October 6: at LSU
This is the big one. If there’s one obvious game for a Gators loss, this is it. LSU is generally considered to be one of the top-three elite teams for 2007, along with Southern Cal and Michigan.
LSU’s main strength is the defense. It has to replace both safeties, but it returns both cornerbacks (both seniors), and has a deeper and better defensive line than what Florida had going into last year (and that’s before Marcus Thomas was thrown off the team). Did I mention that all three linebackers return too? LSU should be in the top-five in every defensive category this season.
The offense does have some issues, mostly in the passing game. Head coach Les Miles brought in Gary Crowton from Oregon to install the spread option after offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher left for FSU, and as we saw at Florida, that offense can take some time to get working correctly. QB Matt Flynn looked great in torching a mediocre Miami team in the 2005 Peach Bowl, but he’s played sparingly ever since. Early Doucet is the only reliable receiver. The Tigers have plenty of running backs though, led by 10th-year senior Jacob Hester. Losing Alley Broussard hurts some because of his experience, but they still have plenty back there without him. If no one emerges alongside Doucet, Flynn could be spending most of his autumn handing off.
There also is the Les Miles factor. He’s proven himself as a loudmouth, but still an excellent recruiter. Most of Nick Saban’s recruits are gone, so now the program is all on him and his ability to develop those players he’s signed the last three years. Some, many from Oklahoma State where he came from, scoffed at the idea of Miles becoming a true big-time coach in the SEC, since his most notable accomplishments at OSU consisted of never winning 10 games, pulling off two improbable upsets of Oklahoma, and lying about talking to LSU officials before taking the Tigers’ head coaching job. By all accounts, Urban Meyer is a better coach than Miles is.
Will this be 2005 again, where LSU squeaks out a victory? Or will it be 2003, when Florida played a perfect game and stole one from the favored and more-talented Tigers? I don’t know, but I do know that either team can win this game. It will be awfully tough, even with the surplus of playmakers, for the Gator offense to make up for the inexperience of the defense. I don’t think Florida is deep or experienced enough to go undefeated, so this looks like the most obvious game for a loss.
October 20: at Kentucky
The Gators get a week off before travelling to Lexington to face Kentucky. Normally Florida plays UK the fourth game of the year, and I don’t remember hearing why it was moved to the middle of the year.
This game is not a de facto second week off in a row like it has been in years past. Kentucky has the preseason first-team all-SEC quarterback in Andre Woodson, who led the league in passing by almost 400 yards over second place JaMarcus Russell. In addition, they have the SEC’s fifth-leading receiver of 2006 returning in Keenan Burton, and the 12th-leading receiver Dicky Lyons is also back. Last year, UK made it to its first bowl game since 1999 on the strength of its offense.
This game will be a big test for the Gators’ pass coverage, even perhaps moreso than the LSU game. Rich Brooks saved his job last year, much to many Wildcats fans’ chagrin, but he probably will need to go to another bowl game this year to really feel safe, especially considering what he has coming back on offense. Beating Florida for the first time since 1986 would be huge for Brooks, not only in ensuring his job security but also in winning some fan support.
The big problem for Kentucky is that its defense is abysmal. The Wildcats finished 118th in total defense and 99th in scoring defense last year. That just won’t get it done in a conference that prides itself on defense, and it really says a lot when the offenses in said conference often atrophy at the expense of head coaching focus on defense. In addition, Florida has enormous intangibles going in this game. As I said, UK hasn’t beaten UF since 1986. There always seems to be something, whether it was Florida‘s improbable 4th-quarter comeback in 2003 to the Doering’s Got a Touchdown game in 1993 that keeps Florida winning. Of course, having vastly superior teams for much of the past two decades has kept the Gators winning too, sometimes with comical margins (73-7 in 1994, or 65-0 in 1996).
Florida will probably give up more points than Gator fans would like, but really there’s no reason for Florida not to win this game comfortably. Even though Florida didn’t play that well against Kentucky last year, Urban Meyer had no problems in winning at Kentucky 49-28 in 2005. Florida has more than enough offensive weapons to score plenty of points, and Kentucky just doesn’t have the personnel to cause enough problems for Florida‘s defense to be in the game at the end.