In the last couple of years, the Florida Gators have been inching close to dethroning the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC East. Could 2020 finally be the year the Gators reclaim the division title from the Bulldogs?
Last season, the Gators finished 11-2, including a 36-28 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the Orange Bowl. Florida finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in total offense and second in the league in total defense, but will need to replace several key starters on both sides of the ball. The good news is that starting quarterback Kyle Trask returns after throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2019.
Before having an opportunity to play in the SEC Championship Game, the Gators will first have to navigate through their 2020 schedule. Florida's toughest stretch could be from Sept. 26 all the way until their bye week (Week 8). During that time, the Gators will be on the road against Tennessee and Ole Miss while hosting South Carolina and LSU.
Let's take a more in-depth look at the Gators 2020 schedule.
Bye: Week 8
Week 1 — Sept. 5 vs. Eastern Washington (Gainesville, Fla.)
Florida's 2020 season will begin against FCS opponent Eastern Washington. With a tough schedule ahead, this will be an excellent game for the Gators to knock the rust off and prepare for their SEC opener.
Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Kentucky (Gainesville, Fla.)
In recent years, the Gators and the Wildcats have played in many close games, which includes when Kentucky ended a 31-game losing streak in Gainesville. This year's meeting could produce another entertaining affair with Kentucky coming off of an 8-5 showing despite a number of injuries. The Wildcats will get quarterback Terry Wilson back after he suffered a knee injury early last year. In 2018, Wilson threw for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Week 3 — Sept. 19 vs. South Alabama (Gainesville, Fla.)
After playing their first SEC game, the Gators will step out of conference and host the Jaguars from the Sun Belt. South Alabama went 2-10 last season, so this should be another opportunity for Florida's backups to get plenty of playing time before going to Knoxville in Week 4.
Week 4 — Sept. 26 at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Florida's second SEC game will be against the rival Volunteers. After beginning last season 1-4, Tennessee turned things around riding a six-game winning streak to an 8-5 finish. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano returns as well as a talented supporting cast, including All-SEC guard Trey Smith. This game should factor into the SEC East race.
Week 5 — Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina (Gainesville, Fla.)
The Gators return home to take on the Gamecocks. Last season, South Carolina slumped to a 4-8 record leading to Will Muschamp overhauling his coaching staff. One of the changes is bringing on former Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator. Bobo will be expected to help Ryan Hilinski or whoever ends up at quarterback take their game to the next level.
Week 6 — Oct. 10 vs. LSU (Gainesville, Fla.)
One of Florida's two losses in 2019 came at the hands of the Tigers. But the Gators will be matching up against a much different LSU team compared to the one that went undefeated and won the national title. Gone are quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and wide receiver Justin Jefferson, just to name a few. Despite all the changes on both sides of the ball, LSU will still likely be a tough challenge for Florida even in the Swamp.
Week 7 — Oct. 17 at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
The Lane Kiffin era has begun at Ole Miss, and the Gators will get their first crack at him and the new-look Rebels right before their bye week. Kiffin is looking to help Ole Miss rebound from a 4-8 showing last season. Even with the bye and a showdown with Georgia on the other side of it, Florida can't afford to take this game in Oxford lightly.
Week 9 — Oct. 31 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The game that could determine which team wins the SEC East will fittingly take place on Halloween. The Bulldogs have gotten the best of the Gators in the last three meetings, matching the Gators' streak before that. Georgia is replacing several starters, so the timing could be right for Florida to get back into the win column in this rivalry.
Week 10 — Nov. 7 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)
After their annual game against the Bulldogs, the Gators will travel to face another familiar opponent. Last season, Florida shut out Vanderbilt 56-0 in Gainesville. After finishing 3-9 in 2019, Commodores head coach Derek Mason is starting to feel some heat and is hoping his team can find a way to put together a few more wins and make a run at becoming bowl eligible.
Week 11 — Nov. 14 vs. Missouri (Gainesville, Fla.)
The Tigers have a new head coach in Eliah Drinkwitz, who led Appalachian State to a 13-1 record and a Sun Belt championship in his lone season at the helm. Besides adjusting to a new coaching staff, Missouri will need to find a new quarterback with Kelly Bryant no longer on the roster.
Week 12 — Nov. 21 vs. New Mexico State (Gainesville, Fla.)
Florida will host the Aggies on Senior Day. Last season, New Mexico State went 2-10 as an FBS Independent. This will be a good tune-up before the Gators' rivalry game against the Seminoles.
Week 13 — Nov. 28 at Florida State (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Florida will get its first look at Mike Norvell's Seminoles. Last season, FSU played in the Sun Bowl but lost that game to post a second consecutive losing campaign (6-7). Among the things on the new coaching staff's to-do list is figure out their quarterback situation. James Blackman is the early front-runner to retain his starting job, but this will be his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. The Gators have won two in this series, including last season's convincing 40-17 victory in the Swamp.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.