Image Credit: Michael Nash
No. 25 Florida Gators football opens the 2016 season ranked for the first time since 2013 as it looks to build upon an up-and-down first season under head coach Jim McElwain. It will be the UMass Minutemen that Florida will try to work out the kinks against on Saturday.
Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Florida-UMass.
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: 78°F (feels like 81°F), 25 percent chance of rain, winds WSW at 4 mph
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: SEC Network (Tom Hart, Andre Ware, Cole Cubelic)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|No. 25 Florida Gators||UMass Minutemen|
|Head Coach||Jim McElwain||Mark Whipple|
Five things to know
1. The fun starts before the game: Florida’s new ambassador and consultant, Steve Spurrier will be honored prior to the contest as the stadium surface, now to be known as Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, will be named after the Head Ball Coach in a ceremony. Spurrier will then lead The Swamp crowd as the honorary Mr. Two-Bits prior to kickoff. There’s more, too. The 1996 national championship team coached by Spurrier will be honored during the contest.
2. One of many: Redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio will be the seventh quarterback to start a game for the Gators in the last four years. He will also be the third to do so in 14 games under McElwain. One more note: Del Rio will be the first transfer and/or former walk-on to start at quarterback for Florida since Noah Brindise in 1997.
3. Look who’s back: When you see sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway on Saturday, it’ll be as if he did not suffer through a tumultuous offseason that included him being away from the program for months while trying to be cleared of a student conduct violation for sexual assault. Even though Callaway admitted on the record to substantial use of marijuana (at least the night in question), he will not face any suspension after being cleared by the school.
4. “Special” teams: The absence of a kicker and UF’s primary return man had the Gators’ third unit looking anything but special in 2015. Enter redshirt sophomore Eddy Pineiro and junior WR Dre Massey. The kicker without a stitch of game experience and dynamic returner should pay dividends for Florida right out of the gate. The ability to be productive in all three phases was a hallmark of winning Gators teams. That has been lost over the last few seasons.
5. Consistency, finally: Though McElwain has some work to do when discussing injuries and suspension with the media, he has succeeded in keeping a coaching staff together at Florida for the first time in years. The only coaching turnover was a new defensive backs coach in Torrian Gray. UF will see its offensive coordinator from the season prior, Doug Nussmeier, return for the first time since 2013.
Pick and analysis
Spread: Florida -35 | O/U: 49.5
There has been no time since the departure of Urban Meyer that I would have even considered picking the Gators to cover a spread of five touchdowns or more. But Florida hasn’t played a team as poor as UMass since Meyer left, either. The Minutemen are ranked 128 — out of 128 — in the CBS Sports 128 preseason rankings. UMass lost to Colorado by 34 and Notre Dame by 35 last September — and lost their two best players this offseason. Oh, and UF has won its last 10 openers by an average of 38.2 points.
McElwain has Florida chomping at the bit to prove the naysayers wrong. He has been speaking all offseason about how embarrassing the finish to 2015 was for the team, even going so far as to apologize to fans for having to sit through it. The Gators have also been preparing for the Minutemen for more than the customary week, as is to be expected in Week 1. There is no quarterback controversy. Florida is more talented than UMass at every single position.
When you take -36, there is far from a guarantee that it will come in. But considering UF appears to have a kicker and should therefore be in scoring range on every offensive possession, let’s go with it until we know better about this team. Oh, and if the Gators are covering 36, the game is going over 50.
2015 records: ATS picks 11-2-1 | O/U picks 8-6
Injuries and absences
Suspended (5): CB Jalen Tabor, TE C’yontai Lewis, WR Tyrie Cleveland, WR Rick Wells, Unnamed “Senior”
Active (2): RB Jordan Cronrkite, OL Andrew Mike
Probable/questionable (3): TE DeAndre Goolsby, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DT Khairi Clark
Out (3): WR C.J. Worton (ankle), DB Quincy Lenton (foot), WR Kalif Jackson (knee)
Out for the season (2): OL Antonio Riles (knee), DB C.J. McWilliams
» UF and UMass have never met on the gridiron.
» Florida enters the game with the nation’s longest active winning streak in season openers at 26 consecutive games. UF is 82-27 all-time in season openers, 67-7 in The Swamp.
» McElwain in 2015 the first coach in program history to win 10 total games or seven SEC games in his first season with the team. He was also the third coach in SEC history to advance to the conference title game in his first season.
» The Gators’ defense has been a hallmark of the program; it is 204-11 since 1990 when an opponent scores 21 points or fewer in a contest, including 9-0 under McElwain.
» Also under McElwain, UF is 9-0 against unranked opponents and 1-4 against ranked opponents. The Gators are 8-0 when outrushing an opponent and 7-0 when leading at the half.
» Florida owns the nation’s longest streak of returning either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown, doing so in 11 straight seasons.
» UF has the second-most wins in the nation since 1990 (249).
» Florida is 0-4 against the spread both in its last four home games and its last four nonconference games.
Quote of the week
“There’s something special about that place. It’s really cool on game day — the energy and what that’s all about. So, I’m looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun. I want our guys to enjoy it. I want our guys not to get uptight in any way, shape or form. But, you now, light their hair on fire and go out and have a good time. That’s what I’m looking for. … In fact, I’m just thinking about it right now. I’m kind of getting jacked up.” — Jim McElwain on The Swamp
Not announced as of press time. The team captains, which change weekly, are solely responsible for choosing the uniforms ahead of each game.