Florida Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Gators' Schedule

The Gators' slate includes both Sunshine State rivals as well as Auburn and LSU from the SEC West

Winning double-digit games used to be a given for the Florida Gators in the 1990s. Now a year after Dan Mullen won 10 games in his first year as Gators head coach, Florida has bigger goals in mind for 2019. 

 

The Gators' schedule sets up well for them as they will only leave the state of Florida once during their first six games. However, Florida will have some hurdles to cross, which include games at Kentucky, LSU, and Missouri.

 

And there's their annual matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs, which could determine which team represents the East in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Florida has the talent to challenge Georgia, but first, they will need to navigate through the rest of their schedule.

 

Here's a look at Florida's schedule, ranking the opponents from easiest to the most difficult for the Gators.

 

12. Sept. 7 vs. UT Martin

After opening the season against the Miami Hurricanes on Aug. 24, the Gators will have their home opener against the Skyhawks from the FCS ranks. Florida has had its fair share of success against teams from Tennessee, and this game shouldn't be any different.

 

11. Sept. 28 vs. Towson

Florida will play two FCS opponents this season as Gators also host Towson during the month of September. This will be a good break for the Gators before heading into the heart of their SEC schedule.

 

10. Nov. 9 vs. Vanderbilt

The Commodores will be looking for revenge after the Gators rallied from an 18-point deficit to win 37-27 in Nashville last season. Derek Mason's Commodores are always a well-coached group, so this is a game, the Gators can't take lightly. However, it is a game Florida should win, especially at home.

 

9. Oct. 19 at South Carolina

Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp appeared to be on his way to defeating his former team last season, but the Gators were able to come back and win 35-31 at The Swamp. Quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns, is back for what feels like his 10th year at South Carolina. The Gamecocks will need to find him a new top receiving threat with Deebo Samuels is now in the NFL.

 

8. Sept. 14 at Kentucky

The Wildcats finally ended one of college football's longest losing streaks as they upset the Gators 27-16 on the road to snap the 31-game skid. Now, Kentucky looks to make it two in a row against Florida. The Cats are coming off of a rare 10-win season but head coach Mark Stoops must replace 14 starters, including national defensive player of the year Josh Allen and running back Benny Snell Jr., the program's all-time leading rusher.

 

7. Sept. 21 vs. Tennessee 

The Florida/Tennessee rivalry has been anything but as the Gators have won 13 out of the last 14 in the series. Last year game was especially embarrassing for the Volunteers as they were shellacked 47-21 at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee should be improved in Jeremy Pruitt's second season as head coach, but how much remains to be seen.

 

6. Oct. 5 vs. Auburn

The Auburn Tigers are consistently a hard team to figure out. Is this the team that blew out Purdue Bin the Music City Bowl or the underachieving bunch that won eight games after having high expectations last year?

Auburn will need to find a new starting quarterback as Jared Stidham opted to leave early for the NFL. The Tigers also need to replace their top two receivers in Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton. But the defense should be solid once again led by one of the nation's top lines and a seasoned secondary.

 

5. Aug. 24 vs. Miami (Orlando, Fla.)

Usually a game against the Hurricanes would likely be higher on this list. But after Miami underachieved in 2018, the Gators are heavy favorites to win the season opener in Orlando.

 

The Canes have a lot of talent returning to their defense, including Jonathan Garvin and three senior linebackers in Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud. The big question for new head coach Manny Diaz is figuring out things on offense. Still, don't be surprised if this game is closer than the large point spread indicates.

 

4. Nov. 30 vs. Florida State

Florida ended its five-game losing streak to Florida State last year and in convincing fashion, dominating the Seminoles 41-14 victory in Tallahassee. Rivalry games are always tricky to predict, but FSU should be a better team than its 5-7 record a year ago. New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles should be able to inject life into a Noles offense that finished 103rd in the country in yards per game.

 

3. Nov. 16 at Missouri

The Tigers have been a pest to the Gators, winning the last two meetings and four of the previous six. Although Missouri is currently banned from the postseason that doesn't mean Barry Odom's team won't put up a fight.

 

Kelly Bryant, who helped Clemson get to the College Football Playoff in 2017, is expected to take over at quarterback following Drew Lock's departure. Bryant will have a lot of talent to work with as leading rusher Larry Rountree and leading receiver Johnathon Johnson are both back. Don't be surprised if Missouri surprises a few teams next season.

 

2. Oct. 12 at LSU

The annual Florida vs. LSU game should be another close contest as the Tigers could emerge as a national championship contender. LSU returns 15 starters, including quarterback Joe Burrow, who should improve in his second year as the starter.

 

On defense, stud linebacker Devin White and shutdown corner Greedy Williams are among the losses, but the Tigers always been able to reload on that side of the ball through recruiting. With head coach Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda running things, don't expect much drop-off from this defense, if any. This is a critical game for both teams.

 

1. Nov. 2 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)

It isn't any surprise that Florida's toughest game of 2019 is against the two-time defending SEC East champs. Under Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs have been knocking at the door of winning a national title the last couple of seasons.

 

Georgia has some question marks after losing both coordinators (OC Jim Chaney and DC Mel Tucker) during the offseason as well as some key players to the NFL draft. But the cupboard is far from bare and the expectations remain high in Athens. Florida knows better than anyone if they want to return to the glory days of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, defeating the Dawgs is a must.

 

— 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.

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