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Florida Enters 2024 Facing the Toughest Schedule in FBS

Florida Gators
© Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Florida Gators finished 2023 with just a 5-7 record, after opening the season 5-2. Unfortunately, the Gators went on to lose the final five games of the season and missed out on playing in a bowl game. What made the 2023 season even more painful for the team and fans alike was how Florida lost those games—losing several close matchups that could have easily been wins.

However, 2024 is going to be a completely different beast. In 2024, the Southeastern Conference expands to 16 teams with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma. With those additions, the SEC decided to get rid of its historical divisions (East and West) and keep a handful of rivalry opponents that each team will play every year, and have five other SEC opponents that are either in the former East or West divisions.

According to 247Sports' Brad Crawford, the Gators will have the most difficult schedule in all of college football in 2024. In the 247Sports way-too-early top 25, Florida will face off against six of teams on the list. Eleven of the Gators' 12 opponents play in a power conference with Samford being the odd team out.

Florida's Nonconference Schedule

Once again, the Gators will face the gauntlet that is the "Sunshine State Showdown." Their first matchup of the intra-state showdown will be on Aug. 30 against the Miami Hurricanes to open the 2024 season. The last time these two met, it was significantly closer than anyone thought. However, it was in Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. This particular matchup will be in the "Swamp" at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium giving the Gators a strong home crowd behind them to open the season.

Florida Gators
© Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun/USA TODAY NETWORK

The following week, they face the Samford Bulldogs, a team who previously gave them a run for their money. The Gators were put to the test as the score finished 70-52 in what looked more like an Arena Football score in the Swamp in 2021. With a less-talented team now, Florida could possibly get upset this time around.

Florida continues their tour of the state in the first week of October, hosting the Central Florida Knights. These two last faced off in what was previously called the "Gasparilla Bowl." In what was a transition game between former coach Dan Mullen and current coach Billy Napier, the Gators were beaten by the Knights in Tampa, Fla. This time, the Knights will travel a couple hours north to Gainesville. With revenge on their mind, Florida likely has this one circled already from 2022.

The final nonconference game will take place on Nov. 30 against the Florida State Seminoles. The previous matchups between these two schools have been very competitive no matter the records. Each team knows each other better and the games are better for it. This could go either way.

Worst Team in the SEC?

With the conference changing the way things work, the Gators will struggle throughout their schedule in 2024. While Gator fans are die-hards, a third straight year of mediocrity is not what the fans are looking for. The issue facing Napier is his Gators have the toughest schedule in the country, not just the SEC. However, it is likely Napier keeps his job as long as he gets a handful of wins in a brutal 2024 SEC schedule.

Florida Gators
© Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Gators will open SEC play against Texas A&M on Sept. 14. The Gators have only beaten the Aggies once since joining the conference in 2014. After the Aggies, Florida will have another toss-up game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sept. 21. While this one could go either way, the outcome will depend on how good the Gator defense plays. With new additions like DB Cormani McClain arriving through the transfer portal, the Gators could get the win.

Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., will be next for the Gators on Oct. 12. Like many of the other SEC stadiums, Neyland brings one of the biggest crowds, week in and week out. Unfortunately for Gator fans, the Tennessee curse doesn't apply at their stadium. The Volunteers should be taking of business in Knoxville.

The Gators also will keep their rivalry matchup with Kentucky intact. Kentucky will meet Florida in the Swamp on Oct. 19, continuing a lesser-known rivalry for at least one more season. The Wildcats have gotten the best of the Gators in both Lexington, Ky., and in Gainesville recently. The Wildcats should be able to handle the weaker Gators, even in the Swamp.

One thing the Gators got to keep on the schedule is the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. While the Gators have had their fair share of wins over the years, the Georgia Bulldogs have dominated the series. The fact that Georgia will be coming with a vengeance doesn't help. Georgia should win big.

The Final Push

If that gauntlet was considered tough, the last few games could easily all be against top 10 opponents come November. However, the Gators could easily be eliminated from bowl contention by this time. With the "easiest" opponent at this time being Ole Miss (Nov. 23 in Gainesville), the Gators are in big trouble with this being only the third year of Napier's contract. However, there is a possible silver lining in 2024.

Florida Gators
© Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Teams like Texas (Nov. 9 in Austin, Texas), LSU (Nov. 16 in Gainesville) and Ole Miss could potentially be looking to rest players once they feel comfortable with the position they are in by the end of the season. It is just a matter of what spot they get.

For the first time, the 12-team College Football Playoff comes into effect this season. For a team like LSU, who will almost certainly be in contention, the question becomes "Do you rest players?" and if you are good enough, "Do we go for one of the top 4 spots?" Questions college football fans have never had. If LSU rests players, can a Florida beat the second-string units of LSU or Ole Miss? These are the questions that will be found out this season.

Despite their recruiting and transfer portal success, the Gators will likely be one of the teams near the bottom of the SEC. If they can pull off a several upsets, they might be able to snag a bowl game. However, it is highly unlikely.


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