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Will SEC play let Gators take state spotlight back?

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A hard reality for Florida Gators fans: through two weeks of the 2019 college football season, the UCF Knights still run the state of Florida.

Sure, UCF hasn’t played tough opponents, but the Knights have roared past the competition with an offense which still looks potent. The reality might not mean much in the middle of September, but as any Gator football fan could tell you, perception is part of the reality in Gainesville.

Remember this: Florida was not a bad program under former coach Jim McElwain. It wasn’t a great program – and that is part of why many people legitimately felt McElwain wasn’t doing the job – but it wasn’t horrible. Multiple SEC East championships represented a noticeable improvement from the awful Will Muschamp years. Gator fans expect to be in Atlanta, and McElwain – for all his many faults – enabled UF to attain that standard.

One of the several crucial sins McElwain committed as Florida’s coach – not the only one, but important enough to matter – is that his teams were boring.

At Florida, winning isn’t the only requirement for a head coach; winning in an attractive way is also demanded.

You might not think that’s fair, but that IS the reality for Gator football.

Steve Spurrier and then Urban Meyer (with Dan Mullen calling plays for Urban) spoiled Florida fans, but in defense of Gator fans, we can acknowledge that if you witnessed aesthetically pleasing football over two decades from two separate coaching staffs, you would also think that visually sexy football should be a requirement for a Gator head coach.

The added fact that Mullen was part of that previously established Gator legacy makes him well aware of the demands of the Florida job. He knew this when he returned. He signed up for the scrutiny and the added expectation to not only win, but entertain.

Right now, UCF is winning the battle for entertainment in the Sunshine State, with Miami and Florida State still struggling.

The Gators get their big chance to change that equation this Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky.

Yes, first things first: Florida would much rather win an ugly game against Kentucky than lose a pretty one. After losing to Kentucky a year ago in the Swamp, Florida simply can’t lose back-to-back games to Big Blue. A dark cloud would hang over the rest of the season, and only a win over Georgia could remove it. UF better win this game, and if it has to be a rock fight, so be it.

However: Florida could take a huge step forward in its evolution if it can win this game and look good doing so.

Kentucky wants a rock fight. Coach Mark Stoops always wants to drag other teams into the mud and play a slugfest. His programs always rely on defense first. Going into Lexington at night is not the toughest road trip in the SEC, but it has not been a picnic in recent years, either – for the Gators or anyone else.

Feleipe Franks – the player who will determine how far Florida travels this year – faces a lot of questions entering Week 3. One would be correct to say that Franks has to answer fundamental questions about his capacity to lead this team with consistency and reliability.

Franks’s ability to address fundamental questions will likely determine whether Florida wins this game in Lexington A competent Franks will create a win.

The step beyond that? Mastery.

A competent Franks will enable Florida to get by. A masterful Franks will enable the Gators to thrive.

Kentucky is the perfect opponent for Franks early in the season, because it will enable us to see where Franks stands on the spectrum between “UGH!” on one end and “mastery” on the other.

Tennessee, Vanderbilt and South Carolina aren’t playing well enough right now to test Franks in full. Kentucky’s offense – without injured quarterback Terry Wilson – is a
complete mystery, but Kentucky’s defense offers a more robust test than the other non-Georgia SEC East foes could provide.

We will find out if Florida is competent enough to win more of the games it is supposed to win this season. We will find out if Feleipe Franks is masterful enough to give Florida a legitimate chance to win in an entertaining fashion.

The status of Florida football under Dan Mullen will probably be easier to measure after Week 3. The Gators can only hope they will change the conversation relative to UCF in the state of Florida.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

Florida Gators

Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday

Florida Football Insiders

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Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.

The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:

A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.

With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.

As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.

Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.

It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.

Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.

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Florida Gators

Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools

Jamil King

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.

The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of  former DB C.J. Henderson.

Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.

The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.

Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?

Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.

The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.

Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.

Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.

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