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Every Florida 2020 college football game, ranked from worst to first

We tried this before, then games got called off. Here’s hoping we’re not jinxing ourselves with attempt No. 2.
Kyle Trask and the Florida Gators are involved in some of the biggest games scheduled in the state this season.
Kyle Trask and the Florida Gators are involved in some of the biggest games scheduled in the state this season. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 28, 2020
Updated Aug. 28, 2020

My first attempt at the annual tradition of ranking every Division I-A football game in the state ended before it could even get published, when the Big Ten canceled its non-conference games last month.

Since then, the state has dropped from 78 originally scheduled games to 65 (for now, at least).

At the risk of jinxing college football fans again, here’s my second crack at it. As always, I’m ranking games based on how exciting I find the matchup and how important I think it will be. Keep an eraser nearby.

Related: How the pandemic messed up my Associated Press top 25 preseason ballot

65. Florida International at Texas-El Paso, Nov. 7

It’s hard to get fired up about a Miners team that has won two games over the last three seasons.

64. Jacksonville State at Florida State, Oct. 3

James Blackman's lone non-conference game this season is scheduled against Jacksonville State.
James Blackman's lone non-conference game this season is scheduled against Jacksonville State. [ Times ]

The Seminoles can’t play the Gators, but they can play a Division I-AA team that went 6-6 last year? Sigh.

63. Florida International at Charlotte, Oct. 17

62. Charlotte at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 3

61. Texas-San Antonio at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 31

Related: A brief history of spring college football: Michigan’s first win, initial Iron Bowl, a pants-less goat

60. UCF at East Carolina, Sept. 26

59. Middle Tennessee at Florida International, Oct. 10

58. The Citadel at USF, Sept. 12

Jeff Scott is set to make his USF head coaching debut on Sept. 12.
Jeff Scott is set to make his USF head coaching debut on Sept. 12. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]

Bulls coaches should never look past a I-AA opener (see: State, McNeese), but Jeff Scott’s debut should be a breeze.

57. Louisiana Tech at Florida International, Nov. 28

Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz during the first half of a college football game against Texas last August.
Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz during the first half of a college football game against Texas last August. [ ERIC GAY | Associated Press (2019) ]

Former USF coach Skip Holtz just led Louisiana Tech to its best season ever (10-3) but will be rebuilding without Conference USA’s Player of the Year, quarterback J’Mar Smith.

56. Georgia Tech at Miami, Nov. 21

55. Tulsa at UCF, Oct. 3

54. Florida at Vanderbilt, Nov. 21

53. Tulsa at USF, Oct. 23

A Friday night game against Tulsa should give the Bulls something to celebrate.
A Friday night game against Tulsa should give the Bulls something to celebrate. [ Times ]

A great opportunity for an AAC win in Scott’s first year gets a boost because it gives us something to watch on a Friday night.

52. Florida International at Marshall, Oct. 31

51. Florida Atlantic at Southern Miss, Oct. 10

50. Florida International at Western Kentucky, Nov. 21

49. Florida Atlantic at Marshall, Oct. 24

48. Florida International at Liberty, Sept. 26

Liberty University's football stadium.
Liberty University's football stadium. [ STEVE HELBER | Associated Press ]

This one probably won’t be as interesting as some of Liberty coach Hugh Freeze’s previous Florida-related encounters….

47. Miami at Wake Forest, Nov. 28

46. Tulane at UCF, Oct. 24

45. Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee, Nov. 28

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill talks with an official in the first half of a game against Tennessee State last September.
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill talks with an official in the first half of a game against Tennessee State last September. [ MARK HUMPHREY | Associated Press ]

A meaningful conference matchup has familiar names for FSU fans: Willie Taggart against Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill, a former Seminoles quarterback and member of the school’s athletics hall of fame.

44. Virginia at Miami, Oct. 24

43. Virginia at FSU, Nov. 28

42. Florida Atlantic at Georgia Southern, Sept. 19

Which Willie Taggart is FAU getting: The one who did well at USF or the one who bombed at FSU?
Which Willie Taggart is FAU getting: The one who did well at USF or the one who bombed at FSU? [ JC RIDLEY | ZUMAPRESS.com ]

Taggart’s Owls debut comes against one of the top teams in the Sun Belt.

