Hey, everybody! I’m Casey Hampton. You probably know me as ATL Gator or @champton85 on twitter, and you’ve probably heard me on the In All Kinds Of Weather Forecast along with site founder and editor Neil Shulman and host Dustin Smith. I’m excited to begin writing about the Florida Gators for In All Kinds Of Weather as a key contributor, and look forward to interacting with you on social media!
With that said, let’s start talking Gator football! Here are my thoughts on each game on the Gators’ new, SEC-only 2020 schedule (score predictions will come at a later date).
September 26- at Mississippi
There are a BUNCH of intriguing storylines here. Lane Kiffin’s (second) SEC head coaching debut– and we know his disdain from his opening press conference as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009 for Florida, Urban Meyer, and his staff– is one. Dan Mullen’s return to Oxford as former Mississippi State head coach is two. Florida’s ability to even the all-time series with a win here is three. And so on.
But Florida has historically been sloppy in opening games– no matter who the opponent may be, and not to mention their recent struggles against mobile quarterbacks of which the Rebels sport in John Rhys Plumlee. Of note, UF lost the last opening season game against Ole Miss back in 1989, but has gone 4-3 versus the Rebels since, including a 38-10 dismantling of a Hugh Freeze led squad in 2015 that would go on to win the Sugar Bowl in their most recent meeting.
October 3- South Carolina
Though the Will Muschamp storyline might have lost some of its luster from four or even two years ago regarding his return to The Swamp, the season home opener for the Gators won’t lack drama if recent history is any indication. The last two times the Gators have defeated the Gamecocks, they’ve also had to defeat some serious ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD. First, they erased a three score deficit in 2018 to run off 21 unanswered and survive, 35-31, and last year Florida overcame to a tropical monsoon in Columbia to win 38-27.
Keep the following two stats in mind here. First, since 2010, Florida is 5-5 against South Carolina. Second, in the same time period the Gators have managed just two eleven win seasons… and South Carolina has had three. Sure, all three were with Spurrier, but the point is that regardless of who coaches them, the Gamecocks are no longer wise to dismiss as a threat (just ask Georgia!). This is a scrappy, underrated, and as of late– very even handed rivalry regardless of the location. The Gators need to come out of the tunnel ready to play from the first snap to the final whistle.
October 10- at Texas A&M
Oh boy. Some may disagree, but this is one of those games in which the SEC motto of “It just means more” applies. Florida Gators fans, to put it mildly, do not particularly care for Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher. And based off his locker room comments after beating the Gators in 2015 while serving as FSU head coach (“We just beat the damned Gators!”) the feeling is quite mutual.
This will be the Gators’ first trip to Aggieland since 2012, when eventual Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel burst onto the scene in a spirited loss to the Gators in A&M’s first-ever SEC game. This has all the makings of a “prove it” game for both teams and both coaches. Get the popcorn ready, folks.
October 17- Louisiana State
LSU Tigers. Florida Gators. What more needs to be said here? This is a premier SEC cross-divisional rivalry game– if not the best one overall. The Gators and Tigers are must-see TV almost every year; five of the last six and ten out of the last sixteen matchups have been decided by a single possession. And Florida arguably gave the Tigers their fiercest game in Baton Rouge last season in a 42-28 loss in which the Gators led late in the 3rd quarter. The last home game against the Tigers was an emotional and dramatic 27-19 victory in QB Joe Burrow’s first loss as a Tiger.
LSU loses a great deal of production from last year, including Burrow, OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, WR Justin Jefferson, LB Patrick Queen, RB Clyde Edwards-Healire, S Grant Delpit, CB Kristian Fulton, TE Thaddeus Moss and more. And some key coaches are gone as well, such as passing game coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. So there will be a lot of new faces in big roles for the Bayou Bengals when they come to the Swamp. Regardless of personnel losses, though, this is always a closely fought game, and this year should be no different.
October 24- Missouri
Since joining the conference in 2012, Mizzou has been a constant thorn in the side of the Gators. From blowout losses in 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018 to slugfest wins in 2015 and 2019, this “easy win” that some consider this has been anything but (save for 2016). One weird staple of this series, though: since a 14-7 slop-fest in 2012, every game between Florida and Missouri has been decided by three possessions or more.
The Tigers are breaking in a new coach in Eliah Drinkwitz, and quarterback Kelly Bryant and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam will need to be replaced. Meanwhile, the Gators clearly have the better roster, better coaching staff, and better signal-caller. But to avoid a season-killing loss, the Gators need to be ready for this game as it is in the perfect location on the schedule to be looking ahead to the next game.
