Gators Season Preview: Weeks 1-3

Gators season

For the Gators to find success this year, the early part of the season is key. The first seven weeks of the season provide the Gators with what should be some very winnable games. The last five weeks on the other hand, are a gauntlet, with five opponents expected to be in the top 15. With the hardest schedule in the nation, Billy Napier and company will have their work cut out for them. Despite this arduous schedule, fans expect results, as back-to-back losing seasons have frustrated many. The good news for the Gators happens to be the return of most of their starters. One of the younger teams in the country last season, the players now have some valuable SEC experience. Expect a much-improved defense and an offense built on getting the ball quickly to its playmakers. It all begins in week one against a state foe.

State Showdown

In one of the headlining games of week one, the Florida Gators take on the Miami Hurricanes. It is a pivotal matchup for both parties, these are two teams yearning to get back to their glory days. With Miami showing improvement after a disastrous 2022 season, this will be no easy task. Adding perhaps the best Quarterback available in the transfer portal, Miami will hope to hone in a dynamic offense. For the Gators, the offense should be a strong suit this season thanks to some transfer receiver additions. Even with the loss of running back Trevor Etienne, Montrell Johnson is more than capable of shouldering the workload. The key in this game will be the Miami offense vs an often-maligned Gator defense. Bringing back most of their defensive starters, the Gators need to show some improvement. If the Gators can make enough stops and limit QB Cam Ward, they should take the victory.

Familiar Foe

Taking on the Samford Bulldogs back in 2021, the Gators know not to take them lightly. Although this was under a different regime, the Gators allowed the Bulldogs to put up a shocking 52 points. Winning that game with a whopping 70 points, fans are certainly hoping for a less stressful affair. Coming a week after the Miami game, week one will factor heavily into this matchup. If Florida comes in 1-0, they will be eager to keep the good times rolling against their FCS opponent. However, if Cam Ward and Miami get the upper hand, it will be important not to get overly emotional. Despite being an FCS team, this is a team only 2 years removed from winning their conference. Regardless of the week one result, the Gators will be eager to put this one away quickly. With a difficult schedule, this should help settle the Gators.

2020 Flashbacks

One of the low memories for many Florida fans was the loss to Texas A&M back in 2020. Fumbling the ball and gifting the Aggies a game-winning field goal did not sit right with many fans. Regardless, this is a completely different team with a completely different regime. Also dueling Texas A&M back in 2022 the Gators came out victorious in that one. Taking place in Gainesville, this will be the SEC opener for the Florida Gators. The Aggies will come into this game already having played Notre Dame in a highly anticipated affair. Bringing back quarterback Conner Weigman from injury should help alleviate this program. Firing Jimbo Fisher after another middle of the SEC season, they turned to upstart Duke coach Mike Elko. Fielding a roster full of talent, this won’t be an easy SEC opener for the Gators.

Getting the chance to start SEC play at home will be a huge upper hand for Florida. This will be a true test for Billy Napier and his crew. A suddenly talented offense, the Gators should be able to put up points against this Aggies defense. If the offensive line holds up, the Gators should be productive running the ball. The big question marks will be surrounding the defense. Texas A&M fields a highly talented offense despite the loss of receiver Evan Stewart to the Oregon Ducks. For Florida, the defensive backs showed some improvements during the Orange and Blue Game. This unit will be key throughout the season if the Gators wish to win big games like this one.

Three Week Rundown

Three weeks into the season, fans will already be able to tell the trajectory of the season. Start undefeated, and Napier will have some faith restored in his program. However, if they slip up during one of the first three weeks, it could be a long season ahead. From a prediction standpoint, it would be easiest to start in week two. Going against the FCS Samford Bulldogs, a win is clearly expected. Needless to say, Florida should have no trouble against a frankly inferior opponent. A true toss-up game in week one, both programs have so much at stake in this affair. Going into the season, the Gators might be a bit ahead of the Hurricanes in terms of talent. This is a group returning many starters, headlined by quarterback Graham Mertz. Right now, the week one prediction will be the Gators in a one-possession game.

Finishing off the third week against the Texas A&M Aggies, the Gators face another toss-up game. An argument could be made about either side coming out victorious. With Connor Weigman hoping to finally stay healthy, the Aggies bring plenty of talent. However, with a new head coach and a tough first game against Notre Dame, the advantage should go to the Gators. A team hungry to prove the doubters wrong, many are rating this Gator squad much too low. Taking place in Gainesville, Florida should be able to pull away late in this one. Look for the final score to be somewhere in the range of 31-20 Gators, which would have them starting 3-0.

 

Gators season
Photo courtesy: Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun

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