The Gators’ most important games

Florida has a difficult schedule again this fall, but regardless of the opponent’s quality, some of the games are more important than others.

1. Florida State (November 28): As Florida closes out the regular season with a rivalry game against the Seminoles, there will be a lot on the line. Even more important might be who is in the stands. This game has always been an important recruiting weekend for the Florida staff. Think back to Urban Meyer’s first season when the Gators beat FSU 34-7 in The Swamp. The Scout database lists Brandon Spikes and Tim Tebow as just some of the important visitors that weekend.

It’s an important game for a team’s recruiting momentum heading into the final months of the 2016 class. While Florida isn’t the favorite to represent the SEC East in the conference title game, this could be the final game recruits get to see the Gators play until a possible bowl game. It should also be an electric environment for the recruits in attendance.

The rivalry speaks for itself. It will be McElwain’s first introduction to the competition between the two teams and his first chance to make a statement against a team he will be heavily competing against on and off the field for the rest of his time at Florida.

2. Georgia (October 31): Ask Florida fans which rivalry game means the most, and the answers are generally split between Florida State and Georgia. The reason I put the game against the Seminoles higher on this list is the chance to make a statement in front of recruits. With no recruits allowed to take official visits to the game in Jacksonville, they don’t see the environment up close.

On the field, it’s one of many chances the Florida staff will have for a big win this year. McElwain has talked about his staff recruiting a five-hour radius from Gainesville, and that covers most of the state of Georgia. The Gators have already hit the state hard with a few months to build the 2015 recruiting class. Building momentum in the state with a win over the Bulldogs could open the door further.

3. Tennessee (September 26): McElwain inherits a streak that seemed impossible at the peak of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry. The Gators take a 10-game winning streak into this year’s meeting. The national perception is that the programs are currently heading in different directions, as some see the Volunteers as the favorite in the SEC East while the Gators are under a first-year coach and rebuilding the roster.

This should also be the first big recruiting weekend of the season for Florida. It gives the Gators a chance to host back-to-back games while Tennessee and Ole Miss, giving elite prospects a chance to see The Swamp at its prime for a rivalry game instead of waiting until the end of the season for the Florida State game. But the priority here is what happens on the field. Florida has dominated Tennessee over the last 10 years, and this will be McElwain’s chance to add to the streak.

4. Ole Miss (October 3): This game doesn’t have the rivalry aspect that will be present in the Swamp the week before when the Volunteers come to town, but Ole Miss should be a highly-ranked team this season with only one possible loss on paper (at Alabama) on the schedule before the Rebels come to Gainesville.

The odd-numbered years on the Florida schedule usually feature only the Florida State and Tennessee games as prime recruiting weekends since LSU and South Carolina are road games. However, the addition of a top team like Ole Miss makes this another chance for the Florida coaching staff to make a statement for a recruiting class desperate to see one.

5. LSU (October 17): This game is all about a chance for a big win on a national stage. Likely Florida’s most difficult road game of the year, the Tigers are stacked with athletes on both sides of the ball. On the same day as Alabama-Texas A&M, the Florida-LSU game also sets up as a likely night game, which makes a trip to Tiger Stadium even tougher for the Gators.

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