2020 Team Preview: Florida Gators
By Space Coast Daily // September 17, 2020
Where The Gators Will Go If Things Go Right
It is Florida’s mission to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs and the Gators have not beaten Georgia since 2016, the last time the Gators made the SEC Championship Game.
Winning the SEC East Division depends on beating Georgia and this time has the third-best college football odds to win the conference, so the oddsmakers believe it’s possible.
Florida has to get over that particular hump if it wants to take the next step forward. Georgia has become a different program since head coach Kirby Smart turned the Dawgs around, and Florida coach Dan Mullen has failed to beat him yet.
The Gators enter the 2020 season unsure of whether they can beat Georgia, but they have to give it everything they have.
The Gators will not return these prime players from their 2019 team: cornerback C.J. Henderson, receiver Van Jefferson, defensive end Jabari Zuniga, linebacker Jon Greenard, running back La’Mical Perine, receiver Freddie Swain, and receiver Tyrie Cleveland.
The Gators have three returning starters on their offensive line, including center Brett Heggie. A new arrival is Mississippi State transfer Stewart Reese, who has started 34 games in his collegiate career.
Florida will have running backs Dameon Pierce and Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard in the backfield alongside quarterback Kyle Trask, who wasn’t a starter on opening day of 2019 but is now one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the SEC in 2020.
Trask has watched LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, and Kentucky hybrid Lynn Bowden all move to the NFL. Jake Bentley of South Carolina transferred to Utah. It is not ridiculous to claim that Trask could be the best quarterback in the SEC, but he has to prove it.
The Gators have a transfer from Georgia, Brenton Cox, who could be impactful not just because he is on the Gators’ roster, but because he can give the Gators intelligence on the Bulldogs.
He could be a spy who helps Florida study Georgia more effectively. Cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elan give Florida a solid secondary on the edges, with Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart as the safeties responsible for the middle third of the field. Amari Burney will play as a nickelback on obvious passing downs.
Up front, Florida will need redshirt senior defensive end Jeremiah Moon to be a disruptive presence as a pass rusher. Freshman lineman Gervon Dexter could give the Gators an infusion of youthful energy.
The Gators start at Mississippi. Then they host South Carolina. They visit Texas A&M in their third game and then host LSU in their fourth. Their fifth game is at home versus Missouri. Then comes the big neutral-site game in Jacksonville against Georgia. Florida then hosts Arkansas and is at Vanderbilt. The Gators close with a home game against Kentucky and a road trip to Tennessee.
This will be an adventure, with every game in the season being a conference game. There are no non-conference rivalries, no easy games against small schools. It’s only conference games. The rotation of the games is also different. Florida usually plays Kentucky and Tennessee in September. This year the Wildcats are a late-November opponent, and Tennessee is an early December opponent.
The biggest game on the schedule is Georgia. That’s the game the Gators have circled. If they win that one game, their SEC East title odds will skyrocket. Their other especially big games are at Texas A&M, home versus LSU, and the Kentucky-Tennessee finish. Florida should beat Texas A&M.
The LSU game is a toss-up, but the Tigers lost a lot of quality players from last season’s team. Florida should handle Kentucky at home. The Tennessee road trip is a mystery at this point, because the Vols could either be really good, really bad, or in between.
All in all, the goal for Florida against a tough schedule is an 8-2 record in 10 games with a win over Georgia. If Florida can do that, the win over Georgia – combined with the fact that Georgia must play at Alabama this season – means that the Gators would win the East due to a tiebreaker with Georgia.
If Alabama and Florida both beat Georgia, the Gators would win the East at 8-2. If Georgia upsets Alabama, Florida would not be able to get the driver’s seat for the SEC East solely by beating Georgia; it would need Georgia to lose to another non-Florida opponent.
Where The Gators Will Go If Things Go Right
The Gators’ ceiling is an SEC championship and a College Football Playoff semifinal appearance.
It isn’t likely that Florida will get this far, but if everything does go right, the Gators can reach those heights. A scenario in which everything goes right for Florida will obviously involve a win over Georgia. This is one of the more realistic parts of the ideal scenario for the Gators, since Georgia has question marks at quarterback and other important positions. The Gators, if they do beat Georgia, should win the SEC East Division title.
Naturally, they would be an underdog to Alabama in a possible SEC Championship Game, but they could realistically beat the Crimson Tide because Alabama is replacing Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback this season. Mac Jones is a talented quarterback, but he is not a sure thing, and if Florida could meet Alabama for the SEC title, the Gators could rattle Jones and win a game based on their defense.
The reason why Florida’s ceiling isn’t higher than a playoff semifinal is that the Gators would likely play Clemson or Ohio State in a semifinal. The Tigers and Buckeyes are clearly a lot better than Florida, so that’s the maximum the Gators could do this year.
Where The Gators Will Go If Things Go Wrong
If things go wrong – chiefly, quarterback Kyle Trask struggling through the season, the offensive line failing to improve from 2019, and the pass rush failing to successfully replace Greenard and Zuniga – Florida could certainly tumble a lot this year.
The Gators are expected to finish in the top two of the SEC East, but if they stumble a few times, they could fall all the way to fourth. Tennessee and especially Kentucky could leap over them in the SEC East. The Gators will finish higher than South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt no matter what, but Tennessee and Kentucky could pass them if those programs put the pieces together while the Gators lose the plot.
The line play, the secondary, and the quarterback are not fully proven and established components of this team. If Florida lags behind the SEC’s elite in these areas, the season could become alarmingly ugly.