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Ranking the Gators Nonconference Games by Importance

Gators Nonconference
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Coach Billy Napier and the Florida Gators are coming off an un-Gator-like year after finishing the 2023 campaign with an overall record of 5-7 and finishing 3-5 in Southeastern Conference play. A team that was once a dominant piece of the college football landscape has fallen on some hard times.

With the tough SEC schedule ahead of them and looking at the nonconference games, Florida has one of the most difficult schedules in all of college football for 2024. Here is a ranking of their four nonconference games by importance to the Gators season.

No. 4: Samford Bulldogs (2023 6-5, 4-4 Southern Conference)

Coach Chris Hatcher brings his Samford Bulldogs to Ben Hill Griffen Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., early in the season. The Bulldogs were coming off a 6-5 campaign last year. It's unclear after the spring game who will be the lead signal caller for the Bulldogs as Senior Quincy Crittendon and graduate student Nik Scalzo look to fill the shoes of the departing All-American Michael Hiers.

Gators Nonconference
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The offense will look to get the ball to University of Toledo transfer Micah Kelly at running back and Southern Conference Freshman of the Year wide receiver Brendon Jenkins. Defensively, the Bulldogs will be led by All-American linebacker Noah Martin. Martin led the team with 109 tackles and was the clear leader of the defensive unit. While Samford won't just come in and roll over, the Gators should not have a problem taking care of Samford in the second week of the season on Sept. 7.

No. 3: UCF Knights (2023 6-7, 3-6 Big 12 Conference)

The Knights won the last matchup back in 2021, 29-17. This will be the fourth matchup between in-state rivals and theGators hold a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series. A former SEC quarterback will lead the Knights in Arkansas transfer KJ Jefferson. Jefferson looked like the leader that coach Gus Malzahn was looking for this season.

Gators NonConference
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Defensively, Tedd Roof is the new defensive coordinator after being let go by the University of Oklahoma at the end of the season. UCF will stretch the field and look to put pressure on the Gator's defense, and Jefferson will pose a problem outside the pocket. Jefferson will look to get the ball to returning receivers Kobe Hudson and Xavier Townsend. Malzahn said he feels Jefferson is the closest to Cam Newton he has ever seen. The Knights could very well come in and win this game at "The Swamp." After a year in the Big 12, the stage isn't too big for them anymore. Expect a close game, and a win by the Gators would be huge for their season and Napier.

No. 2: Miami Hurricanes (2023 7-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference)

For the 57th time, the Hurricanes and Gators face off in football. The series is almost split down the middle, with Miami holding a 29-27 edge over the Gators in the all-time series. The Gators currently hold the last victory as they beat the Hurricanes 24-20 in 2019 in Orlando, Fla.

Gators Nonconference
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Both teams have lost the "swagger" they have been known for in their heydays. This former yearly matchup was so important at one point, it was one of only five games that played the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The yearly meeting stopped in 1988 as the SEC increased its number of conference games from six to seven.

Washington State transfer quarterback Cam Ward will lead the Hurricanes offense, hoping to return the Canes to their past glory. Ward has all the physical tools and showed it in the spring game, going 17-of-23 for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns. Marquise Lightfoot stood out as a freshman on the defensive side of the ball, showing why Miami's recruiting class was ranked so high last year. This is game one for both the Gators and the Hurricanes, and it will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST so the heat will likely play a huge role in the game. However, since both teams hail from the Sunshine State, the Gators and Hurricanes should be acclimated to it. Florida needs to collect wins before starting their daunting trek through the SEC this year, which includes the Texas Longhorns, LSU Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs, to name a few.

No. 1: Florida State Seminoles (2023 13-1, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

The Sunshine Showdown enters its 68th year this season. The two bitter rivals will play once again for the Makala Trophy. The Seminoles currently own a two-game winning streak over the Gators. Not many teams can say coming off a 13-1 season is a disappointment, but that is what the Seminoles are thinking after being left out of the College Football Playoffs last year, then getting routed by the Georgia in the Orange Bowl, 63-3. When "do everything" quarterback Jordan Travis got injured in a game against North Alabama late in the season, it was clear the Seminoles were not the same team. The lack of offense and the weakness of the ACC caused the Playoff Committee to see the Seminoles as not one of the four best teams in the country.

Gators Nonconference
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Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is on his third school after transferring from Oregon State, where he transferred to after leaving Clemson. Uiagalelei wants to improve his NFL Draft stock and show he can lead a team. The ground game led Oregon State but Uiagalelei needs to prove he can be a game-changer at the quarterback position. This is the final game of the year and may determine if the Gators make it to a bowl game or not. On top of that, being such a bitter rivalry makes this the No. 1 most important game on the nonconference schedule for the Gators.


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