With coach Will Muschamp under the microscope, the Florida Gators look for a big rebound in 2014.
Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)
Aug. 30: Idaho (1-11)
Sept. 6: Eastern Michigan (2-10)
Nov. 22: Eastern Kentucky (6-6)
Nov. 29: at Florida State (14-0)
SEC home games
Sept. 13: Kentucky
Oct. 11: LSU
Oct. 18: Missouri
Nov. 15: South Carolina
SEC road games
Sept. 20: at Alabama
Oct. 4: at Tennessee
Nov. 1: vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
Nov. 8: at Vanderbilt
Gut-check time: Florida-Georgia is a huge game every year, but this matchup on Nov. 1 promises to hit an extra gear with the stakes higher than usual. The Gators used to own this series, winning 18 of 21 from 1990-2010, but three straight Bulldogs wins have enraged UF fans. Muschamp hasn't beaten Georgia, his alma mater, since he took over, and the natives have grown restless (as evidenced by the shouting match one of them got into with Muschamp as he walked off EverBank Field last season). Throughout the offseason, Florida fans have have speculated on the 2014 season and Muschamp's future. Many of them are looking to this season's Florida-Georgia game as a determining factor.
Trap game: Losing seven straight games to end the 2013 season hasn't sat well with the Gators, who insist they'll play this fall with a rather large chip on their shoulders. They'll be wise to pay particular attention to Vanderbilt on Nov. 8, just one week after the Florida-Georgia game and one week before South Carolina pays a visit to the Swamp. The Commodores got used to winning under departed coach James Franklin, and they'll be hungry to prove that his success at Vanderbilt can continue. What better way to make that statement than to beat UF for a second straight season?
Snoozer: A visit from Eastern Kentucky comes at the perfect time in late November. It's the week after UF finishes its SEC slate and the week before Florida must travel to Tallahassee to face defending national champions Florida State. Ah, but the Colonels are an FCS program, and after the Gators' 2013 loss to Georgia Southern -- the first time in UF history that it lost to a lower-division team -- nothing should be taken for granted.
Telltale stretch: With FSU as a historic nonconference foe and LSU as Florida's permanent SEC West opponent, UF has one of the nation's toughest schedules every season. This season's Gator gauntlet starts in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the Crimson Tide, who are expected to be among the nation's best teams once again. Florida gets a week off to lick any wounds it might suffer against Bama before traveling to Knoxville, Tenn. The Gators will likely be tested by Butch Jones' improving Volunteers, who will be desperate to end a nine-game losing streak in this once-great rivalry. Florida then returns home for back-to-back games against LSU and Missouri that could very well shape the 2014 season. More than two losses during this four-game stretch would likely erode any remaining goodwill for Muschamp.
Final analysis: There just aren't any breaks for Florida, and the luck of the draw has given these Gators a road game against Alabama in Week 4 -- just about the worst time imaginable for a program that needs to build confidence and forget about its disastrous 2013 season. Take the Bama game away and the rest of the schedule looks challenging but possible to navigate. On the other hand, Florida will likely be unbeaten entering its game against the Tide, so a win or even a strong showing would help the Gators' collective psyche. Florida has three huge SEC games at home this season -- LSU, Missouri and South Carolina. It's possible that Florida could stumble in Tuscaloosa but regroup and make a strong run at the SEC East. Nothing would soothe the bruised egos of the Gator faithful like a postseason trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.