rusher, leading receiver and four offensive linemen.
Defensive notes: The Aggies have never been known for their offense. But since joining the SEC in 2012, TAMU’s defense hasn’t been all that jaw dropping either. Years of mediocracy leaves lots to be desired of the Aggies’ defense. And 2020 could be the year that defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his crew answer the call. Though the Aggies lost their leader in sacks to the draft, seven of the Aggies’ eight best tacklers return to the roster in 2020.
Vs. LSU – October 17
Whether it’s played here or there, the location of the Florida-LSU game has proved to be pivotal in recent years. The Swamp and Death Valley prove year in and year out to be two of the most hostile environments in college football. But when 100,000 people is trimmed to 25,000, a hostile environment becomes a mild one, at best. It just so happens that it’s the Gators who will be without home-field advantage despite playing at home this season. So, in mid-October, when the reigning national champions come to town, it will boil down to talent vs. talent.
Offensive notes: Just as being the worst in the league in something and having nowhere to go but up, when you’re the best in the league in something, you have nowhere to go but down. And that’s undoubtedly the case for the Tigers’ offense come the 2020 season. Not only is Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrow gone, but championship winning passing coordinator Joe Brady has also left the bayou. Not to mention, the Tigers are also without their leading running back, a talented wide receiver and four offensive linemen. However, the offensive pieces that LSU will return are talented ones. But to expect Ed Orgeron’s offense to be as explosive as the one he pieced together in 2019 is all but realistic. Burrow’s incumbent, Myles Brennen has massive shoes to fill. And with just 70 career passes, no one knows if he’s capable of doing it.
Defensive notes: Defenses win championships. Isn’t that how the saying goes? It wasn’t the case last season for the Tigers. LSU’s defense was never bad, but there were situations in which they weren’t good. Nonetheless, when the going got tough, Dave Aranda’s defensive unit found ways to buck up. But you won’t find Aranda, who took the head coaching job at Baylor, on the LSU’s sideline come October. Likewise, you won’t see a single starting linebacker return for the Tigers in 2020. A pair of defensive linemen and a pair of defensive backs have also left Baton Rouge. A lot rests on the shoulders of Bo Pelini, who is back at LSU for his second gig as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
Vs. Missouri – October 24
There isn’t much to say about the Tigers of Missouri. It seems there never is. But that’s how they like it. Flying under the radar is their specialty. And it’s helped them sneak up on the Gators more than once. With new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz and a lack of spring camp, there’s a lot of guesswork involved with the Missouri Tigers. However, hopefully come week five when Mizzou comes to Gainesville, the Gators will know a little more about the Tigers.
Offensive notes: To reiterate, when it comes to what the Missouri Tigers might look like this year, your guess is as good as mine. Admittedly, I didn’t watch much Appalachian State football last season. I have no idea who this Drinkwitz guy is or what he does. I do know, however, that he has a quarterback battle on his hands. After graduate transfer Kelly Bryant went one-and-done at Missouri last season, the Tigers are left with TCU transfer Shawn Robinson and sophomore Connor Bazelak, who is coming off of a torn ACL. Out wide, the Tigers are split with two returners and two newcomers. In the offensive backfield, Missouri returns its two feature backs in Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie. Assuming that the Tigers’ puzzle-of-an-offensive-line can get a push up front, Rountree and Badie are likely to prosper.
Defensive notes: If anything can go right for Drinkwitz in his first year, it’ll come from the defensive side of the football. The defensive line is returning four starters in 2020. And linebacker Nick Bolton also returns in 2020 as the Tigers’ leading tackler from 2019. However, the losses of Cale Garrett and Jordan Elliot leaves a large hole in Missouri’s rush defense. As for the secondary, Missouri shocked the league with the second-best secondary unit in 2019. However, both corners are gone this year. Nonetheless, two senior safeties will be expected to lead the defensive backfield in 2020.
