Well, it was the longest off-season ever, but we are finally here.
The 5th-ranked Florida Gators will travel to Oxford, Miss. to take on Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels in their first of 10 games in an abbreviated all-SEC schedule. Dan Mullen and his top-five team enter into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a ton of swagger and expectations after going 11-2 a year ago and defeating Virginia in the Orange Bowl. But, that elusive East title still evades him.
The Rebels are coming off a disappointing 4-8 campaign where they only won two conference games and fired their coach.
Enter arguably one of the most polarizing and successful coaches in college football: Lane Kiffin.
The first-year coach in Oxford brings excitement and a rejuvenating spirit that hasn’t been around since 2015. With him, he brings an offense that will dazzle and a staff that has the right mixture of experience, youth, and talent.
But, with that said, taking on a top-five team in week one without spring practice and fall camp that has been hampered by a global pandemic is the tallest of tasks. Mullen’s crew brings a ferocious defense that returns a ton of experience and talent. Todd Grantham’s bunch finished 7th in last year’s SP+ rankings and, despite losing their best pass rusher from a year ago, the Gators figure to be just as dangerous in 2020.
Last year’s leading tackler, David Reese II, is also gone and cornerback CJ Henderson is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. Those three helped Florida find themselves atop the SEC in sacks and red zone defense in 2019. Brenton Cox, Jr. transferred over from Athens to help pick up the slack left by Greenard and Reese and Kaiir Elam is almost certainly aiming to take over for Henderson in the secondary as the next defensive back guy in Gainesville.
Offensively, Trask leads the way for Mullen’s attack. After a well-balanced 2018, Florida’s offense was quite the opposite last season, averaging 300 yards through the air and 130 on the ground. Talented tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney give Mullen a pretty damn good three-headed monster to throw to.
On the ground, Miami transfer and former five-star Lorenzo Lingard and Dameon Pierce look to to do their best to replace Lamical Perine’s production from 2019.
The Rebels will have their hands full dealing with the Gators on both sides of the ball as they break in Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s new-look offense and DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge’s multiple 4-2-5 defense. Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Rebels will most likely find it tough-sledding against a very fast and physical Gator bunch. And defensively, the Rebs are thin up front and could be finding themselves with their hands on their hips, fighting off double-digit play drives that are back-breaking.
Regardless of how Saturday’s game plays out, we should be thankful that it is happening at all. Back in July, most were worried that the 2020 season was not going to happen at all due to the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting spikes all over the country from summer vacations and college students returning to campus.
But, we survived the late summer storm and now we have arrived to a clearing. The clouds have somewhat been lifted and the rain has ceased. And contrary to what that usually entails, soak this in.
College football is being played in Oxford today.
Line: Florida -14.5
How to watch
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
When: 11:00am CDT
Online streaming: WatchESPN