Most prognosticators aren’t quite sure what to make of the Florida Gators in Jim McElwain’s first season at the helm. Last season the offense was dreadful, finishing rated 96 in total offense, yet they had six players taken in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Will the offense be better having suffering those losses but gaining an offensive minded head coach? The defense was stellar under previous head coach Will Muschamp but will his loss derail the excellent tradition of defenses of year’s past?
We will soon find the answers to these questions as the season is less than 100 days away from kickoff. If McElwain is to build off his recent recruiting momentum and lay the foundation for a solid program in Gainesville, he must win these five games next season, according to the Palm Beach Post:
5) Tennessee Volunteers in Gainesville on Sept. 26
The Vols have achieved a small renaissance under Butch Jones and look to be laying a foundation for success in Knoxville. With back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes making their way to Tennessee the next logical step is for the team to start winning on the field and reversing trends against their rivals. While the Gators have beaten the Vols 10 games in a row, and with both teams under fairly new staffs, if Tennessee finally can win a game in the series it could turn the tide of the annual SEC East showdown.
4) Missouri Tigers in Columbia on Oct. 10
The Tigers destroyed the Gators in Gainesville last season 42-13 despite only accumulating 119 yards of total offense on the Florida defense. Mizzou managed to beat the Gators with special teams and turnovers en route to another SEC East title. With a new coach in place, Florida won’t allow themselves to get out-coached once again in this game. This game should give a good early indication of McElwain’s coaching ability, going head-to-head with the East’s best coach.
3) South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Nov. 14
The Gamecocks helped to seal Muschamp’s fate last season by stealing one late in the fourth quarter on the road in a game they had no business winning. Every Florida coach is going to be judged against the greatest Gator coach in history, whether that’s fair or not, so McElwain should be prepared for that during his tenure. Any debate would be helped by beating Spurrier on the road in their first meeting this season.
2) Florida State Seminoles in Gainesville on Nov. 28
The Noles have won four of the last five in the series and have appeared to be vastly superior on the field, as the Gators have only managed to score seven points in three of those games. It would be a surprise if the Gators are favored heading into this game but that doesn’t mean they won’t win. Florida State is currently unsettled at quarterback and the last time their new transfer Everett Golson was on the road in a big game, he coughed up five turnovers in Tempe against Arizona State. If the Gators can force similar mistakes in his game, they stand a great chance in this one.
1) LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge on Oct. 17
The Gators cross-divisional opponent is another team that’s taken four of the last five victories in an annual series against the team. Death Valley is certainly not an easy place to escape with a win, just ask undefeated Ole Miss last season. McElwain was brought in to turn the tide in rivalries such as this and would go along way winning the East if they can beat the Tigers this season on the road. With the departure of John Chavis as the Tigers defensive coordinator and the uncertainty at the team’s quarterback position, now be the best time to catch the Tigers napping.