San Jose St. August 30, Gainesville.
The Spartans went 6-7 under coach Fitz Hill. They had a huge road win at Illinois and played National Champ Ohio St. This is a team built on the JUCO ranks and once again will rely on transfer help. The Spartans like to throw the ball and are not very good on defense. Scott Rislov returns as a senior at quarterback and he led the offensive resurgence after coming to San Jose from the JUCO ranks.
Early Ack Thought: Dangerous game defensively for UF.
The Miami Hurricanes will have to replace Ken Dorsey at quarterback. But will that quarterback be ready to play the Gators early in the season?
Miami, Sept 7, Miami.
The Quarterback battle was the talk of Spring, but the defending State Champs have some other holes to fill. First they reshuffled the offensive line giving former tight end Eric Winston a job at tackle. Frank Gore proved he is back but how far only the season will tell. I think Tyrone Moss will get a long look as the number two back in the fall. The defensive line returns Wilfork and Thomas, but the other guys who are talented are all relatively new. The most glaring difference will be the passing game without Andre Johnson. Devin Hester is expected to be that guy but once again they play UF early.
Early Ack Thought: Thank goodness this one is early on the schedule, although both teams will be better in November.
Florida A&M, Sept 13, Gainesville.
This is a sandwich game that will depend on what happens in South Florida. If UF wins then Zook must get his guys down to take care of business before Tennessee. If they lose to Miami, then he must energize them to not be sloppy before the conference schedule begins. The Rattlers led by coach Billy Joe know how to throw the football and will bring in their Gulf Coast Offense.
Early Ack Thought: Good Scheduling by Jeremy Foley.
Tennessee, Sept 20, Gainesville.
The Vols finished 8-5 and were embarrassed in their Bowl game by Maryland. They did however provide a big Win for the Gators in Ron Zook's first year and now must come to the Swamp. The Vols got back to the basics working on the running game in the spring with Gerald Riggs Jr. Last season was the worst running attack of the Phil Fulmer Era. If Riggs can stay eligible he could be the starter over Jabari Davis and Cedric Houston come game time. Clausen returns but has no one to throw it to. Montrell Jones is having off the field problems and Derrick Tinsley who switched from running back has been the most impressive. Defensively the Volunteers should be pretty good with the return of several injured players including outstanding defensive end Constantin Ritzman.
Early Ack Thought: As long as Randy Sanders is calling plays you got a chance to win. Swamp Magic must return on Sept 20.
Kentucky, Sept 27, Lexington.
The Wildcats had a terrific season that saw them win seven games and would have gone to a bowl game if they were eligible. But Guy Morriss has left and Rich Brooks comes in via the Atlanta Falcons. The Wildcats are going through another change in terminology and Brooks has opened the Quarterback battle. Jared Lorenzen who was all-sec by some will have to compete with Shane Boyd who started against UF in Lexington two years ago. Brooks wants to throw the football so that will not change. The Wildcats play consecutive road games before the Gators come calling.
Early Ack Thought: Brooks will wish he had stayed in Atlanta.
David Cutcliffe's team stunned the Gators last year and the scene is set for the Gators to get their revenge in the Swamp this season.
Ole Miss, Oct 4, Gainesville.
The revenge game is set for the Gators. Essentially the second half of the Ole Miss game (and Auburn defensive back Horace Willis) cost the Gators a shot at the SEC East title. The Rebels return everyone's All-American Eli Manning who decided to stay in school. The feel around the Rebel program is pretty good after a 7 win season that included a bowl win over Nebraska, a win over top ten Florida and a victory against hated rival Mississippi St. The Rebel schedule is soft at the beginning but the week before the Gators they must entertain pass happy Texas Tech.The Rebels just approved a new indoor practice facility but have yet to find a defense.
Early Ack Thought: Revenge could be sweeter because the defense will be much more seasoned by week 6.
LSU, Oct 11, Baton Rouge.
LSU finished 8-5 and were thrashed by Texas in the Cotton Bowl. If it wasn't for a late defensive collapse against Arkansas the Tigers could have played for the SEC title. Matt Mauck returns at quarterback and Marcus Randall as his backup. The tigers spent the spring looking for a new tailback to replace Toefield and Davis. It could be Shyroe Carey who showed big play capability in spring practice. Joseph Addai will be in the mix as well. Michael Clayton and Devrey Henderson (Kentucky-Game) make a formidable wide out combination. Defensively they should be as good as anyone in the conference looking to replace Bradie James with possibly Mack Alexander.
