Part of any season preview should obviously be a rundown of the schedule. As always, any an all forward-looking statements (i.e. predictions) assume no injuries for either side. No need for further introduction; here we go:
September 1: Western Kentucky
Remember the Western Carolina game last year? The one where Florida won 62-0 and scored on every offensive drive that wasn’t stopped by an end of a half? You’ll be having some déjà vu here.
While it’s disappointing to see UF play a I-AA team again, I don’t know how much the UAA could have done since UCF pulled out of this game just last year (to go play at NC State, of all places), leaving Florida with few options. This game will be interesting to watch solely from the perspective of getting to see a lot of freshmen. Because of this game, Florida is playing an 11-game schedule for all intents and purposes.
September 8: Troy
This sets up similarly to the Southern Miss game of last year, in that both Troy and Southern Miss are usually among the better mid-majors, often competing for conference titles. I’ve even seen one sports site (which one escapes me at the moment) saying that Troy’s defense would give Florida problems, and another cited Troy’s tough loss at FSU last year as a reason UF might struggle.
Reality check: Southern Miss’s defense statistically was a lot better than Troy‘s, and the Gators beat the Golden Eagles 34-7. In addition, Southern Miss is a better offensive team, and it could only muster a single touchdown against Florida. Observe:
Granted, I didn’t analyse their schedules, but also remember that Southern Miss is in C-USA, a much better conference than Troy‘s Sun Belt Conference. Troy may have played FSU close, but really, FSU was not that good last year. Troy also lost to at UAB and at home versus Arkansas State, and Nebraska pasted the Trojans 56-0.
Pundits trying to be clever will point at this game, and Troy might appear feisty for some of this, but Florida won’t be seriously challenged. No one from the Sun Belt will ever come close to winning at Florida Field.
September 15: Tennessee
As per tradition, Florida gets Tennessee the third game of the year after two Pay-per-View tuneups against weak, non-conference teams. This historically has played into Florida‘s hands very well because Phillip Fulmer’s teams generally play a lot better later in the season than at the beginning of the season. Plus, the winner of this game is set up nicely for winning the SEC East.
The Volunteers’ offense figures to be one of the better in the SEC, returning senior quarterback in Erik Ainge and leading rusher LaMarcus Coker from last year’s team, plus they get back Arian Foster, who looked great as a freshman in 2005 before struggling with injury in 2006. Ainge now has had two seasons under offensive coordinator/QB coach extraordinaire David Cutcliffe to grow and develop after not improving at all between his first two seasons. The concern for UT is the receiving corps, which lost its top three players from last season. Ainge’s talent and experience should make up for that to a degree, and Tennessee will move the ball some this year.
Tennessee‘s defense will need to get better if it wants to challenge Florida for the SEC East title. It was 8th in the conference last year in total and scoring defense, and tied for 10th in turnovers forced. That much is on Fulmer to fix.
This game could be a serious test to the young Gator defense, especially the secondary. Still, UF defensive backs coach Chuck Heater pulled off a minor miracle last year to mold the defensive backfield into a decent unit (it would have been a major miracle if he did the same job without Reggie Nelson), and at least Tony Joiner is coming back.
Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison will take care of the rest of the defense, and the Gators should take care of the Vols. This game might have been a nail-biter up at Neyland, but this won’t be Urban Meyer’s first loss in the state of Florida.