The first Saturday of Florida's Jim McElwain era will feature a night kickoff. And the Gators might well get used to playing at night — and on the SEC Network.
That's the biggest takeaway from SEC's Thursday release of the game times and TV schedule listings for the first three weeks of the 2015 college football season on an SEC Network special. Florida's 2015 season opener, a September 5 game against New Mexico State, will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be televised by the SEC Network. The Gators' second game of the season, a rematch of the 2015 Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina, will get a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2, and Florida's SEC opener at Kentucky on September 19 will get underway at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
The night games at home are a blessing for many Florida fans, who have complained bitterly for years about the Gainesville heat that arrives in The Swamp for noon kickoffs in August and September more reliably than they do; a similar slate of night games early in the season was greeted with cheers last year. Night games do carry risk, though: A sustained thunderstorm with significant lightning forced the eventual cancellation of Florida's night game opener with Idaho in 2014, and night kickoffs reduce the schedule flexibility available to programs in the event of inclement weather.
And while the night games will make fans who go to games happy, they also reflect a somewhat diminished profile for Florida, which is more used to spots in the middle of Saturday afternoons. The Gators now slated to play at least three night games in 2015, just shy of the five (including the Idaho game) they played in 2014, with eight more kickoff times to be announced.
In May, the SEC announced Florida and Georgia would play their annual rivalry game — which takes place on Halloween this year — at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.