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Florida Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Gators' 2020 Schedule

Florida Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Gators' 2020 Schedule

Florida Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Gators' 2020 Schedule

The Florida Gators have made tremendous strides in their first two seasons under head coach Dan Mullen. Florida has won 10 and 11 games during that span, but it is still looking to play in the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2016.

Before the Gators do that, they will need to get past their demanding conference schedule that includes visits to Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Florida State. However, their toughest test will likely come against Georgia, who they haven't defeated in four seasons. Here is a breakdown of the Gators' 2020 schedule from their easiest game to their most challenging.

12. Nov. 21 vs. New Mexico State

The Gators usually have a tune-up before their game against Florida State. This year it is against a New Mexico State team that finished 2-10 and was among the worst teams in the FBS in 2019.

11. Sept. 19 vs. South Alabama

After their SEC opener against Kentucky, Florida will play its second non-conference game of the season against a Jaguars team that was 2-10 in 2019. This is a good chance for the Gators to prepare for their SEC road opener the next week against Tennessee.

10. Sept. 5 vs. Eastern Washington

One may ask why is FCS opponent Eastern Washington not considered the easiest game on the Gators' schedule. Well, it is because the Eagles are not a typical opponent from the other subdivision. EWU is just two seasons removed from losing to FCS dynasty in the national championship game and the Eagles have upset an FBS team before, beating Washington State in 2016. This year, Eastern Washington is ranked No. 20 in Athlon Sports' Preseason FCS Top 25 and returns one of the subdivision's top quarterbacks in Eric Barriere, so Florida better not take their season-opening opponent lightly.

9. Nov. 14 vs. Missouri

Florida will face a new-look Missouri team with Eliah Drinkwitz as the new head coach after coming over from Appalachian State. The Tigers will have to find a leader at the quarterback position, but don't be surprised if Drinkwitz has the offense clicking by the time they play Florida in mid-November. At home, this is a game the Gators should win.

8. Nov. 9 at Vanderbilt

Although the Commodores aren't projected to be one of the best teams in the SEC East, the Gators certainly remember the last time they visited Nashville. Florida had to rally from an 18-point deficit to beat Vanderbilt 37-27 in 2018, which matched the largest road comeback in school history. This should be a game the Gators win easily, but they also have to be careful, especially coming off their matchup against the Bulldogs.

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7. Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina

Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp is entering his fifth season at South Carolina. After an offseason where only three assistant coaches return in the same role, the time is now for Muschamp in Columbia. Injuries took its toll on the Gamecocks last season. If quarterback Ryan Hilinski can continue to develop, don't be surprised if South Carolina is a bowl team in 2020.

6. Oct. 17 at Ole Miss

Coming off their home game against LSU, Florida will travel to The Grove to face the Rebels. After a successful three-year run at Florida Atlantic, Lane Kiffin, former Tennessee head coach (2009) and Alabama offensive coordinator (2014-16) is back in the SEC at Ole Miss. Kiffin has the tall task of restoring a Rebels program back to relevance. Playing at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is never easy, especially with the Kiffin hire helping to recharge the fan base.

5. Sept. 12 vs. Kentucky

The Florida-Kentucky matchups have been some of the most entertaining games in the SEC the last half-decade or so, and this season shouldn't be any different. Kyle Trask relieved the injured Feleipe Franks at quarterback last season and Florida with three fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including his go-ahead, four-yard scoring run to give the Gators the 29-21 victory in Lexington. Kentucky had a ton of injuries, especially at quarterback a season ago. But somehow, the Wildcats were able to finish the 2019 season with an 8-5 record. There are players the Wildcats will need to replace, including dual-threat quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr., but there's certainly enough talent for Kentucky to make noise in the SEC East once again.

4. Oct. 10 vs. LSU

One could make the case that Florida played the eventual national champions the toughest out of any opponent last season, losing 42-28 in Baton Rouge. The good news for the Gators is the Tigers lost a lot from that team on both side of the ball as well as the coaching staff. Among the changes: a new quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line, and Bo Pelini has returned to serve as defensive coordinator. The bad news is there's plenty of talent still on the roster. This will begin a tough stretch for the Gators, as they will play Ole Miss and Georgia in the weeks after their matchup against LSU.

3. Nov. 28 at Florida State

Just five years from one of their most successful runs in school history, the Seminoles made another coaching change as Mike Norvell came over from Memphis. As the Tigers' head coach, Norvell's team were high-powered, including last season when Memphis avered 40.4 points per game en route to an American Athletic Conference (AAC) title and appearance in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State. It won't be easy to turn around Florida State immediately, but this is a rivalry game on the road, so all bets are off. So don't be surprised if the Seminoles play their best in the season finale.

2. Sept. 26 at Tennessee

Some may ask why a game against a Tennessee program that Florida has dominated for the better part of almost two decades would be second on this list? Well, this isn't the same Tennessee team from years past. This isn't even the same Volunteers team that began the 2019 season 1-4. After that point, Tennessee would go on to win seven of their last eight games, including picking up a Gator Bowl victory over Indiana. Expectations are high for Jeremy Pruitt and the Volunteers in 2020, as they could be in line to compete with the Gators and Bulldogs in the SEC East.

1. Oct. 31 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.)

If Florida is going to return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, they will need to defeat Georgia on Halloween. The Bulldogs will have a new quarterback under center in Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman with Todd Monken now calling plays as the offensive coordinator. The offensive line also is in a state of transition needing to replace four starters. The Bulldogs' defense should still be among the best in the conference, and that may have to carry Kirby Smart's team in 2020. On paper, this is the best chance Florida has had to defeat Georgia in years. If the Gators can pull it off, not only could a trip to Atlanta be in their future, but so could a spot in the College Football Playoff.

— 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.