41. Missouri at UF, Oct. 24

40. FSU at Duke, Dec. 5

39. USF at Temple, Oct. 17

In this 2018 file photo, USF running back Duran Bell (20) is pursued by Temple's Todd Jones Jr. (40) and Quincy Roche (90) during a game in Philadelphia.
In this 2018 file photo, USF running back Duran Bell (20) is pursued by Temple's Todd Jones Jr. (40) and Quincy Roche (90) during a game in Philadelphia. [ ZAMANI FEELINGS | Special to the Times ]

The Bulls have never won at Temple, but the Owls seem more vulnerable than usual.

38. East Carolina at USF, Oct. 10

37. FSU at North Carolina State, Nov. 14

North Carolina State fans celebrate in the closing moments in the second half of a game against Florida State in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 3, 2018.
North Carolina State fans celebrate in the closing moments in the second half of a game against Florida State in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 3, 2018. [ CHRIS SEWARD | Associated Press (2018) ]

The Seminoles have lost six of their last 11 games in Raleigh.

36. Miami at North Carolina State, Nov. 6

35. Temple at UCF, Nov. 14

34. South Carolina at UF, Oct. 3

Florida coach Dan Mullen, at left, greets South Carolina coach Will Muschamp before the start of their game in Columbia, S.C., last season.
Florida coach Dan Mullen, at left, greets South Carolina coach Will Muschamp before the start of their game in Columbia, S.C., last season. [ MIC SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY LLC | Associated Press (2019) ]

Will Muschamp might need a marquee win (like upsetting his old Gators) to keep his job with the Gamecocks.

33. Florida Atlantic at Florida International, Nov. 13

FIU coach Butch Davis celebrates with his players after defeating Miami 30-24 last November.
FIU coach Butch Davis celebrates with his players after defeating Miami 30-24 last November. [ LYNNE SLADKY | Associated Press (2019) ]

Since starting at USF in 2013, Taggart is 3-8 against rivals, but beating Butch Davis in the Shula Bowl looks a lot easier than topping Clemson or UF.

32. Navy at USF, Nov. 21

31. Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic, Nov. 7

Willie Taggart, right, left Palmetto for Western Kentucky to star at QB for Jack Harbaugh, left.
Willie Taggart, right, left Palmetto for Western Kentucky to star at QB for Jack Harbaugh, left.

The division title could come down to whether Taggart can beat the Hilltoppers, his alma mater and the school that gave him his first head coaching job.

Related: How Western Kentucky forged USF's Willie Taggart

30. Pitt at FSU, Nov. 7

29. Pitt at Miami, Oct. 17

In this Oct. 26, 2019, file photo, Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman (55) tackles Pitt wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis (18) during the second half of their game in Pittsburgh.
In this Oct. 26, 2019, file photo, Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman (55) tackles Pitt wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis (18) during the second half of their game in Pittsburgh. [ KEITH SRAKOCIC | Associated Press (2019) ]

The Panthers’ front seven should still be strong, despite tackle Jaylen Twyman opting out. This will be a tough test for Miami’s new offense, especially coming off the Clemson game.

28. FSU at Louisville, Oct. 24

Related: How the coronavirus pandemic is changing FSU, Miami football

27. Miami at Louisville, Sept. 19

26. UCF at Georgia Tech, Sept. 19

Georgia Tech wide receiver Ahmarean Brown (Jefferson High) will look to have a big game against UCF.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Ahmarean Brown (Jefferson High) will look to have a big game against UCF. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]

With so few non-conference games, this ACC-AAC mashup gets magnified.

25. UCF at Houston, Oct. 31

24. USF at Houston, Nov. 14

How good will Houston be without standout quarterback D'Eriq King?
How good will Houston be without standout quarterback D'Eriq King? [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

I have no idea what to make of the Cougars, who have a bright coach (Dana Holgorsen) but lost quarterback D’Eriq King to Miami after his weird redshirt season. It wouldn’t surprise me if USF ended a four-game losing streak to Houston or if the Cougars blew out the Bulls again.

23. USF at Cincinnati, Oct. 3

22. USF at Memphis, Nov. 7

Related: Six historical lessons college football can apply to the coronavirus pandemic

21. Kentucky at UF, Nov. 28

Florida running back Lamical Perine (2) runs through an opening in the Kentucky line as nose tackle Quinton Bohanna (95) closes in during the first half of a game in Lexington, Ky., last season.
Florida running back Lamical Perine (2) runs through an opening in the Kentucky line as nose tackle Quinton Bohanna (95) closes in during the first half of a game in Lexington, Ky., last season. [ TIMOTHY D. EASLEY | Associated Press (2019) ]

It’s still weird not to see UF-FSU on this date. But five of the last six games in this series have been tight, and Mark Stoops’ Wildcats should be solid.

20. Miami at Virginia Tech, Nov. 14

19. USF at Notre Dame, Sept. 19

USF wide receiver Evan Landi celebrates after 23-20 win over Notre Dame in 2011.
USF wide receiver Evan Landi celebrates after 23-20 win over Notre Dame in 2011. [ MICHAEL CONROY | ASSOCIATED PRESS ]

A wonderful fallback option for both teams after previous games fell through. I’m just not sure the Bulls can upset the Irish, as they did in 2011.

18. UF at Mississippi, Sept. 26

Lane Kiffin is back coaching in the SEC, this time at Mississippi.
Lane Kiffin is back coaching in the SEC, this time at Mississippi. [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP ]

The Gators should overpower Lane Kiffin’s new team in his Rebels debut. I am curious what sort of reaction former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will get from the (limited) fans when he returns to play the School Up North.

17. Cincinnati at UCF, Nov. 21

16. Alabama-Birmingham at Miami, Sept. 10

D'Eriq King will be the Miami Hurricanes' starting quarterback this season.
D'Eriq King will be the Miami Hurricanes' starting quarterback this season. [ TIM BROGDON | Tim Brogdon/Miami Hurricanes Athletics ]

A sneaky good matchup. King’s Miami debut comes against a UAB team that has made back-to-back conference title games. And the ’Canes have lost two in a row to Conference USA teams...

Related: Miami Hurricanes add D’Eriq King, Quincy Roche to remain portal kings. Will it work this time?

15. UCF at USF, Nov. 27

USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) prepares to throw the ball under heavy pressure from UCF during the first half of last year's game.
USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) prepares to throw the ball under heavy pressure from UCF during the first half of last year's game. [ WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Associated Press (2019) ]

Only this low because the gap between the Knights and Bulls seems large, especially in Scott’s first season.

14. North Carolina at FSU, Oct. 17

13. North Carolina at Miami, Dec. 5

Former Florida State commit Sam Howell is one of the ACC's top quarterbacks at North Carolina.
Former Florida State commit Sam Howell is one of the ACC's top quarterbacks at North Carolina. [ NELL REDMOND | AP ]

The Tar Heels’ trip to Tallahassee is intriguing because standout quarterback Sam Howell was a longtime FSU commit and the one who got away from Taggart. But the edge goes to the finale at Miami because of its potential conference championship implications.

12. FSU at Notre Dame, Oct. 10

Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery (99) faces off against Florida State in a 2018 game in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery (99) faces off against Florida State in a 2018 game in South Bend, Ind. [ PAUL SANCYA | Associated Press (2018) ]

The Irish can boost their ACC championship hopes — how weird is that to say? — with a win over their occasional rival.

11. Arkansas at UF, Nov. 14

Feleipe Franks will be headed back to Gainesville in November, perhaps as Arkansas' starting quarterback.
Feleipe Franks will be headed back to Gainesville in November, perhaps as Arkansas' starting quarterback. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Even if the game is a dud, I’m here for former UF starting quarterback Feleipe Franks’ return to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (assuming he’s starting for the Razorbacks). How many players have ever shushed The Swamp playing for and against the Gators?

Related: From the Orange Bowl: Feleipe Franks 'still part of this team for one last night’

10. USF at Florida Atlantic, Sept. 26

The Taggart Bowl will be an important measuring stick for the progress of his old program and his new one.

