Florida football news: Florida State game on for Friday, Billy Napier’s first spring game set

By Adam Silverstein
January 31, 2022
Florida football news: Florida State game on for Friday, Billy Napier’s first spring game set

Image Credit: GatorsFB on Twitter

Scheduling always gets fans in a tizzy, especially when a decision is made against the will of their respective program. Such is the case when it comes to one of the Florida Gators’ major rivalry games. But there’s some good news to come along with it as Florida has also scheduled the Orange & Blue Debut for 2022.

All of this comes as the Gators prepare for National Signing Day this Wednesday with head coach Billy Napier looking to finalize his transitional class. OnlyGators.com will have full coverage of signing day beginning Tuesday with a breakdown of Florida’s top targets including predictions for each of their ultimate destinations.

The college football world offseason is bound to be as crazy as ever, so strap in because it’s just getting started.

Florida vs. Florida State … on Friday?

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what is happening. The Gators and Seminoles will play the 2022 edition of their annual rivalry game on Friday, Nov. 25 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. The decision comes because FSU was guaranteed a primetime slot by ESPN if it chose to host the game one day earlier.

The result is UF having no choice but to play a regular-season game on Friday for the first time in the modern era of the program. Outside of one-off neutral-site contests and traditional holiday matchups, SEC does not play games on weekdays. This particular game will be held the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday, which will surely make travelling to Tallahassee a more difficult decision for fans who would prefer not to rush out to a football game 24 hours after a holiday.

Florida has long been steadfast against playing on Fridays, but it seemingly had no choice in the matter as Florida State and ESPN came to a decision that benefits FSU with a night game in its home stadium. It is expected that the Gators-Noles game will return to Saturday in 2023 when Florida hosts likely with no such guarantees from ESPN about an evening kickoff.

Napier’s debut: Orange & Blue Debut Game

Over the last handful of seasons, Florida has struggled to consistently hold a normal spring game as it did for decades due to a combination of factors. However, the Gators will be doing just that on Saturday, April 16 at 1 p.m. ET. Previously called the “Orange & Blue Debut”, it is now being named the Orange & Blue Game, a change apparently made in 2018 that we never noticed.

Florida will have plenty of new faces on the roster for Napier and his first-year coaching staff to evaluate, so it will certainly be interesting to see how the depth chart stacks up and the rosters are laid out for the final spring practice of the offseason. It is not yet known whether an ESPN network will air the game in its totality or as part of whip-around coverage, though it will likely be available streaming live in full on ESPN+.

National Signing Day on deck

Transitional recruiting classes are difficult for any new coach, but Napier faced a significant mountain to climb when he took over the Gators. Combining former head coach Dan Mullen’s poor recruiting strategy, Florida pledges decommitting as it became apparent Mullen was on his way out, and Napier’s staff reevaluating and choosing not to sign other prospects, UF fell sharply in the team recruiting rankings with it appearing unlikely its class could be salvaged.

Napier did just that during the early signing period, adding four-star safeties Kamari WIlson (Bradenton, FL) and Devin Moore (Naples, FL) and four-star linebacker Shemar James (Mobile, AL) in a whirlwind day. The Gators have added five commitments since, most notably four-star running back Trevor Etienne (Jennings, LA).

With less than 48 hours until signing day, Florida now enters with the No. 26 overall class, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Gators’ top target is five-star LB Harold Perkins (Cypress, TX), though UF will be competing directly with LSU for his services after Perkins decommitted from Texas A&M

Florida may not land the stars it did during the early period but there’s no question that Napier and his staff has done a lot of work rebuilding the brand and preparing the Gators for success in 2023 and beyond. Keep an eye on the number 21, which was the ranking of Florida’s 2015 class, the lowest since the team’s 47th ranked class in 2001.

Preferred walk-on commits

Three-star offensive tackle Jackson Crozier (Fort Lauderdale, FL) committed to join the Gators on Monday night as a preferred walk-on for the 2022 season. Though Crozier will not be on scholarship, Florida is grabbing him out of Cardinal Gibbons High School in South Florida, which opens another door into a territory that UF has struggled recruiting with consistency as of late.

The Gator Collective becomes athletic sponsor

The Gator Collective, a third-party collective that provides name, image and likeness opportunities to Florida athletics via subscriptions from fans, became an official sponsor of the Gators athletic program on Monday. While there will be no relationship between the Collective’s sponsorship of Florida and the NIL payments it makes to athletes, it is certainly a curious relationship without much detail provided at this time. Stay tuned.

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