Life in the SEC is always survival of the fittest. The conference has nine teams ranked in Athlon Sports’ 2015 college footballpreseason Top 25, which is more than any other conference. The Florida Gators are not one of these nine teams.
Florida is probably not ranked because of its 7-5 record last season and the transition the program is currently going through. The school fired head coach Will Muschamp last November and hired Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain to replace him.
Experts don’t have high expectations for the Gators this season, as during SEC Media Days the team was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East. Despite the low expectations, could the Gators be one of the biggest surprises in the SEC?
Here’s Florida 12 regular season games ranked from the easiest to the most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 5 vs. New Mexico State
The New Mexico State went 2-10 last season so the Aggies are the runaway choice for the Gators’ easiest game of the 2015 season. New Mexico State’s defense finished 113th nationally in 2014, so Florida should have an opportunity to score 50 points on the Aggies.
11. Nov. 21 vs. FAU
FAU’s strength is running the football, as the Owls have Jaquez Johnson and Jay Warren, who each rushed for more than 500 yards last season. The problem is stopping the run is a strength of the Gators, as the team finished 13th in in the nation in rush defense. This should make for quick work of the Owls.
10. Nov. 7 vs. Vanderbilt
A couple of years ago, a game against Vanderbilt would not have been considered an easy game by any means. But after an abysmal 2014 season, the Commodores will have a tough time winning in The Swamp.
9. Sept. 12 vs. East Carolina
East Carolina had a successful AAC debut last season, as the team finished 8-5, including victories over ACC programs Virginia Tech and North Carolina. The Pirates will have to replace two of their better players in quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy along with having a new offensive coordinator. With East Carolina rebuilding, Florida will be the favorites in Gainesville.
8. Nov. 14 at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier will have a tough time replacing his playmakers at South Carolina, as the team returns only four starters on offense. The defense has been rebuilt and revamped, but it doesn’t have enough game-changers to be a challenger in the SEC East. While it won’t be easy, Florida can go into Columbia and defeat South Carolina.
7. Sept 19 at Kentucky
Who could forget the Gators’ thrilling 36-30 overtime victory against the Wildcats last September? Kentucky got close to making a bowl game last season and Mark Stoops will have his team looking for revenge against the Gators.
6. Oct. 10 at Missouri
The Tigers have won two straight against the Gators, including last season’s 42-13 victory in Gainesville. The Tigers have some issues at wide receiver and on defense to figure out, but they should be in the thick of the SEC East race once again in 2015.
5. Sept. 26 vs. Tennessee
The last time Tennessee defeated the Gators was back in 2004, when George W. Bush was finishing his first term in office, “American Idol” was television's No.1 show and gas was only $1.85 per gallon. The Volunteers are many an analyst’s pick for SEC sleeper team this fall. With 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-6 last season, Tennessee will be looking to break its 10-game losing streak against the Gators.
4. Oct. 17 at LSU
While LSU went a disappointing 8-5 last season, playing in Tiger Stadium is always a chore for any opponent. The Tigers should be improved with their 16 returning starters, including stud running back Leonard Fournette. Florida and LSU have traditionally played each other tough and this season probably won’t be any different.
3. Oct. 3 vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss has enough talent to not only defeat Florida in The Swamp, but also to win the SEC West this season. Last season the Rebels went 9-4 and return plenty of NFL-caliber talent. If Ole Miss can find a quarterback to replace three-year starter Bo Wallace, watch out.
2. Nov. 28 vs. Florida State
The Florida vs. Florida State game is always one of college football’s most bitter and intense rivalries. The Seminoles have finished with 12 or more wins each of the last three seasons. While Florida State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, this will still be one of the toughest games on the Gators’ schedule.
1. Oct. 31 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Georgia's talent is as good as it has been in several years, but the Bulldogs have to find a quarterback. If they can settle on one guy, Georgia can not only win the SEC East, but they also can make a run at the College Football Playoff and perhaps a national title.
— 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, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.