9. Clemson at FSU, Nov. 21

In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first half against Florida State.
In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first half against Florida State. [ RICHARD SHIRO | Associated Press (2019) ]

If Norvell has his Seminoles figured out by then, this could be tricky for Clemson. FSU is still one of the most talented teams on the Tigers’ schedule.

8. UF at Texas A&M, Oct. 10

Let's hope these swamp green uniforms don't make the trip to College Station.
Let's hope these swamp green uniforms don't make the trip to College Station. [ Times ]

Jimbo Fisher’s last game at FSU was a triumph over the Gators. Can he do it again with the Aggies? More importantly, here’s hoping UF doesn’t revive the swamp green monstrosities it wore the last time it faced A&M.

7. Miami at Clemson, Oct. 10

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, center, links arms with players as they march on the field before the ACC championship game vs. Miami.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, center, links arms with players as they march on the field before the ACC championship game vs. Miami. [ BOB LEVERONE | Associated Press (2017) ]

The ‘Canes get an extra week to prepare for the Tigers, who have beaten Miami by a combined score of 96-3 in the last two meetings. This one has to be more competitive … right?

6. Georgia Tech at FSU, Sept. 12

Florida State coach Mike Norvell is scheduled to make his debut against Georgia Tech.
Florida State coach Mike Norvell is scheduled to make his debut against Georgia Tech. [ KYLE PULEK | Courtesy of FSU Sports Information ]

The mediocrity of Geoff Collins’ Yellow Jackets slightly weighs down the buzz of Norvell’s FSU debut.

Related: Why FSU’s Mike Norvell isn’t Willie Taggart 2.0

5. UCF at Memphis, Oct. 17

Memphis' Kenneth Gainwell starred at Memphis under Mike Norvell and leads a talented Tigers offense.
Memphis' Kenneth Gainwell starred at Memphis under Mike Norvell and leads a talented Tigers offense. [ Times ]

With only three Power Five leagues competing, this could be the year a Group of Five team gets into the College Football Playoff. The winner of this fun matchup might have the best shot.

4. UF at Tennessee, Dec. 5

Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, left, takes a hit from Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard last season in the Swamp.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, left, takes a hit from Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard last season in the Swamp. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

The Volunteers have top-25 buzz, and the Gators could be playing for a trip to the SEC title game. Add in a chilly trip to Knoxville, and this is one of the most interesting Florida-Tennessee games in years.

3. LSU at UF, Oct. 17

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) pulls in a touchdown reception against Florida defensive back CJ Henderson last season in Baton Rouge.
LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) pulls in a touchdown reception against Florida defensive back CJ Henderson last season in Baton Rouge. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP ]

The Tigers will likely regress without No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, but the defending national champions are still talented. The best receiver in the country (Ja’Marr Chase) will be a big test for a secondary that should still be strong, even without first-round pick CJ Henderson.

Related: Remember 2019 LSU football as the best offense of my lifetime

2. FSU at Miami, Sept. 26

Miami Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz celebrates a 27-10 victory over Florida State last year.
Miami Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz celebrates a 27-10 victory over Florida State last year. [ MARK WALLHEISER | Associated Press (2019) ]

This won’t be the high-stakes referendum it was for Taggart last season, but it’s still important. Norvell would buy himself a lot of goodwill in Tallahassee by ending his first month with the kind of marquee rivalry victory his predecessor never got. Diaz needs this, too, especially if his ‘Canes slip up in either of their first two games.

1. UF vs. Georgia, Nov. 7 (Jacksonville)

Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) runs the ball for a first down while getting tackled by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Monty Rice (32) last year in Jacksonville.
Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) runs the ball for a first down while getting tackled by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Monty Rice (32) last year in Jacksonville. [ Times (2019) ]

Same as last year and the same as in my initial rankings. Both SEC East frontrunners have top-10 teams, and the victor will remain in the College Football Playoff hunt. Add in the rivalry intensity and the fact that Mullen’s Gators are 0-2 against Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, and this remains one of the nation’s most interesting games of the entire season — and easily the best in the state.

Related: Laura Rutledge: Florida Gators ‘closest that they’ve been’ to beating Georgia