Image Credit: ESPNI
The 2016 season is just around the corner, and unlike most years, the Florida Gators football schedule is a bit light — at least according to those who rank strength of schedule.
But while Florida’s cross-division opponents and nonconference games may be lackluster, there are plenty of highly anticipated contests that Gators fans are looking forward to ahead of the season.
So let’s take a look at each and rank them from least anticipated to most anticipated.
12. Nov. 19 vs. Presbyterian (Week 12): Scheduled the week before the Florida State game, Presbyterian is as “cupcake” of an opponent as Florida could face. Of particular interest is the recent revelation that Presbyterian College offers a one-credit “Religion of SEC Football” class. The Gators will probably make them see God.
11. Sept. 17 vs. North Texas (Week 3): This game had some juice when Dan McCarney was coach, but seeing as the Mean Green were 1-11 last year and are 5-19 over the last two seasons, it’s simply a preseason game that happens to be slotted after the Southeastern Conference opener.
10. Oct. 1 at Vanderbilt (Week 5): The Gators have dominated the Commodores historically, but the last three years have been close. How close? Florida has only outscored Vandy by nine points combined in three meetings (2-1). The VU defense should pose a problem again and make for a competitive game, it’s just no one is really looking forward to it.
9. Sept. 3 vs. UMass (Week 1): Fall is here and so is football. You have to open against someone, even if it might be arguably the worst team in FBS. Nearly ranked this higher simply because of how geeked up everyone gets for the first week of the season, but let’s be honest, it’s a crap game.
8. Sept. 10 vs. Kentucky (Week 2): The SEC opener for both teams comes as the Gators put the nation’s longest active winning streak (and the longest in SEC history) on the line against the Wildcats. UF saw its winning streak against VU come to an end three years ago; it has no choice but to keep this one with UK going.
7. Oct. 15 vs. Missouri (Week 7): The Tigers have not been an easy out for the Gators. In fact, Florida and Mizzou are 2-2 since the latter joined the SEC in 2012 with their SEC East rivals winning in routs in 2013-14. UF won 21-3 in 2015 and should get an easy win on homecoming against a team in shambles following the departure of Gary Pinkel and dealing with tons of unrest on campus.
6. Nov. 5 at Arkansas (Week 10): Florida has not played a game in Fayetteville, Arkansas, since 2008, and after this meeting the Gators and Hogs will not square off again until 2023. Seriously. By the time Week 10 comes around, this game will be a crucial one.
5. Oct. 29 vs. Georgia (Week 9): It’s strange to see the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party so low on this list, but can you really tell me that now — at the start of the season — you have this one bookmarked? Mark Richt is gone, both star running backs are coming off injuries and UGA is likely starting a freshman at quarterback. Georgia may wind up being the best team in the SEC East for all we know. But that’s just it – the game is two months away and there are too many unknowns to really get juiced about it.
4. Nov. 12 vs. South Carolina (Week 11): The Return of Will Muschamp. You may be trying to block this out of your mind, but you know it’s coming. The narratives will be plenty. Muschamp is going to be out for revenge. The game will be played on a field renamed for the greatest Florida coach of all-time who just retired from South Carolina, which hired Muschamp as his successor. Fans inside Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — sorry, need a breath after saying that – will be absolutely rabid and out for Muschamp’s blood. It’s going to be intense.
3. Oct. 8 vs. LSU (Week 6): Florida’s annual cross-division rivalry should be filled to the brim with excitement. The Tigers are likely the best team the Gators will face all season, and it will certainly be the best game Florida fans will get inside The Swamp. There’s also the chance UF is reeling from a loss it wants to avoid at all costs, which means it could be a make-or-break game. LSU has won three straight (by a combined 21 points) and five of the last six.
2. Nov. 26 at Florida State (Week 13): As good as LSU will be this season, Florida State also enters with plenty of deserved hype. And just like the Tigers, the Seminoles have won three straight and five of the last six in the series (except they’ve been more dominant). Florida has not lost four straight to FSU since the late 1980s, and it could also have the opportunity to ruin a potential title run should UF’s in-state rivals defeat Clemson earlier in the campaign.
1. Sept. 24 at Tennessee (Week 4): The hype train is rolling for the Vols once again, just like it was the last three times Florida visited Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2014 (10-9 win), 2012 (37-20 win), 2010 (31-17 win). The Gators own the longest streak in this series’ history, and in a strange turn of events, it’s been Florida talking trash this offseason as opposed to just smiling and nodding when the game is brought up like it has been in the past.
Here’s the truth: The Gators deserved their one-point victories each of the last two seasons. The Vols have been given the benefit of the doubt for far too long, particularly against a rival they have not proven they have the ability to beat – even when everything is going their way. Here’s some more truth: This is the best Tennessee team Florida will have faced since 2006. (And UF is far from the best it’s been over the last 10 years).
Anyone who is sure in their prediction of this game is either going with the majority (UT), trying to be a contrarian (UF) or simply rooting for their team. Forget the 2015 finish and preseason hype, Tennessee has to prove it can beat Florida, and the Gators must show they can compete with a supremely talented Vols team this time without Will Grier or one of the best defenses in the nation. Tennessee has every motivation in the world to win, and it certainly helps to have it at Neyland Stadium.
So, what’s the most anticipated game of 2016? I think the answer has been made clear.