In something of a scheduling oddity this year, Florida will face all three of its SEC West opponents in a three-week period to kick off October. That will really represent the first time the Gators will face any team against which they will not be a favorite. After a that, a few games in late October and November represent the only real challenges to Florida finishing a solid season. (No, the Appalachian State magic probably isn't going to repeat itself. Just ask LSU.)
GO WEST, YOUNG MEN
at ALABAMA | Oct. 2
What do you know? Alabama might actually have a chance thanks to the inability of Florida to schedule its bye week before it plays the Tide. (Is it unfair to Florida that the SEC schedule doesn't allow it that chance?) In any case, this is going to be one of the most hyped regular season games in the SEC in a long time. Both teams are favorites to win their divisions and meet again in Atlanta. For those of you who play drinking games based on sportscaster phrases, I would suggest staying away from "preview of the SEC Championship Game," unless you think alcohol poisoning sounds like something you'd like to try sometime.
LSU | Oct. 9
The winner of this game the last four times has gone to the SEC Championship Game with at least a chance at the national title. It took minor miracles in 2006 and 2007 to start the streak, but the trophies all look the same. In fact, the 2009 game was the first time since 2005 that the winner of this game did not win the BCS Championship Game. So even if LSU isn't quite what it used to be, the stakes are still relatively high. A win would give the Bengals instant credibility, but would it help Florida in any way? After all, if the home team wins, people are going to say that it's to be expected of the better team playing at its home stadium.
MISSISSIPPI STATE | Oct. 16
You know, it's pretty cold to schedule your former right-hand man's team as your homecoming opponent, but Urban Meyer didn't win two national titles by being nice. All the elements are here for a potential upset. Mississippi State's October schedule: Alcorn State, at Houston, at Florida, UAB, Kentucky. While the Houston game will likely be difficult, the rest of the first four weeks gives the Western Division Bulldogs plenty of time to focus on Florida -- a luxury that, as we've seen, Florida does not have (though the bye week follows this game). Of course, you also have the chess match going on between the head coaches, both of whom probably know how the other one thinks better than anyone else in the country.
CONTENDERS, REAL AND IMAGINED
vs. GEORGIA | Oct. 30
Just to say it a few more times to show that it isn't dead: World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Last year was the first time in a while that this game hasn't been must-see TV. The celebration in 2007 was unexpected but made the game compelling. The annihilation and timeouts to substitute in players who never actually got onto the field made 2008 interesting enough. This year -- well, your humble correspondent has already provided a reason to watch the game. But even if you don't believe that and you do believe the conventional wisdom, this is probably the Dawgs' best chance for victory since 2007. And a Georgia win would instantly change the race for the SEC East in ways that might not be clear until the end of the season.
SOUTH CAROLINA | Nov. 13
If this is really going to be The Year of the Gamecock (TM University of South Carolina, 2000), it will almost certainly have to include a win in the Swamp. Florida has lost to South Carolina once since the closing days of the second FDR Administration -- in 2005, Spurrier's first season in Columbia. And the Gamecocks have never won in Gainesville. In fact, even their three ties have come in Columbia or on neutral fields. The games on either side of them on the Florida schedule? Vanderbilt and Appalachian State. All of that to say: Florida has every right to be confident heading into this game. In fact, they should be very confident. There is no potential for overconfidence at all. No reason to worry about an upset. You've got this game won ...
at FLORIDA STATE | Nov. 27
And Florida concludes its season with a game against "That Team Out West," returning to glory for the 10th consecutive year. The Seminoles do have a new coaching staff -- no, that's a good thing -- and a, ahem, Heisman contender at quarterback. It's true -- he's got a website about it and everything. Yes, Florida State is a contender in the ACC this year. Really. Of course, last year sort of demonstrated what happens when ACC contenders face their intrastate SEC rivals, but still. Florida State is back and determined not to lose its seventh straight in this rivalry.
9.4.10 | MIAMI (OH) Despite all the changes in Gainesville, one thing never changes: Jeremy Foley is king of the cupcake schdule. Only Kentucky dares to try to construct more ludicrous schedules, and they at least have a plausible reason for doing so.
9.11.10 | SOUTH FLORIDA An actual opponent? Who's not Florida State or in the SEC? We're disappointed, Foley. Sure, the Bulls are in the Big East. But that's still a BCS league. At least technically, and at least for now. Kentucky might win after all.
9.17.10 | at TENNESSEE Urban Meyer is once again seeking his revenge against -- what's that? Oh, he's gone. Hmm. Well, then. This year's game has more blowout potential than last year's and far fewer reasons for fans of other league teams to enjoy it.
9.25.10 | KENTUCKY This year will be much like previous years, I suppose. Kentucky will look good before this game and not so good after it.
11.6.10 | at VANDERBILT Given the state of things in Nashville right now, my bet is that Robbie Caldwell will want to go back to inseminating turkeys when this game is done. Just a hunch.
11.20.10 | APPALACHIAN STATE And Florida makes a bold move to keep its crown out of Lexington. With Armanti Edwards gone to the NFL, even the winner of the last five Southern Conference Champions could be a wise selection.