Don’t forget to check out Part 1.
September 22: at Ole Miss
The last time Florida went to Ole Miss, Ron Zook lost to Eli Manning in a game that ultimately kept Florida out of the SEC title game. That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but after beating Peyton four consecutive years, it was a disappointment not to be able to boast of the Gators not ever losing to either of the Manning boys.
Both programs are completely different. Florida replaced Zook with Urban Meyer, who is smart and driven, reenergized the fan base, and brought a national championship home in his second year. Ole Miss replaced head coach David Cutcliffe (the one at UT, above) with Ed Orgeron, who is completely insane, has a YouTube cult following, and has yet to run anything resembling a real offense.
Even if Florida‘s inexperienced defense turns out to have serious problems with it, Ole Miss poses no threat in any way. If Florida doesn’t win by a significant margin, then you’ll know that Urban was taking it easy on the team’s first road trip in anticipation of tougher games ahead.
As a side note, I really hope Orgeron does better this year and gets to keep his job. He‘s just a joy to have around the SEC since he talks before thinking and sounds like he just walked in from fishin’ and gator wrasslin’ down onta bayou. How he ever got a job as an assistant coach at USC, I’ll never know.
September 29: Auburn
Believe it or not, Auburn has actually won 50 games in the last 5 years, 5 more than Florida has in the same time period. Florida‘s fifth game in the month of September is probably going to be the toughest yet. Auburn does return senior QB Brandon Cox, but he is more of a game manager than a playmaker. The loss of Kenny Irons does hurt them, but Tommy Tuberville usually finds a way to have a good running game. The real story is replacing Courtney Taylor, because he was the only productive receiver on the offense.
Defensively, Auburn will be tough as always. It returns seven starters from 2006, and no one’s ever accused Tuberville of neglecting defense in favor of offensive fireworks. Florida will have its work cut out for it in finding ways to score. Auburn has not had significant trouble winning in Gainesville in the last 20 years, so the home field advantage is not as strong in this game as you might think. In addition, Tuberville has only one road loss the last three years. Of course, Meyer has only one home loss in the last four.
Still, Florida really should win this game. The Gator defense should be strong enough to deal with Auburn’s vanilla scheme, and the Gator offense, while it will be challenged, has a horde of playmakers at receiver that between them all should find enough holes in the Auburn defense to score. Florida could lose this game though if it can’t get special teams sorted out, since punter Eric Wilbur is gone and the two guys who are fighting for the kicking job are the same ones who couldn’t beat out Chris Hetland and his 4-13 regular season performance on field goals last year.
One final thought: Urban Meyer has never lost to the same team in consecutive years as a head coach. Both that mark and his undefeated home record will be on the line, and both should remain intact for now.