Gators’ season depends on October

The month of October is usually the most difficult one on the Florida schedule, but this year, the success of the season could depend on how the Gators play during it.

There are still questions before October rolls around. The Gators open Southeastern Conference play at an improved Kentucky team and then host Tennessee in a rivalry game to end the month of September. It would benefit Florida to take advantage of the schedule in September because its not a stretch to imagine the Gators going winless in October.

The month opens when Florida hosts Ole Miss on October 3. The Rebels were a surprise team last year, breaking into the top 10 in the polls thanks largely to a star-studded sophomore class. They’re now juniors, and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has a veteran group returning this year. There are questions about the quarterback position and some key players that need to be replaced from last year, but the Rebels are loaded with talent this year.

There could be three first-rounders on the 2015 team with defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell all expected to enter the draft after this season. It will also be the Rebels’ second major road game, two weeks after traveling to play at Alabama.

Things don’t get much easier after the Ole Miss game.

Florida hits the road to face Missouri on October 10, and the Golden Nugget, a Vegas sports book, opened with the Tigers as a 10-point favorite in Columbia. Missouri has its own players to replace from last season, but it has seemed to replace similar players in recent years. Enigmatic quarterback Maty Mauk returns and the home field advantage likely makes the Tigers the favorites going into the game.

The Tigers beat Florida 36-17 in 2013 and beat the Gators 42-13 in Gainesville last season. This will be a difficult year for the Gators to break the recent struggles against Missouri, but it also could be the easiest game of October.

Florida travels to LSU on October 17, opening as a 14-point underdog. The Gators have won just once in the last five trips to Baton Rouge, and while the Tigers have questions at quarterback, they’re loaded at a lot of other positions. At this point in the offseason, it’s hard to expect this Florida team to go into Baton Rouge and win the game. The Gators have a young, inexperienced offensive line that will head into Tiger Stadium for its biggest test of the year with crowd noise. Previous road games against Kentucky and Missouri won’t be close to what they’ll see that weekend.

The Gators will have a bye week after facing LSU to regroup, and then there’s the rivalry game with Georgia to close out the month. The Bulldogs are also searching for answers at quarterback, but with running back Nick Chubb in the backfield, Georgia should be able to take some of the pressure of its quarterback. With an improving defense in its second year under defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the Bulldogs should take some steps forward on that side of the ball.

The truth is we don’t know much about this Florida team yet. There’s no clear answer at quarterback, and while Jim McElwain and the staff have done an impressive job of rebuilding the offensive line in short time, they’re still going to be depending on offensive linemen that are likely not ready for what they’re being asked to do.

With four games under their belt before the month of October rolls around, the Florida offense should be improved by that time. But will it be enough to have a successful October? With the way the schedule sets up, even a 2-2 record in October looks like it would be a massive success.

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