Ridaught: 3 top 10 opponents highlight UF schedule

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

We are three weeks away from kickoff of the Gator football season.

There have been a few things that have popped up this week to serve as an appetizer for the main course.

It will feel much different to hear a new “Voice of the Gators” as Sean Kelley steps behind the mic for the first time but it was good to see that former Gator Shane Matthews has been added to the broadcast crew.

Kelley will host the first Gator radio show in just 10 days as “Gator Talk” debuts on Monday, Aug. 22, from Celebration Pointe at The Keys Restaurant. First-year football Head Coach Billy Napier will appear on the second show of the season on Aug. 29.

Also, the University of Florida has announced that its new training facility is almost complete. The Gators move into their $85 million Heavener Football Training Center on Sunday.

Earlier this week the USA Today coaches poll was released. Of Florida’s 12 games this upcoming season, there are four nationally ranked teams on the schedule, plus four other teams receiving at least one vote.

The Gators will play three games against top 10 opponents, including the season opener against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 3.

Utah is ranked eighth in the country. It’s the program’s highest preseason ranking in that poll.

The Gators host Kentucky the following Saturday, Sept. 10, in Gainesville. The Wildcats are ranked No. 21.

They have been closing the gap in the series after Florida dominated with 31 straight wins from 1987-2017. Kentucky has won two of the last four against the Gators, including a 20-13 win last year in Lexington.

Although South Florida is not ranked, the game against the Bulls on Saturday, Sept. 17, will still be for Sunshine State bragging rights. The Gators defeated USF in Tampa, 42-20, last year.

Florida then travels to Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 24. The Vols are just outside the top 25 receiving votes but they are 28th and could be in the top 25 by the time the Gators make the trip to Knoxville. 

Tennessee has early games against Ball State and Akron, but they travel to No. 16 Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 seeking revenge after a 41-34 loss last year. The game is one of their toughest on the schedule in 2022.

The home game against Eastern Washington on Saturday, Oct. 1, will be intriguing. The Eagles, who finished 10-3 last year, are not ranked in the American Football Coaches Association Coaches Poll. However, they are ranked No. 13 in the 2022 Stats Perform FCS Preseason Top 25 which was released on Monday. 

The following week Florida will host Missouri on Oct. 8. 

While the Tigers finished just below .500 last year (6-7), this could be a “trap game” for the Gators. Florida has lost three of the last five to Mizzou, including last year’s 24-23 setback in Columbia.

LSU comes to the Swamp on Saturday, Oct. 15. The Tigers are also receiving votes and ranked just outside the top 25 at No. 30.

The Gators have lost three in a row to the Tigers and need not be reminded what happened the last time LSU visited the Swamp.

After a week off, Florida will head to Jacksonville to face defending national champion Georgia. The Bulldogs are ranked third.

Years ago, Florida had to play Auburn and Georgia back-to-back. It was rare for the Gators to get a win in both games.

The Gators get that kind of schedule with a game at Texas A&M on Nov. 5. The Aggies are ranked seventh, giving UF a total of three top 10 teams on the schedule.

Then it’s back home to face South Carolina on Nov. 12. The Gamecocks, who received five votes in the coaches poll, crushed the Gators, 40-17, in Columbia.

There are no “gimmes” on the schedule but UF should be heavily favored at Vanderbilt on Saturday, Nov. 19.

Florida won this game 42-0 last year in Gainesville and has won eight in a row in the series. They’ve dominated the series, winning 30 of the last 31 meetings and they haven’t lost in Nashville since 1988.

Although Florida State only received one vote, the game in Tallahassee this year will be on a Friday. 

The Gators and the Seminoles will play the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, Nov. 25.

It’s been five years since FSU had a winning season (7-6 in 2017), but it’s still a rivalry game and one of the biggest games on the schedule.

Plus, it’s on the road.

The Associated Press Preseason Top 25 will be released on Sunday. Although Florida is not ranked in the AFCA Coaches Poll, they are receiving votes and would likely move into the rankings with a 2-0 start with wins against ranked teams.

It’s almost here.

The excitement level is rising as the University of Florida has sold its most season tickets since the Jim McElwain era.

Week zero of the college football season begins in two weeks and then the Gators and the Utes kick off the following Saturday night in the Swamp.

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