Three-game span to determine the 2014 season

The first three games of the Florida season should be wins. The Gators open the season with home games against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky, but it's the three games that follow that will determine how successful the Gators are in 2014.

And it's not an easy stretch.

After the two non-conference games and the game against Kentucky, who Florida has beaten 27 straight times, the Gators should be 3-0 heading into games at Alabama, at Tennessee and home against LSU.

If a team has to play in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide, the Gators might be doing so at the best possible time. Alabama is breaking in a new quarterback after A.J. McCarron graduated following last season. While there's no concrete answer on who will take over, it looks like Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will be the guy. Running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon will anchor the offense and take the pressure of the new quarterback.

The Gators get a bye week after the Alabama game, giving them two weeks to prepare for a trip to Tennessee. With LSU at Auburn also taking place on October 4, Florida's trip to Knoxville looks like it will be a night game. Butch Jones has rejuvenated the Tennessee fanbase, and the Florida game will be the first big home game of the year for Tennessee.

The good news about this trip for Florida is that it's still early in the season, and the Volunteers will be breaking in new players across both lines of scrimmage. Tennessee lost all five starting offensive linemen from last season. The Volunteers also lost seniors Daniel Hood, Daniel McCullers, Corey Miller, Jacques Smith and Marlon Walls from the defensive line last season.

There also remains no clear answer at quarterback. While a likely night game in Knoxville isn't a trip that looks to be easy, there are still plenty of reasons to believe Florida can win this game.

One week after its first true road game of the year at Auburn, LSU makes the trip to Gainesville to play in another difficult environment. Anthony Jennings takes over the quarterback position with only one start under his belt in previous seasons. He showed poise against Arkansas when Zach Mettenberger got hurt. The Tigers took hits at many offensive positions, losing Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

On defense, the Tigers will return seven starters and lean on Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco off the edge while trying to piece together the defensive tackle position. The LSU secondary mirrors Florida's, with young talent that needs more experience.

There are plenty of big games on the Florida schedule for the 2014 season that will go a long way in determining how successful the season is. This three-game stretch isn't meant to discredit those.

There's a strong argument to be made that the most important game on the schedule is against Georgia on November 1. Will Muschamp needs a win in that game. There's no doubt about that. He's 0-3 against the Bulldogs as a head coach and has never been on the winning side of the Florida-Georgia rivalry, dating back to his time as a safety for the Bulldogs.

The regular season finale against Florida State is another big one. Muschamp is a combined 1-5 against the Bulldogs and Seminoles, the Gators' two biggest rivals, in his three years as the head coach. Losing both of them this year could lead to changes being made, depending on how the rest of the season goes.

This three-game stretch is early enough in the season that it could determine how the rest of it will go. If Florida can manage to go 2-1 in those games, it could provide momentum for the rest of the year. If it struggles to improve offensively in those games, it could snowball down the stretch, just like last season did.

Playing well during the three-game stretch could help avoid that from happening.


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