After a 2020 season that saw the Florida Gators win the SEC East on the strength of one of the best offenses in the country, change is in the air in Gainesville.
Gone are quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts, and wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney. There also are a lot of questions to address defensively after the Gators gave up 428 yards per game (83rd in FBS) last season.
Emory Jones will likely get the nod under center from head coach Dan Mullen. Jones is in his fourth season and has played in 24 games so far in his career.
Florida will have two early winnable games before opening SEC play against the defending national champions. Dates with LSU and Georgia come in October and the rivalry game against Florida State is back after being removed from last year's schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Let's take a look at how Florida's 2021 slate breaks down:
Bye: Week 8
Week 1 – Sept. 4 vs. Florida Atlantic (Gainesville, Fla.)
Florida will begin its 2021 season in the Swamp against old foe Willie Taggart and the Florida Atlantic Owls. Taggart last coached against the Gators in 2018 when he was the head coach at Florida State. The Gators rolled the Seminoles 41-15 in Tallahassee that season and he was out at FSU after nine games the following year. He was hired by FAU to replace Lane Kiffin, who went to Ole Miss, and the Owls went 5-4 in Taggart's debut. FAU should remain a contender in the Conference USA East Division but this is a game Florida should be heavily favored to win.
Week 2 – Sept.11 at USF (Tampa, Fla.)
Even though this is a road game, the Gators will use this meeting with USF as a tune-up heading into their showdown with Alabama. Last season the Bulls went 1-8 in head coach Jeff Scott's debut. USF should be improved with a normal offseason and the addition of a strong recruiting class. But Florida should have little trouble with the Bulls in Raymond James Stadium.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 vs. Alabama (Gainesville, Fla.)
The first test of the 2021 season for Florida is a big one. Alabama beat Florida in last season's SEC Championship Game but the Gators put up a fight and won't have to worry about facing NFL-bound Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Jaylen Waddle, among others, from last year's Crimson Tide team that went undefeated and basically steamrolled everyone on its way to winning another national title. But Nick Saban doesn't rebuild, he reloads. Alabama is once again the favorite in the SEC and expected to return to the College Football Playoff to defend its crown. At least this time, the Gators will enjoy home-field advantage. It's also possible this could be the first of two meetings with the Tide.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Tennessee (Gainesville, Fla.)
Florida has dominated the series with Tennessee, winning 15 of the past 16 meetings. The Gators will look to maintain the status quo with the Volunteers handing the reins of the program over to Josh Heupel. The former UCF head coach takes over for Jeremy Pruitt following a 3-7 2020 campaign that included a 31-19 home loss to Florida. Despite the Gators' dominance, there have been a number of wacky games in this series.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
The Gators will leave the state of Florida for the first time when they pay a visit to the Bluegrass State to open October. The Wildcats finally broke their 31-game losing streak to Florida in 2018 but have come up short each of the past two seasons. The Gators needed a big fourth-quarter rally two years ago to come from behind and win 29-21 in their most recent trip to Lexington.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 vs. Vanderbilt (Gainesville, Fla.)
There's a new era in Nashville with Clark Lea now the head Commodore. Highly regarded for his work as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator the past three seasons, Lea is a Vanderbilt alumnus and fully aware of the school's academic requirements. Inheriting a team that went 0-9 last season, including a 38-17 home loss to Florida, the Commodores shouldn't give the Gators too much trouble in Gainesville.
Week 7– Oct. 16 at LSU (Baton Rouge, La.)
Everyone remembers last season's infamous game against LSU. Late in the fourth quarter with the score tied, former Gators cornerback Marco Wilson ripped off Tigers tight end Kole Taylor's shoe and threw it down the field, drawing multiple flags from the referees. That would set up a 57-yard field goal from Cade York that ended up being sealing LSU's stunning 37-34 upset in foggy Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Tigers have won the past two meetings with Florida, but the Gators have come out of Death Valley victoriously before, most recently in 2016.
Week 9 – Oct. 30 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
October concludes with Florida's annual get-together with Georgia in Jacksonville. These two teams have dominated the SEC East recently but both will enter 2021 with some questions. The Bulldogs will be eager to reclaim the division crown coming off an 8-2 campaign that saw the Gators and Alabama torch Kirby Smart's defense. Offensively, Georgia could be without the services of wide receiver George Pickens, who tore his ACL early in spring practice. This game could once again determine which team goes to Atlanta in early December.
Week 10 – Nov. 6 at South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.)
The Gamecocks are another SEC East team starting over with a new coaching staff. Shane Beamer has been tabbed as Will Muschamp's replacement and among the many things on the first-year head coach's to-do list is to find a quarterback following some offseason transfers. Sophomore Luke Doty is the current leader as he has received most of the first-team snaps during spring practice. Whoever ends up with the job, he'll try to help snap South Carolina's three-game losing streak to Florida.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. Samford (Gainesville, Fla.)
Samford is one of the FCS programs playing this spring with the Bulldogs 3-3 entering their April 17 finale against Mercer. Samford's spring performance aside, this game should be a mere formality as the Gators set their sights on finishing their regular season strong.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
In Eliah Drinkwitz's first season at Missouri, the Tigers played better than expected. Missouri finished 5-5 and was invited to play in the Music City Bowl before having to withdraw due to COVID-19 issues. The Tigers are still hoping to build on the momentum gained from a promising campaign and can do that with a home win over Florida.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 vs. Florida State (Gainesville, Fla.)
Non-conference games were canceled by the SEC last season because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So Florida-Florida State was one of many rivalry games that didn't happen in 2020. It's back on and will serve as both teams' regular-season finale. The Seminoles are hoping to turn things around after going 3-6 last season and snapping a two-game losing streak to the Gators would be a huge boost for FSU and head coach Mike Norvell. That said win would come in the Swamp is just an added bonus.
— 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.