“That's gonna be brutal.”
Shane Matthews, former Florida Gators quarterback and SEC Player of the Year, couldn’t help but guffaw at the thought; playing 10 SEC games? That’s hard enough. But to play a schedule consisting of nothing else?
“The league is so physical with so many great athletes. It's gonna be—it’s gonna be a massacre.”
Of course, something that could alleviate that bruising beating is the schedule each school ends up with. As of print, it had not yet been determined yet. In the meantime, one can dream.
What we know so far of the Florida Gators 2020 football schedule; the restrictions and protocols surrounding the global pandemic COVID-19 have forced the league to adapt and adopt a new plan if there is any hope of playing the upcoming season. That season, as of now, will be 10 conference games and only 10 conference games, with five at home and five away. Or for the Gators, five at home, four on the road and one in Jacksonville. Playing within the conference allows schools and conference officials to maintain the same protocols for each and every game, road trip, locker room, in-game safety and sanitary standards and more.
Playing 10 games as opposed to the normal eight was important so that there was enough of a sample size to help determine division champions and possible admittance into the College Football Playoff.
With that in mind, sacrifices had to be made, like the annual FSU game. This despite an argument from Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin to keep the rivalry game.
“I made sure everyone understood that [the FSU game] was important. And Florida wasn't the only school that has an important in-state rival that's not in the SEC, so there were some other voices as well. But probably the thing that drove that decision the most was, once you start looking at starting late September—and there was a consensus that we wanted to try to play 10 conference games—you start really impacting the number of opportunities you have to play those games. And so, the league made the decision.
“We made the decision we wanted to move the conference championship game back a couple weeks. We wanted to keep that December 12 date available for any rescheduling that needed to occur. And once you do that, you have 11 Saturdays left to play 10 conference games. It just—we ran out of Saturdays. So the decision to delay was based on safe and health of our campuses based on the guidance we're all getting from health officials. It's just a function of where we ended up because of the way the schedule worked out.”
It should be noted that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday he hopes to find a way for the game to be played.
Of the 10 games that will be played, two are still to be determined. The league—unlike other conferences—will keep the East versus West divisions. Each team will play the six games within their division, the one constant crossover game (for Florida, LSU) and the rotating crossover game as scheduled (for Florida, Ole Miss).
But what of the other two?
There was speculation and a floated scenario that the games would be whoever a program’s next two crossover opponents are. Since it was a scenario presented by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger—who has more sources than the White House—it was taken as serious. Dellenger later clarified it was simply an idea he’d just wondered aloud about, but not before it was brought to Stricklin’s attention.
“That was total speculation and spit-balling.”
This is especially good news for the Gators, who’s next two opponents are Alabama and Texas A&M. Playing those two powerhouses along with LSU and Ole Miss—who’s guaranteed to be improved and scrappy at home and under Lane Kiffin—would be, well as Matthews said, brutal.
“I do think the league will probably look at the two crossover games you currently have and try to balance who the other two are going to be from a competitive standpoint as fairly as possible and try to create a sense of fairness in that process,” explained Stricklin.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like. You know as well as I do that somebody’s not going to like their schedule and somebody is going to feel good about their schedule. That’s just the nature of it.”
In preparation for that, let’s go ahead and consider what that schedule could look like within the final two spots.
The Crimson Tide is always going to be a tough draw, especially under Nick Saban. There might be more vulnerability this coming season though. As much as the hype machine will work on quarterback Mac Jones, there has been no evidence as of yet that he can match up to Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts, his two Heisman finalist predecessors.
And after a season in which the Tide not only missed the playoffs but also a New Year’s Six game and instead was sent to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines, some of the shine has been taken from the mighty Tide. Teams know they’re beatable.
Still the fact that a 10-2 season is a down year for Saban proves just how strong this program still can be, especially with the return of senior receiver DeVonta Smith.
Florida is also scheduled to play the Crimson Tide next season, 2021, in The Swamp.
This is the dream. This game would pit Kyle Trask and the Gators against the Arkansas Razorbacks and their new passer, Feleipe Franks. It’d be an opportunity to truly see them compete on the field. Franks didn’t lose his job to Trask but Trask performed phenomenally once taking over the reigns last season. Trask did so well that he finished as the assumed starter for next season, leading Franks to hand over his team and transfer, but it took Franks becoming injured for Trask to get the chance since he never beat him in training camp.
In other words, neither have a grudge to exorcise over the other, but both have something to prove. And between two competitors that hold eons of respect for the other, the matchup would prove to be fun.
The Razorbacks are also coming off a season in which they finished 2-10 (0-8) with little improvement in talent other than the Franks transfer. Under a new head coach and a rebuilding team, it should alleviate some of the tough parts of the schedule like against LSU, providing the fairness Stricklin mentioned.
Additionally, Florida and Arkansas haven’t played each other since 2016 meaning they’re a team the Gators and the fans haven’t seen in a while, providing it more notoriety. They also won’t play again until 2023, meaning that if the schedule goes back to normal next year, Florida won’t be facing the same team again right away.
The Gators just played this game a year ago. Much of the same roster returned. Florida knows they can beat said roster, but it’s also still full of talent. It’d be a shock if the SEC schedules it again so quickly, especially with LSU on the roster.
Read above. The same point applies.
This is the most likely scenario to join Arkansas on the Gators docket. Florida is scheduled to face the Aggies in College Station in 2022, which isn’t that far away, but still has a one year buffer in between the rotation. It’s also been three years since Florida last faced TAMU. Great, now we’re thinking about those hideous alligator skin uniforms. Let’s move on quickly before our night is completely ruined.
The Aggies and Jimbo Fisher are going to be tough, led by passer Kellen Mond. There hasn’t been quite the world shaking play from Mond that pundits like to think there has been, but he’s still a formidable threat who was the potential to take over the conversation around college football this fall.
Every SEC team—and especially every SEC West team—will be tough. But if the Birmingham office is evaluating the fairest way to split the schedule like Stricklin mentioned, then TAMU and Arkansas could be the best bet for the Gators. The Aggies provide a decently difficult opponent to accompany LSU. Ole Miss is a wild card and the Razorbacks should be a relatively easier opponent this year.
There is no deadline for the decision, though Scott Stricklin is hopeful for sooner rather than later. When it does come, he knows no one will be completely satisfied. But that’s life in the best conference in college football. It’s brutal.
“I don’t think we would ever get a schedule if we sat back and let everybody lobby who they want. They’re going to give us the schedule. I’m sure it’s going to be fair and equitable. If there’s any particular concerns, we’ll voice them once they show us the draft. But I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with something everybody feels good about.”
“At the end of the day we’ll play whoever they put in front of us and I’m confident our team will be excited about the opportunity.”