Our third-to-last game of the season takes us to Gainesville, FL to take on the mighty Florida Gators. If my prognostications end up being correct, we will head to the Swamp with an 8-2 (5-2) record. If that ends up being the case, it's likely that this game will be for the SEC East. Nothing is certain, of course, as the Gators may come into the game undefeated for all we know. But with a depleted roster and tough games against Alabama, LSU, and Georgia, I think it's likely that Florida will come in with at least one loss, meaning that we would win a tiebreaker against them if we won this game under my hypothetical conditions. That would give us the East, unless, of course, Georgia somehow went undefeated after we hypothetically beat them.
How do we match up against the Gators this year? Well, as usual, you can expect us to lack the talent they have from the top to the bottom of their roster. However, as Steve Spurrier has said before, it's not necessarily top-to-bottom talent that matters; it's the 40 players or so that see the field during the game that matter. There, although you still have to give the Gators a definite advantage, I don't think we're necessarily that far from Florida, at least in terms of the guys that will be playing against Southern Miss. The problem, as we've seen in past years against these guys, is that once we get around to playing Florida in November, injuries have depleted our roster and we're down to playing guys that would never sniff a scholarship for the Gators. The Gators, on the other hand, whether the injuries by just inserting the numerous four- and five-star players they have. Whether or not we can compete for an upset in the Swamp depends a lot on whether or not that's the case again.
Let's take a look at what Florida has:
Offense: It's a brave new world for the Gators offense, which loses legendary star Tim Tebow to the NFL. However, I think folks that think that's going to mean doom for the Gators are probably in for a surprise. As great as Tebow was, there were things he did last year that probably cost his team yards, and while incoming QB John Brantley will never get those tough rushing yards Tebow got, I expect he'll be a better downfield passer. The question, for me, is whether or not Florida's receivers are good enough to do their part. The QB, offensive line, and running game are all good, but the receiving corps is, if talented, unproven. I would expect they'll be better than average, though.
Defense: The Gators also lose several key players from the dominant defense they fielded in 2008 and 2009. They also lose DC Charlie Strong, whose skills Carolina fans are well acquainted with. There's plenty of talent to fill thosevacant shoes, but you have to imagine it may take some time to grow into its role. Don't expect a 2007-level drop-off for the Gators, but don't expect another completely dominant defense, either.
Player Whose Name You Should Remember: Deonte Thompson, WR. Thompson will likely be the guy the Gators go to as the go-to receiver now that Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper are gone. How well he plays will likely be one of the keys to whether the Gators are a title contender or just a very good team.
What to Expect: A higher-scoring game than last year. I actually expect that the Gators will field a slightly more competent offense than they did last year, and the same will be the case for us, as well. This isn't to say that the defenses are going to be good, but with our experienced offense going up against an inexperienced Gators defense and the Gators offense enjoying home-field advantage, there should be a little bit of scoring in this one.
Prediction: A 7-10 point Gators victory. I'd love to predict a victory here for us, but this is where I see our SEC winning streak ending. The Gamecocks haven't enjoyed much luck in Gainesville, and while I see these teams as being closer than in years past, the Gators still have too sizeable advantage an advantage for us to win in the Swamp without getting a good bit of luck.