- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We'll break down the Florida Gators' schedule today:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Bowling Green (5-7)
Nov. 10: Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4)
Nov. 17: Jacksonville State (7-4)
Nov. 24: Florida State (9-4)
SEC home games
Sept. 22: Kentucky
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 20: South Carolina
Nov. 3: Missouri
SEC road games
Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Gut-check time: LSU embarrassed Florida last season in Baton Rouge and has won the last two games in this series. Will Muschamp could use a breakthrough win in his second season, and taking down the Tigers in the Swamp would certainly qualify. Depending on how the Gators start the season, it could be a huge game. It's not a complete stretch to think that Florida could be 4-0 when LSU visits on Oct. 6. What's more, the Gators have a bye week leading into the game. History suggests that the winner of this game is destined for a big season. Each of the past seven years, the winning team has gone on to win at least 11 games and has played in the BCS National Championship Game four times.
Trap game: The SEC opener against Texas A&M in College Station has danger written all over it. The Aggies will be sky-high about playing their first SEC game, and you know Kyle Field will be rocking. If the Gators aren't on top of their game in Week 2, they won't get out alive.
Snoozer: It's a long-standing tradition at Florida to play some real yawners to start the season. They open on Sept. 1 with Bowling Green at home.
Telltale stretch: The back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee in September will be huge tests for the Gators. But where they'll play their way in or play their way out of the Eastern Division race will be the three-game stretch starting with South Carolina on Oct. 20 at home. The annual clash with Georgia in Jacksonville comes a week later, and then it's back to the Swamp on Nov. 3 against Missouri. All three games are against East opponents, and even if Florida doesn't get it done against LSU, the Gators could make up for it by sweeping the Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Tigers.
Final analysis: Similar to past years, Florida plays all eight of its SEC games in succession. There are no breaks in September or October against weaker nonconference teams, although the bye is positioned nicely the week before LSU's visit to the Swamp. The most difficult thing about Florida's nonconference schedule is that annual finale against Florida State, and this year it's on the road. That's tough duty, to grind through the SEC slate and then have a team that's going to open the season ranked in the top 10 nationally waiting for you on the final weekend of the regular season. Then again, the Gators haven't left the state of Florida to play a nonconference game since 1991, and that was a 38-21 loss to Syracuse. We'll find out a lot about these Gators in those first three weeks. They have to make it through the Texas A&M and Tennessee trips unscathed. If they do, don't be surprised if they're right in the middle of the East race once the second half of the season rolls around.
3dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf