SEC announces Gators’ two additional opponents

Aug 7, 2020 | 0 comments

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After more than a week of speculation, the SEC released the matchups for the 10-game, conference-only football season on an SEC Network special on Friday evening. In addition to the eight originally scheduled games, the No. 8 Gators added a home date with Arkansas and a road trip to No. 13 Texas A&M to round out their 2020 schedule.

“Given all the unknowns we face, today's announcements regarding the SEC’s initial COVID-19 management requirements, along with the identification of two additional opponents in football, provide a solid framework with a goal of giving our teams the opportunity to compete in a healthy environment during the 2020-21 school year,” UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement.

Each of these two games presents interesting storylines. Former UF quarterback Feleipe Franks is now at Arkansas and will lead the Razorbacks into the Swamp, a place where Franks experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. However, Arkansas hasn’t won a conference game since 2017, and they’re in their first year under new coach Sam Pittman, who had never even been a coordinator prior to taking the Razorbacks job. UF leads the all-time series 9-2 but dropped the last meeting in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Gators will travel to College Station for the first time since Johnny Manziel’s Heisman-winning campaign in 2012. The Gators bested the Aggies in that one, but Texas A&M returned the favor with a win in Gainesville in 2017 in what ended up being Jim McElwain’s final home game as Florida’s head coach. Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher had the Gators’ number during his time at Florida State, going 7-1 with all but one of the victories coming by a margin of at least 14 points. This will be just the fifth meeting all time, with the series tied at two wins apiece.

While College Station is regarded as one of the toughest places to win on the road in the SEC, the Gators dodged a bullet with the SEC’s scheduling method. Early reports last week stated that the league was considering using the rotating cross-division matchups for the 2021 and 2022 seasons to fill out the schedule. That method would’ve seen the Gators host No. 3 Alabama instead of Arkansas and would’ve made their road to an SEC East title extremely difficult.

Instead, the conference considered competitive balance when formulating the schedule. Teams with already challenging schedules were given weaker opponents, while teams with weaker schedules were given two tough opponents. Florida only has to play one of the perceived top three teams in the West in LSU, while Georgia, its biggest competition in the East, must face Alabama and Auburn.

"We made every effort to create a schedule that is as competitive as possible and builds on the existing eight conference games that had already been scheduled for 2020," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. "This schedule is a one-year anomaly that we have developed under unique circumstances presented by the impact of COVID-19."

It is unknown how the additions of Arkansas and Texas A&M to the Gators’ 2020 schedule will affect the conference’s scheduling rotation in future seasons. Will the Gators have to play the Aggies again in 2021?

While the 10 opponents are known, the dates and times for the schedule are still to be determined and are expected to be announced next week. The season will begin on Sept. 26, and each team will receive one bye week. The SEC Championship Game is scheduled for Dec. 19, and every team will be off on Dec. 12 to create scheduling flexibility in case games have to be postponed due to virus outbreaks. Friday’s announcement provided a welcomed relief from what’s been a brutal year for college sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the Gators know who they’re playing, they can focus on preparing for the season. The Gators, along with the SEC’s other 13 teams, entered the next phase in the return-to-play process on Friday. They are now allowed to conduct 14 hours of mandatory strength and conditioning workouts, meetings and walkthroughs per week. They’ll be allowed to begin their 25 fall practices on Aug. 17.

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