Several weeks ago, my friend Glenn came out with his Gator predictions for 2014. Not to be outdone, I thought I’d offer mine “From The Cheap Seats.” I didn’t go into best and worst case scenarios like he did; mine cut right to the point. And no, this is not a “homer” prediction (I had the Gators at 7-5 in 2011, 9-3 in 2012, and 8-4 last year). I took all the information and statistics I have laid out throughout this entire preview series; considered all the returning and departing players from every major conference and out of conference opponent Florida plays (keep in mind, Tennessee and FSU are the only teams UF faces with returning QBs); and have thought carefully about intangible factors – such as chips on the shoulder, emerging maturity level of players, and coaching changes for the Gators. So, without further delay, let’s have a looksie.
8/31 vs. Idaho Vandals (Gainesville, FL)
The much-anticipated offseason finally ends, and the blooper reel that was the last season finally ceases. Idaho comes back to the Sunshine State on the heels of a 80-14 (yes, you read that right) drubbing at the hands of eventual national champion FSU in 2013. Kurt Roper gives everyone a teaser of what’s to come, and the Gators roll for their first victory since October 2013. What a cool opposing mascot, though!
Prediction: Florida 44 , Idaho 3. (1-0)
9/6 vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles (Gainesville, FL)
The Gator’s assault to erase the Georgia Southern taste in everyone’s mouth continues. Florida rolls and wins their first 50+ point affair since 2011.
Prediction Florida 55, EMU 7 (2-0)
9/13 vs. Kentucky Wildcats (Gainesville, FL)
Florida has the longest active consecutive winning streak over an annual opponent in Kentucky at 28 straight, and you Mark this one up for 29 in a nighttime romp. Facing a new Wilcats QB, and a coach trying to find some measure of respectability for the Big Blue Nation, the Gators open up SEC play with a big W.
Prediction: Florida 38, Kentucky 0 (3-0)
9/20 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Florida is improved, and Alabama certainly has some questions. But Alabama is big-man ball, and Florida is still growing up. I think the Gators (particularly the defense harassing Tide QB Jacob Coker in his first SEC start) make this interesting for longer than the Bama would like, but TJ Yeldon unleashes in the 4th and pulls away.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Florida 14 (3-1)
10/4 vs. Tennessee Volunteers (Knoxville, TN)
Make no doubt about it, Tennessee is on the upswing, and Butch Jones has this once-proud program believing again. I have some serious reservations about this game – particularly if the match-up against Alabama gets out of hand. Florida is a young team, and Will Muschamp just can’t let the wheels come off the bus like what happened in 2013. The Vols start an entirely new front on BOTH the offensive and the defensive line. And while Jones recently named Justin Worley as the starter, Florida’s defensive line will make him sore and bruised when he lays down for bed that night. Not to mention, the Vols will be returning home after road trips to Oklahoma and Georgia. Neyland will be rocking (induce nausea by clicking here), but Florida comes away with a close win – No. 10 in a row on Rocky Top.
Prediction: Florida 27, Tennessee 20 (4-1)
10/11 vs LSU Tigers (Gainesville, FL)
The Gators return home for the first time in almost a month – riding the wave from an emotional win over a divisional rival – to face a young and motivated LSU squad. LSU has faced more NFL draft attrition over the past few years than any other in the nation, will have just played at defending SEC champion Auburn the week prior, and have dropped seven of their last 10 visits to The Swamp. Too many questions surround the Tigers (particularly in starting a new QB), the noise at the Swamp is deafening, and there is too little experienced depth for the Bayou Bengals for them to pull this out. Two weeks into October and the Gators eclipse their 2013 win total.
Prediction: Florida 21, LSU 17 (5-1)
10/18 vs. Missouri Tigers (Gainesville, FL)
The reality that the division is within grasp sets in for Florida. Missouri lost their starting QB, star WR, and two starting DE’s due to graduation and dismissals. This game is where the wheels came off the bus for Florida in 2013, but not this year. Lightning just won’t strike twice for Mizzou. While Missouri will be respectable in 2014, the Gators will repay the favors from Mizzou’s student section Gator chomping while drubbing Florida last year. Oh, and the Gators qualify for a bowl with this win, too.
