The good news for the Florida Gators is the team is coming off their first SEC East title since 2016. The bad news is the Gators lost their last three games of the 2020 season.
After beginning the season 8-1, Florida lost to LSU, Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to finish out the 2020 campaign. Now with a roster full of new starters, the Gators will try to put that behind them and make a return trip to Atlanta to play for the conference title.
To get there, the Gators will need to navigate a difficult schedule that includes games against Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Missouri.
As Florida's season opener gets closer, here's a look at how two Athlon editors and a college football contributor believe the Gators will handle their 12-game schedule.
Florida Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2021
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Gators have made a New Year’s Six bowl in all three of coach Dan Mullen’s seasons in Gainesville, but that streak will be tested in 2021. Florida’s defense is in need of repair after struggling to stop teams on the ground and through the air, while also allowing 30.8 points a game last season. The Gators don’t lack for talent on this side of the ball, but how much improvement can coordinator Todd Grantham generate in one offseason? The transfer additions of Antonio Shelton and Daquan Newkirk should bolster the line, but a season-ending knee injury to cornerback Jaydon Hill was a setback to the secondary. While Florida’s losses are heavy on offense after quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts and receivers Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes left for the NFL, Mullen has a strong track record of success on this side of the ball. New quarterback Emory Jones is a breakout candidate, which should help Mullen find a way to keep this offense performing at a high level. The schedule doesn’t provide many breaks with Alabama and LSU in crossover play on tap, along with road treks to Missouri and Kentucky.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
The Gators certainly lost a lot, especially on offense but as a testament to the job Dan Mullen and his coaching staff have done in Gainesville, I fully expect Florida to remain competitive in the always-tough SEC. Alabama and Georgia are by far the two biggest challenges on the schedule and while a visit to Death Valley is never easy, I'm willing to give the Gators the edge here. However, I do think they will slip up at least three times in the regular season, and it could happen in Baton Rouge. Talent is not the issue for Mullen, it's the lack of experience, especially at quarterback. But if the head coach lives up to his QB whisperer reputation and the defense comes together, another high-profile bowl should be attainable, even if it means ceding SEC East supremacy back to the Bulldogs.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
Florida and head coach Dan Mullen's best shot to get into the College Football Playoff was last season. But an ill-fated shoe toss ended that chance for the Gators. Not only did the Gators lose their last three games, but the team looked uninspired against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Emory Jones takes over for Kyle Trask at quarterback, and he will provide a huge benefit for the Gators and Mullen. Jones has excellent mobility, which should buy extra time for receivers to get open as they may need it because Florida also lost pass catchers Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Trevon Grimes — who combined for 31 touchdowns last season.
Florida's defense is probably the biggest question mark after surrendering 30.8 points per game, the most for the program since World War II. Cornerback Kaiir Elam returns, but the Gators will need to find a way to get consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback this season. No one really expects Florida to defeat Alabama, even in the Swamp. However, the Gators will need to beat both LSU and Georgia if they're going to make it back to the SEC Championship Game. With all Georgia has returning, the Bulldogs are a bit better on both sides of the ball. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Gators go anywhere from 8-4 to 10-2 this fall.