@ Georgia – November 7
This year’s battle on the St. Johns River will be a little less scary in 2020. Not because of Georgia’s depleted talent (though that, too), but because the game is set to be played in the first week of November. This is compared to a traditional Halloween-weekend showdown in Jacksonville. Nonetheless, not much else has changed. If Dan Mullen and the Gators want to take that next step, they have to beat the Bulldogs this year. And I think that 7-point difference that Mullen likes to point out has shrunk considerably over the offseason.
Offensive notes: For whatever reason, there is no hung jury when it comes to Wake Forest transplant Jamie Newman. Deliberations were quick: Newman was determined to be the new face of Georgia football as early as May. He even garnered Heisman attention. How a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach and a spring without practice spells offensive success is beyond me. Nonetheless, Jamie Newman is here. As is offensive coordinator Todd Monken and offensive line coach Matt Luke. And none of their jobs are about to be easy. Monken is burdened with piecing together an offense that is without a returning quarterback, as well as its two leading rushers. Meanwhile, Luke is now without four offensive lineman, including former five-star Cade Mays, who elected to transfer to Tennessee despite starting in every game in 2019.
Defensive notes: The question marks surrounding Georgia’s offense is made up for on the defensive side of the ball. Though Georgia lost a handful of talent to graduation in the offseason, the losses could have been significantly worse than what they were. And fortunately for the Bulldogs, they boast great depth on the defensive side of the ball. So, while it isn’t the news Florida fans want to hear, their SEC East rival will boast a very talented defense – perhaps the best Kirby Smart has produced in Athlens. However, Georgia will face Auburn and Alabama within the first three weeks of the season. So between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide, both who have above average offenses, the Gators should have a decent sample size to get an idea of just how talented Kirby Smart’s defense will be in 2020.
Vs. Arkansas – November 14
Laura Rutlege called Arkansas her “surprise team” in the SEC for 2020. Though, she admits it’s because the Razorbacks can go nowhere but up. Arkansas hasn’t won a SEC contest since 2017. But that was before the Razorbacks added Sam Pittman, Barry Odom and Feleipe Franks. Pittman is an energetic guy who will have his coaching debut against Georgia – where he had been the offensive line coach since 2016. Likewise, when the Razorbacks come to Gainesville in mid-November, assuming he wins the quarterback battle, Feleipe Franks will be motivated to once again shush the crowd in The Swamp.
Offensive notes: Feleipe Franks… that’s the offensive notes. Last fall the Razorbacks’ quarterback situation was about as muddy as they come. Four different quarterbacks had starts for Arkansas in 2019. But as one could imagine, if four different guys started, it must’ve meant none of them were any good. And truth be told, that was the case. But now with Franks on the roster, the ‘Backs have a signal caller that has proved he can be a starting quarterback in the SEC. And fortunately for the former Gator, Arkansas returns each of its starting receivers. Further, Rakeem Boyd returns to Fayetteville this fall with an opportunity to be one of the best running backs in the league.
Defensive notes: Muddy quarterback play can only take so much of the blame for Arkansas’ dismal year in 2019. The Razorbacks’ defense ranked 110th in the FBS for total defense. To help navigate the waters of a program-wide rebuild, Sam Pittman called upon Barry Odom to head the defense. And for Odom, it won’t be an easy task. The Hogs lost five of their leaders in sacks. And the defensive line as a whole is depleted and bound to be filled with inexperience. The immaturity on defense bleeds into the secondary that will be without its best safety, Kamren Curl, who declared for the NFL Draft last season. However, two returning corners might help Odom when it comes to passing defense.
@ Vanderbilt – November 21
I’ll go to my grave believing Derek Mason isn’t a bad football coach. I think if he were to be paired with any other team in the country, he might find some success. But when you’re in a position where you not only battle a SEC schedule each year, but you also battle your home stadium being overrun with fans of your opponent each week, the gig can’t be easy. Being said, in 2020, with reduced stadium capacities, it will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt fans are still the minority on Saturdays. And that’s genuine curiosity… I mean it as nice as I can. Really, I do.
