The Florida Gators flailed for much of their season-opening 24-7 win against Massachusetts last Saturday, falling from No. 25 in the AP Poll for Week 2 and holding onto that spot in the USA TODAY coaches poll by the skin of their teeth.
Their Week 2 opponent, Kentucky, isn’t just on a 29-game losing streak against the Gators, though — they’re also 0-1 in 2016. That ignominious record came by virtue of one of Week 1’s biggest collapses, as the Wildcats blew a 35-10 lead by allowing 34 consecutive points and not scoring in in the second half in a 44-35 loss to Southern Mississippi, whose offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, was let go by the Wildcats after an underwhelming 2015 campaign.
Combine that with the decades-long recent history of Florida defeating even good Wildcats teams time and again and the return of the series to Gainesville — where, in a very subtle tweaking of Kentucky’s proud basketball program, the Gators who won consecutive national titles in men’s hoops a decade ago will be honored before kickoff and deployed as Honorary Misters Two Bits — and few think the Wildcats have much of a chance, even given Florida’s underwhelming opener.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
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What to watch for
Return of the Teez
Teez Tabor will be making his first start of the 2016 season for the Gators, after serving a one-game suspension, reportedly for his role in a fight with tight end C’yontai Lewis, during the season opener. Given how little UMass tested Tabor’s opposite, Quincy Wilson, last week, it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats approach a defense that could have future NFL players starting at both corner spots.
Will Barker be brilliant, or brutal?
Before the Wildcats’ meltdown against the Golden Eagles, quarterback Drew Barker starred in Week 1, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 13.5 yards per attempt, a figure good for second in the nation in this young season. (Barker is also fourth nationally in passer rating.)
But Barker completed just four passes in the second half, and committed three turnovers, throwing one interception and fumbling while being sacked twice. Florida’s pass rush, while still in the process of finding its form in 2016, should be able to pressure Barker even more significantly, and that might force the talented sophomore into a similar spate of mistakes.
The Cleveland Show?
Florida getting Tabor and Lewis back from suspensions is significant — both are listed as starters, and Tabor is a likely first-round pick — but, Tyrie Cleveland, the player many Gators fans most want to see this season, is also returning from suspension. Cleveland and Rick Wells were reinstated by Jim McElwain early this week, days before having their felony charges for a BB gun incident reduced.
While neither Cleveland nor Wells appeared on Florida’s depth chart, and both battled hamstring injuries in fall camp, Cleveland’s talent is so immense that many believe he will eventually be a starting outside receiver opposite Antonio Callaway. And there’s certainly opportunity for him to seize that role sooner rather than later, with Brandon Powell being listed as Florida’s starter at both slot and outside receiver positions, and only a slew of largely unproven freshmen and largely underwhelming underclassmen between Cleveland and the field.
If he doesn’t see the field much or at all against the Wildcats, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Gators: Florida already has freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain in the mix at receiver, and both looked good against UMass. But no pass-catcher on Florida’s roster, Callaway included, has a higher ceiling than Cleveland, and seeing him begin to reach for it would be a heartening sight.