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2019 Opponent Preview: Florida

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The Gators are on the rise already under Dan Mullen.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After that strangely late game against Georgia, the South Carolina Gamecocks enter the second half of their schedule with a home date against the Florida Gators. With prodigal son Dan Mullen at the reins and a strong finish to 2018 under their belts, the Gators are enjoying quite a bit of preseason hype this year, receiving a top-10 ranking in the initial AP poll. As is typical of this 2019 schedule, there just aren’t many breaks to be found.

Last meeting: Oh god. Ohhhhhh god. More so than any other game last year — even the bowl embarrassment against Virginia — I’d love to have this one back. South Carolina, in a true Gamecockian, I-can’t-believe-it-and-yet-story-checks-out fashion, blew a commanding 17-point lead in the third quarter to just miss an upset of the No. 15 Gators in The Swamp. The unbelievable 35-31 Florida comeback included not just another bizarre meltdown for the Gamecocks in Gainesville, but the surreal scene of Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks hushing his own crowd after a touchdown, as UF fans had been clamoring for his blood. There will come a time when my blood pressure doesn’t spike when thinking about this game, but unfortunately that time is not today, and so I’m going to move on now.

Last season: Under Mullen’s first year back with the program, the Gators put together a 10-3 (5-3 SEC) season, which was good for a second-place finish in the SEC East, a final No. 6 ranking in the polls, and added a 41-15 drubbing of Michigan in the Outback Bowl for good measure. The only missteps — at least as far as Gators fans are concerned — were losses to rival Georgia (understandable), Kentucky finally managing to break that absurd streak (also understandable in its own right, because good lord), and a blowout defeat to Mizzou that seemed to come from nowhere. Perhaps most impressively, the Gators managed all this with a quarterback controversy— refer to the aforementioned Franks telling his own fans to shut it. Totally normal!

Player to watch out for: I’m gonna stick with the theme here and go with Feleipe Franks. The Gators really do need him to shore things up at the position if they’re going to get to the next level. He showed some promise in the latter half of the season, particularly in Florida’s final four games, so there’s hope yet that he can live up to his lofty recruiting rankings — especially with Mullen now on the sidelines.

Prognosis: The Gators will be pretty good this year, I guess, with some pundits thinking they have legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations. I’m not even sure how to explain my hateration, but I’m just not buying it yet — maybe because the most recent good Florida teams (including that 11-win squad under Will Muschamp) managed to succeed almost in spite of themselves, and were not particularly fun or impressive to watch. Whatever the case, they’re clearly the biggest threat to Georgia’s stranglehold on the Eastern Division, so I’ll give them that much.