Offensive notes: As it sits, there are five quarterbacks on the Commodore’s roster. And it seems that none of them have a true leg up in the race. Two members of the quarterback room are freshmen, while the other three are juniors. But the real question for Vandy’s offense is who is going to fill the void of Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who was the Commodores’ one-man band for years. Keyon Brooks will likely be the one to fill Vaughn’s hole in the backfield. And Brooks contributed just 252 yards and a single touchdown in 2019. And in Vandy fashion, if Brooks wants to see any leap of production, he needs to hope that the offensive line, which returns just one full-time starter, does its due diligence.
Defensive notes: To no surprise, considering Derek Mason’s defensive mindedness, Vanderbilt has some defensive talent. The Commodore’s secondary sees a lot of returners in 2020. Tae Daley accounted for three of Vandy’s six interceptions in 2019. And he returns in 2020 looking to build on a 2019 campaign that also saw him as the third-leading tackler on the roster. Up front, the Commodores return three of their best players. And a handful of Vandy’s linebackers could muster up some NFL attention this season.
Vs. Kentucky – November 28
I’m glad this one is at home. Thanksgiving weekend in Lexington just doesn’t seem my speed – mostly because cold weather and I aren’t best buds. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving week looks a little different this year without Florida State on the docket. However, finishing the season with three straight SEC East opponents will require Florida to stay sharp through the season’s end. And Kentucky, in my opinion, shapes up to be a possible trap game for the Gators.
Offensive notes: Kentucky fared pretty well in 2019 considering its circumstances. For the majority of the season, Lynn Bowden took snaps for the Wildcats. And in his surreal 2019 season, Bowden was Kentucky’s passing leader, receiving leader and rushing leader. He has since moved on to the NFL. However, Terry Wilson, who led Kentucky to a win over Florida in 2018, is set to return after a patellar injury that prematurely ended his 2019 campaign. Assuming Wilson is 100%, he not only offers the same dual threatedness that Bowden did, but he also adds a legitimate passing threat.
Defensive notes: Mark Stoops’ defense, especially up front, could be among the best in the league. The Wildcats aren’t exempt from losing out on talent. They will be without Calvin Tayler and TJ Carter. However, Kentucky has an appropriate mix of talent and experience to plug the holes up front. Jamar Watson is slated to have a big year -- one so big that has drawn comparisons to Josh Allen. As for the secondary, the Wildcats silently led the SEC in passing defense last year. And to their advantage, the Wildcats will return most of their secondary in 2020.
@ Tennessee – December 5
“Hey Alexa, does it snow in Knoxville in the start of December?” I did my research. Snow isn’t likely, but it’ll definitely be chilly. And again, unlike a normal fall schedule, Florida will play half of its SEC East opponents in the last three weeks of the season. Being said, if the battle for the SEC East comes down to this game, for whatever reason, some Florida fans might be dealing with some jitters. Not that I expect Tennessee to be THAT improved in 2020, but a cold game in Knoxville could be cause for a slow start.
Offensive notes: Jeremy Pruitt and the Volunteers return Jarrett Guarantano for his fifth and final year. Typically, a quarterback with that much experience would have fans excited. However, Tennessee is still waiting on Guarantano to make the leap and prove that he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the SEC. However, if Guarantano is still unable to make that stride in 2020, backup Brian Maurer gained some experience last season, and it was enough to make some Tennessee fans clamor about the future. However, the loss of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway at receiver is pretty significant for the Vols. On the ground, Tennessee returns Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, who each had bouts of success in 2019. And with an experienced offensive line boasting NFL talent, Pruitt and the Vols should see more production on offense in 2020.
Defensive notes: Up front, Darnell Taylor was a machine for the Vols. And finding someone to replace his presence on defense is one of Tennessee’s biggest needs this coming season. Thankfully, Tennessee’s depth at linebacker could give defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley a little room to play and move guys up onto the defensive line. But the return of Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch are big for the Vols rush attack. As for the secondary, the loss of Nigel Warrior is a tough pill to swallow. Nonetheless, Ansley is once again saved by depth. The Vols’ secondary has the numbers to be successful, if nothing else.