This post continues our series previewing next year's opponents. Today, we're talking about the Florida Gators. This year, we're playing Florida in mid-October rather than in the traditional spot as our last SEC game.
The biggest SEC game of the season for Carolina is Georgia. The second biggest, unless we somehow manage to be closer to LSU's level than I think we will be, will be either Arkansas or Florida. If the Gamecocks beat Georgia and lose to LSU, there's a good chance we'll have to win the rest of our SEC games to get to Atlanta due to Georgia's excellent chances of winning out in the league due to its easier schedule. The two games outside of UGA and LSU that look scary are Florida and Arkansas. Because of the role our loss to Arkansas played last in the standings last year, a lot of attention is going to the game against the Hogs as a potential make-or-break matchup for Carolina. However, I'd argue that Florida is just as important.
Why, you ask? Granted, it's true that there are still lots of question marks in Gainesville. It's unclear whether Will Muschamp is ready for the pressure involved with having one of the nation's most infamous pressure-cookers of a job. It's unclear whether the QB situation will be resolved. It's unclear whether there are any playmakers at the skills positions. The defense should be good, but the spring injury to star linebacker Ronald Powell has dampened expectations somewhat even there.
Still, this is Florida we're talking about. The Gators are still very talented, and for all of the failures of last season, this team was only a few players away from winning nine or ten games. If a couple of the aforementioned question marks are answered, this team will be in the thick of the race for the SEC East. It's not as far behind Georgia and South Carolina as some would like to think.
Plus, this game comes at a tough time for Carolina. We'll have played Georgia and LSU the previous two weeks. It's on the road. It may be difficult for us to put our best product on the field for this game.
Last year, I felt that the win over Florida was the quintessential win of the second half of the season. Florida was the toughest opponent of the home stretch, and this was the game where the offense began to mature under Connor Shaw. It was an extremely hard-fought game that could have gone either way, but we played very well and took home the win, only our third against Florida since joining the SEC. We may need a similarly rousing performance over the Gators this year to win the East, only this time Florida should be better and the game will be in the Swamp.
I can't wait.