Up next on our key stretch series is Florida.
Key Stretch: Alabama (Oct. 1), at LSU (Oct. 8), at Auburn (Oct. 15), Georgia (Oct. 29)
Breakdown: Will Muschamp's first year as Florida's coach features a schedule that would make Urban Meyer's two national championship teams squirm. October is absolutely brutal for a team installing new offensive and defensive schemes, and Florida will only be in front of its home crowd once -- against national title contender Alabama. After Muschamp's reunion with Nick Saban, he'll head back to his old stomping grounds in Baton Rouge to face yet another BCS contender in LSU. The road trip continues with a visit to defending national champion Auburn, another school where Muschamp coached. The Gators finally get a break before making it back to the Sunshine State to play Georgia in Jacksonville. There is no doubt the Bulldogs are still smarting from last year's overtime loss to the Gators.
Prediction: October -- and an inept offense -- wrecked Florida's 2010 season. The Gators started the month off 0-3. It was the first three-game losing streak for Florida since 1999 and it was the first time since 1988 that the Gators lost three straight conference games. In last season's span, Florida was shellacked in Tuscaloosa by 28, let a fake field goal trip it up against LSU and watched as Dan Mullen and Mississippi State walked out of Homecoming in The Swamp with a victory. Florida's 34-31 win against Georgia was the only salvation to a rough month. The most important area Florida needs to shore up for this stretch is the offense, which ranked near the bottom of the league last fall. If the Gators do that, things could get interesting. For a first-year coach working with a handful of youngsters on both sides of the ball, I think Muschamp would be happy coming out of this stretch 2-2. I don't see Florida upsetting an extremely strong Alabama team, and legal issues or not, getting a win in Baton Rouge with a bunch of youngsters isn't easy. Auburn and Georgia have their own questions, but Georgia has a team capable of winning the East, while Auburn will be going through growing pains with its own youth movement. With that said, Florida has the talent, especially defensively, to go 2-2. I think after losses to Alabama and LSU, Florida rebounds with a close win at Auburn. Then with a bye week to prepare for Georgia, a team Florida has beaten 17 times in the Past 20 years, Muschamp finds a way to squeak by his alma mater.