Finally, the time has come for the return of college football at the University of Florida and the Gators have many expectations for this upcoming season. As everyone knows, Dan Mullen has returned to the Gators as the new head coach after finding great success in his tenure at Mississippi State. Florida plays host to Charleston Southern Saturday night in a game that is sure to provide fans with a bit more hope for the rest of the season.
Before the Buccaneers enter Ben Hill Griffin stadium, there are a few things that many fans should keep their eye on Saturday.
Feleipe, Feleipe, Feleipe
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Feleipe Franks comes into Saturday night’s game with a target on his back. Franks earned the starting job this offseason after making quite the impression on Mullen with ”his ability to extend plays and his athleticism,” plenty of which was seen in the Orange and Blue Spring Game. After splitting time with Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire in 2017, Franks takes over as the main starter in this new look Gators offense.
He has competition in redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and highly-touted incoming freshman Emory Jones, two players that could potentially earn playing time this weekend. Learning from Coach Mullen, who produced Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, this could be a more improved Feleipe Franks than fans have seen before. Expect Franks to lead this Gators offense in more ways than one this season.
Familiar Faces All Around
The Gators are returning 20 of their starters from last season with 10 on offense and 9 on defense. Of those returning, the most notable name that will be taking the field for Florida is unior running back Jordan Scarlett. The last time Gator fans saw Scarlett on in action, he ran for 889 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 as a true freshman. Martez Ivey returns for his senior year as he leads the offensive line into action and was voted to the preseason All-SEC first team list. In addition, junior wide receivers Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland will be key weapons for Franks downfield. The addition of Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson will add to the outside threat in the Gators’ offense.
The defense has multiple notable names returning this season. Sophomore cornerbacks CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson lead the secondary into the 2018 season. As freshmen, Henderson led the Gators with four interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) and Wilson led all corners with 10 pass breakups. Junior linebacker David Reese returns after a monster sophomore campaign in he led all Gators in tackles in 2017 with 102, one of eight SEC players to log a 100-tackle season. The only other Gator to receive preseason All-SEC first team honors is defensive lineman Cece Jefferson. Jefferson logged 47 total tackles in 2017 while also leading the defense with 4.5 sacks.
With so many starters returning for the 2018 season, watch for there to be strong chemistry on both sides of the ball.
High Standards, High Rewards
Mullen has been very adamant throughout this offseason in rebuilding the Florida Gators into a championship caliber team. He spoke at the SEC Media Days about getting the winning culture back to the University of Florida as well as keeping up with the traditions of the University. As many recall, Mullen was part of the coaching staff during both the 2006 and 2008 National Championship winning teams. Add in the success of Coach Mullen plus returning 20 starters from last year and this Gators team has the ability to give Georgia a run for their money in the SEC East.
While there may be a learning curve throughout the season, the Gators will look to come out of the gate running, both literally and figuratively. As the action gets underway in The Swamp, a new season of Gator football kicks off at 7:30pm.
Gators to Orange Bowl leads Florida schools-bowl games
The bowl lineup is set. Six teams from the state of Florida will play in bowl games in the 2019-2020 bowl season. All six games will be played in 2019 None of the bowls will be in January of 2020.
The two big storylines to emerge from the bowl games involving Sunshine State schools are as follows:
First, Florida got a bad matchup in the “New Year’s Six.”
The Gators always knew they would get an NY6 ticket; the question was: their destination and opponent? Memphis, in the Cotton Bowl would have been a tougher game for Gator fans to attend, but it would have been a lot more interesting.
This game, in the Orange Bowl against Virginia is a lot closer to home, but it comes against a four-loss Virginia Cavaliers team which did not win its conference and lost its conference title game by 45 points (62-17 to Clemson).
This is the kind of bowl game which is more of a burden than an opportunity It’s all gravy for Virginia, which is making a rare appearance in a New Year’s Six game. This is the biggest bowl stage for UVA since the 1991 Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.
This is a huge deal for the Hoos, who will be playing with house money and a lot to prove after getting kicked in the teeth by Clemson on national television.
For Florida, however, the Orange Bowl is a game the Gators MUST win. If they don’t, it’s a heaping platter of humiliation served fresh, just before the new year arrives. The Gators would trudge into a miserable offseason if they lose to Virginia. It’s all pressure, low upside, for UF, in marked contrast to last year’s game against Michigan, which boosted spirits in the offseason and spring ball.
The second main story of the Florida-based bowl schools: Florida Atlantic got the best game.
The Owls were rewarded for their Conference USA Championship, even though coach Lane Kiffin left for Ole Miss, and was given a date with the 10-2 SMU Mustangs in the Boca Raton Bowl. The game will be on ABC on a Saturday afternoon. (The full schedule is listed below.) That is a great showcase for the FAU program, and the Owls won’t have to travel, either. What a great arrangement!