Prediction: Florida 34, Missouri 20 (6-1)
11/1 at Georgia Bulldogs (Jacksonville, FL with UGA as the designated “home” team)
There is no game Gator fans, players, and coaches have had circled in blue sharpies on their calendars more than this one. The World’s Largest Cocktail Party will return to its rightful place as one of the best rivalries in football, as both teams enter this one nationally ranked. Georgia features a stout and deeply talented offense with a new QB, while Florida features one of the country’s best defenses and an offense (finally) showing life. In 2012, the Gators were credited with six turnovers; in 2013 they were assessed 70 yards of penalties. Both effectively handed the games to Georgia on a (red and black) platter. In 2014, Gator players and coaches batten down the hatches, tighten up the emotions of this game, and pull it together. Ultimately, the motivation for Muschamp to shed the (0-7) monkey off his back (0-4 as a UGA safety and 0-3 as Florida head coach) proves the difference maker. The Gators hold onto the ball with a long 4th quarter drive that leaves the Dawgs unable to lift themselves to victory. I will finally see, hear, and experience this at EverBank for the first time at the end of the game.
Prediction: Florida 24, Georgia 21 (7-1)
11/8 at Vanderbilt Commodores (Nashville, TN)
I was there for the Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt last year. The team had given up, the fans had given up, and Vanderbilt was incredibly motivated to end 22 years of frustration. Hats off to them for that and their back-to-back nine win seasons. 2014 will find the world righted. New coach, new QB, and new secondary players cause the Vanderbilt ship to crash back to shore. This one might get ugly, folks. No, it will get ugly. Sorry, Dores – but hey, congrats on that baseball national championship! The Florida win train rolls on.
Prediction Florida 38, Vanderbilt 17 (8-1)
11/15 vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Gainesville, FL)
The SEC home finale comes against none other than Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Similar to 2010, this game decides the SEC East Division. With a new QB, a stud RB, and the Ol’ Ball Coach roaming the opposing sidelines, this is the hardest prediction I could come up with. This game, at this point in the year, could go either way, and I wouldn’t be surprised at a close and hard-fought game on both sides. It could go in Florida’s favor, or the Gators could fall just short. My gut (and my heart) tells me Florida gets a few good looks (particularly from Kelvin Taylor, who ran wild against Carolina in 2013) in what should be a game under the lights, and punch their ticket to the SEC Championship in Atlanta in the ultimate comeback/turnaround story of 2014.
Prediction: Florida 20, South Carolina 17 (9-1)
11/23 vs.Eastern Kentucky Colonels (Gainesville, FL)
No. Just, no. Prediction: Florida 48, Eastern Kentucky 3 (10-1)
11/30 at Florida State Seminoles (Tallahassee, FL)
This, as I have previously documented, is one of the most heated match-ups in all of college sports. It means a great deal, not only for the potential playoff implications, but recruitment, pride, and bragging rights for a full year. The Seminoles return Heisman Trophy winner Jameis “Crab Legs” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) Winston at quarterback, and have a loaded cupboard of talent heading into 2014. From 2011-13, recruiting website Rivals.com rated FSU’s recruiting hauls second, sixth and 10th, respectively – ensuring talent will continue to run over the competion for years to come. In addition, running back Karlos Williams, tight end Nick O’Leary and left guard Josue Mathias (all starters from last season) all return. The Gators have won four out of their last six at Doak Campbell Stadium, and I learned long ago to cease being surprised by what happens in this game, but I just don’t see a win coming this time around.
Prediction FSU 28, Florida 20 (10-2)
12/7 SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA)
In an upset special, Vernon Hargreaves shuts down Amari Cooper and Dante Fowler stuffs TJ Yeldon in front of a hungry Florida crowd and a shocked Alabama fan base. And even if the Gators do lose, Florida is the turnaround story for 2014, gets a decent bowl bid, and has all the momentum in the world heading into recruiting season and the off season.
Prediction Florida 29, Alabama 26 (11-2)
Let the revenge tour begin. I can’t wait for it all to start, and feel free to say hey if you see me at The Swamp and on the road this season.