Early Ack Thought: Zook has had success in Baton Rouge but this will be a tough match up for the Gators. It could be a preview of the SEC title game.
Arkansas, Oct 18, Fayettville.
The Razorbacks who finished 9-5 and lost in the SEC title game to Georgia recently got three years probation. But they can compete for the title and replace Auburn on Florida's schedule. Cedic Cobbs returns at running back and Matt Jones at Quarterback. The Hogs who finished spring practice without Tony Bua their best linebacker could be softened up by Auburn before UF comes to town. Arkansas is still going to be a tough running team who hardly ever loses at home under Houston Nutt.
Early Ack Thought: Fayettville on the heels of Baton Rouge is a tough Quinela for Zook. Nutt has a way of getting his guys up for the home challenge.
You've got to like the Gators chances every year vs. Georgia until the Dogs prove they can beat the Gators consistently.
Georgia, Nov 1, Jacksonville.
The Dogs only lost one game last season. If they win that game they play for the National Title, not Ohio St. But Mark Richt's team was very fortunate to only lose one and must replace the entire offensive front and running back Musa Smith. Keep an eye on signee Kregg Lumpkin to get into the mix right away. The Dogs still have All-SEC wide receiver Fred Gibson and may have developed some "swagger" by winning the SEC title a year ago. David Greene is the most experienced and proven quarterback in the East having won at Knoxville his freshman season. The schedule favors another Georgia run to Atlanta with the Dogs playing Vandy and UAB before coming over to Jacksonville.
Early Ack Thought: This is a tough stretch for UF who does get a bye week before Georgia. Until the Dogs can get over the mental block of the Orange and Blue, UF has to feel good.
Vanderbilt, Nov 8, Gainesville.
The Commodores were the first to start and finish spring practice. This is either because they want to get it over with or the soccer team needed the field. Bobby Johnson is a good football coach and he seems to have people in Nashville believing a winning season is possible. I am glad I don't live in Nashville. Kwane Doster is a very good running back but Vandy will be lucky to win 4 games next season.
Early Ack Thought: This has Homecoming written all over it.
South Carolina, Nov 15, Columbia.
Charlie Strong returns to face his former boss Lou Holtz. The Gamecocks upward swing took a pause last season in missing a bowl game for the first time in three years. Holtz will depend on Dondriel Pinkins at Quarterback to steer the offense. Troy Williamson has a chance to be real good at receiver and Holtz has changed the defense to a conventional 4-3 alignment. Demetris Summers who will be an incoming freshman could push Kenny Irons for time at the running back spot. After a 5-7 season expect South Carolina to be bowl eligible this season. They have consecutive road games versus West opponents before UF travels to Columbia.
Early Ack Thought: Dangerous trip that if Florida is hitting it's stride should be able to handle.
I guess the UF-FSU rivalry will remain heated even without Steve Spurrier on the sidelines.
Florida St., Nov 29, Gainesville.
Zook looks for revenge after losing in Tallahassee in ugly fashion and the mud slung at him by Florida St. during recruiting. UF benefits from an open week as does FSU. The Seminoles completed spring practice with half of their starting lineup on the sideline. The most important component was on the field and playing impressively. Chris Rix returns at quarterback and is only a junior. He is clearly the team starter and will be called upon to be more of a leader. Greg Jones will return this fall but Leon Washington who had 100yds+ against UF in the finale had a solid spring. Wide Receiver seems to be looking for a go to guys with Cro Thorpe and Chauncy Stovall being the leading candidates. Defensively Micky Andrews is hoping the Noles can do a better job against the pass with a more experienced secondary but look for them to struggle again without a proven pass rush. The Noles are still in search of the next great middle linebacker with Buster Davis likely getting the first opportunity. With all the off the field problems and the weak overall recruiting year the Noles will struggle to stay in the ACC race. Virginia, NC State and Maryland all provide formidable opposition before UF. And.... oh yes, Miami out of conference could be a tough one too.
Early Ack Thought: Could be the perfect finish to a championship building season. This game is key to the groundwork of the future including recruiting.
Early Ack Prediction:
8-4 and a trip to the Peach Bowl. Of course I
reserve the right to change my pick in the fall!
Hope everyone had a Happy Easter! -Ack