Most of the other Florida schools can’t be too happy about one or more aspects of their bowl schedule. Florida International is happy to go to any bowl, so Arkansas State in the Camellia is perfectly fine. The other Florida schools, though, have reason to complain.
UCF got dumped with Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl, a pre-Christmas game played in Tampa on a Monday afternoon. UCF won’t get to test itself against an SEC team or any Power Five conference team this year. UCF wasn’t 6-6 or 7-5; it was 9-3. This is a letdown for Josh Heupel’s team.
Miami gets the dreaded Shreveport location, symbolic of the most out-of-the-way, off-the-radar bowl possible. Worse, Miami plays Louisiana Tech, which will have a big crowd for the Independence Bowl.
Florida State did get a relatively decent opponent, Arizona State, but the Seminoles and their fans will have to travel all the way to El Paso for the Sun Bowl. That’s a rough holiday commute for anyone who wants to make it
Florida Atlantic: vs. SMU, Boca Raton Bowl – Saturday, Dec. 21 on ABC, 3:30 Eastern
Florida International: vs. Arkansas, Camellia Bowl – Saturday, Dec. 21 on ESPN, 5:30 Eastern
UCF: vs. Marshall, Gasparilla Bowl – Monday, Dec. 23 on ESPN, 2:30 Eastern
Miami: vs. Louisiana Tech, Independence Bowl – Thursday, Dec. 26 on ESPN, 4 Eastern
Florida: vs. Virginia, Orange Bowl – Monday, Dec. 30 on ESPN, 8 Eastern
Florida State: vs. Arizona State, Sun Bowl – Tuesday, Dec. 31 on CBS, 2:15 Eastern
Gators strong finish Saturday keeps them atop our rankings
The college football regular season came to an end last week. For some, it was great, and for others, it was horrible. The Gators and UCF rolled to victories over their rivals. FIU continued their winning ways, while their rival FAU clinched the C-USA East and will be hosting the title game.
The Noles got beat down, while their other rival Miami fell flat on their face for the second week in a row. In the NFL, the Bucs were on their way too embarrassing the Jaguars before a QB change softened the blow, while the Dolphins pulled one of the stunners of the NFL season.
With all of these games to unpack, this is how the top 5 looks heading in conference championship week and week 14 of the NFL:
Florida Gators- The Gators have been the most consistent team in the state, both college, and pro. Their only two losses are against the two teams playing for the SEC Championship Game (LSU and Georgia), and both of those teams can still make the playoff.
Florida had their way with Florida State all night Saturday. Taking advantage of missed tackles and a shaky secondary, Kyle Trask threw three touchdown passes. Florida State couldn’t do anything on offense aside from the opening drive, and a long Cam Akers second-half run. The 10-2 Gators will now wait to see where they are sent for a bowl game. They have an outside shot at a “New Year’s Six” game, but even if they fail to gain entry, an 11-win season is still a great one.
FAU Owls- It was simple for FAU: win, and you’re in. They answered the call by beating Southern Miss in the season finale, and now they are C-USA East champions. QB Chris Robinson connected with tight end Harrison Bryant for all three of his touchdowns passes in the 34-17 win. The Owl defense forced five turnovers on the way to the victory.
Next, the Owls will host West champ, UAB Saturday afternoon to decide who will win the Conference outright.
UCF Knights- The Knights ended their regular season by rolling over USF and ending the Charlie Strong era. Dillon Gabriel had 270 yards passing and two touchdowns, and WR Gabe Davis went over 100 yards again, catching both touchdowns. The Knights won’t be heading to the AAC title game or a New Years’ Six bowl game. A 10th win in the bowl, though, is still a good season for the Knights.
A consolation prize for them would be to draw either FSU or Miami in a bowl game for a shot at an in-state power five schools.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- For the second week in a row, the Bucs came away victorious and both road wins were highlighted by excellent defense. They were able to knock Nick Foles out of the game at halftime for poor performance. Foles had just 93 yards passing, an interception and two fumbles.
On offense, the Bucs didn’t have to do much, as Jameis Winston had no touchdowns and no interceptions. Peyton Barber was the running back who was hot, scoring twice one from 15 yards and the other a goal-line touch. The Bucs will look to make it three wins in a row and a home win this week against the Colts.
Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins, yes, the Dolphins, are in our rankings, as they pulled off one of the upsets of the season, defeating the Eagles 37-31.
Devante Parker had an explosive 159 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 365 yards and three touchdowns.
The craziest play, however, came on fourth and goal when punter Matt Haack rolled left and shuffle passed the ball past three eagle defenders to kicker Jason Sanders.
The win puts the Dolphins at three wins, and they have three more winnable games coming up. Once looking like the sure-fire choice for the first pick, the Dolphins are sliding down the draft board towards the 3-6 range.