November 7- Georgia (Jacksonville, FL)
This is the game every Gator (myself included) probably has circled on the calendar, as the most difficult and biggest must win game of the season for Florida. Undeniably, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has owned the Gators since his arrival in 2016. His Bulldogs have gone 3-1 against the Gators in that time frame, with two of those games being won by three scores or more. Last year, the Dawgs’ game plan of simply grinding out a win on third down (to the tune of 12-18) and simply wearing out the Gators’ defense, along with a Lawrence Cager “catch” in which… well, never mind.
But, simply put– Dan Mullen absolutely HAS to win this game. For the Florida Gators to get over the hump, silence the critics, recruit on a sustainable blue-chip level, and achieve any hope of a divisional, conference, or national title– the Gators HAVE to win this game. They just have to. No other game on the schedule means as much as this one, and there isn’t even really a close second. So this team is advised to come out and play better at TIAA Bank Field than they have recently in order to have any hope of sending the Dawgs back home with their tail tucked between their legs for the first time since 2016.
November 14- Arkansas
Another game of storylines. Former Florida Gators QB Feleipe Franks transferred to Arkansas during the offseason as a graduate transfer, seemingly cutting ties with Florida and riding off into the sunset, never to be seen again in the Swamp. Yet, thanks to this crazy year, that was not meant to be. Franks returns to the Swamp as a visitor this season for the first time, with new coach (and former Georgia assistant coach) Sam Pittman at the helm.
I won’t sugar coat it. Arkansas is a hot mess having not won an SEC game since 2017—and they have a great deal to work out as far as personnel and new coaching schemes. Not to mention as a schedule that includes Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida– yikes. But, as my grandfather used to say, “it’s the teams that have nothing to lose that sometimes creep up on you.” That said, this should be a good breather for the Gators after the opening gauntlet.
November 21- at Vanderbilt
Well, and then there’s Vandy, the first of three straight SEC East teams Florida plays to close the season. Poor Vandy. In their entire 130 year history, the Commodores have been to a grand total of eight bowl games, going 4-4 in the process.
Derek Mason has quite the project on his hands in order to reach the school’s ninth ever bowl game in his seventh year with the Commodores (and strangely enough, the dean of SEC East coaches). The Commodores have won just five conference games since 2018, and this season does not project to be much better as QB Riley Neil is gone and a battle to replace him is underway in Nashville. I don’t know what else to say, considering the Gators walloped Vanderbilt at home last season by a score of 56-0 (and in reality, left several more points on the field). So, just enjoy the fall weather and leaf changes in the West End of Nashville, maybe?
November 28- Kentucky
This game has been quite the thrilling series since the three-overtime affair on a hot late summer night in Gainesville in 2014. Aside from 2016, the last few installments of this game have had Gator fans biting their nails for the first time against Kentucky in football (myself included). Credit where due, though: it’s undeniable that Mark Stoops is building something special in Lexington. Proud Gator that I am, any coach who can take a WR and turn him into a successful SEC quarterback—especially at Kentucky—deserves a fair amount of praise. Not to mention the last time the Wildcats came calling in Gainesville, the longest winning streak against an annual opponent was snapped in dramatic fashion as Kentucky walked away with a 27-16 win—their first since 1986.
Last season in Lexington, the Gators stormed back from a double digit deficit and the loss of former QB Feleipe Franks on the arm (and legs) of backup QB Kyle Trask to win, 29-21. Who knows what the Wildcats have up their sleeves this season, or how playing this game late as opposed to early will impact what happens between the white lines? But I know I can’t take this as an automatic win anymore– nor should any Gator fan.
December 5- at Tennessee
Let’s get this out of the way—we all know what happened the last time the Florida Gators played the Tennessee Volunteers this late in the season back in 2001. Tennessee won, and then went on to do the most Tennessee thing possible and lose as a double digit favorite to LSU in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Steve Spurrier walked away from the sidelines in Gainesville shortly thereafter, Tennessee fell into a deep depression a few years later and what used to be the most heated SEC rivalry in the 1990’s has never been the same.
Much has been made about Tennessee’s finish last season, where they rattled off six straight wins to end the year, but I would point out that the combined record of all of those opponents was 36-36 and taking away the Gator Bowl win against Indiana, only two of the remaining five teams went to a bowl– including UAB who is not even a Power 5 team. Now, do I think Jeremy Pruitt is a good coach? Maybe. Do I think this game will be closer than the last two against the Volunteers? Yes. Does the placement of this game—and the cold weather that might accompany it worry me? A little. But, with so much ahead of them—the Gators need to close out the SEC slate strongly and keep up their 22-6 record against the Vols since divisional play began in the SEC in 1992. And yes, that means Tennessee has only beaten Florida six times since 1992, for those keeping track.