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Florida’s early 2021 college football viewing guide

The season will, hopefully, open with a bang, but feel free to relax on one Saturday in October.
USF is scheduled to play the first game of the 2021 season, which will hopefully look a lot better than the 2020 season.
USF is scheduled to play the first game of the 2021 season, which will hopefully look a lot better than the 2020 season. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 26
Updated Feb. 26

With the state’s entire 2021 college football schedule released, let’s indulge in a much-needed jolt of optimism. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided enough by September for the sport to enjoy a (relatively) normal season, unlike the stop-and-start mess of 2020.

With that positivity in mind, and with the goal of giving you something to look forward to, here’s my annual first-look viewing guide at the weekends fans should know:

Prepare for a long, high-profile opening weekend

Notre Dame-Florida State has a lot of name recognition, if nothing else.
Notre Dame-Florida State has a lot of name recognition, if nothing else. [ NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS | Notre Dame Athletics ]

It begins with USF on a Thursday night (Sept. 2) against the ACC’s North Carolina State and ends with a Sunday night clash of two big-name programs, Notre Dame and Florida State. In the middle, Miami faces Alabama in Atlanta, Willie Taggart gets another crack at the Gators and UCF hosts Boise State in a battle for potential Group of Five supremacy. We’ll see whether the Hurricanes and Seminoles are up for the challenge, but this has a lot of promise.

Related: The real reason why USF’s facilities upgrades are so critical

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The Florida-LSU series has seen its share of drama over the past few years...
The Florida-LSU series has seen its share of drama over the past few years... [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Oct. 16. Florida travels to LSU in the latest in a rivalry that is never, ever boring. Please keep your cleats double-knotted. North Carolina hosts Miami in a showdown between two Coastal Division contenders. And UCF-Cincinnati is probably the AAC’s marquee game of the season.

Most interesting weekend

Florida couldn't stop Alabama in Atlanta in last year's SEC title game.
Florida couldn't stop Alabama in Atlanta in last year's SEC title game. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

After a pair of Group of Five tune-ups (Florida Atlantic and USF), the Gators open SEC play against reigning national champion Alabama. It’s not exactly a referendum on the Dan Mullen era, but it will tell us how much closer the Gators are after their 52-46 loss in the SEC championship? Assuming FSU’s first two games (Notre Dame and Jacksonville State) are as lopsided as we expect, a visit to Wake Forest will be our first real sign of Mike Norvell’s progress in Year 2. Michigan State-Miami is an intriguing, brand-name matchup, and UCF has a chance to earn a Power Five victory at Louisville. That’s a nice slate.

The early rivalry weekend

Kyle Pitts will be in the NFL, but Florida-Georgia is always worth watching.
Kyle Pitts will be in the NFL, but Florida-Georgia is always worth watching. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

I feel confident that one game on Oct. 30 (Florida-Georgia) will be big and important. I’m much less certain about FSU’s chances at Clemson, although that rivalry will have a little more spice after last year’s back-and-forth over a positive test with the Tigers.

Schedule your fall wedding on …

Jordan Travis and the Seminoles upset North Carolina last year. Can they do it again?
Jordan Travis and the Seminoles upset North Carolina last year. Can they do it again? [ DON JUAN MOORE | Don Juan Moore ]

Oct. 9. The Bulls and Hurricanes are both off, while the Gators host Vanderbilt and its first-year head coach (Clark Lea). UCF shouldn’t have a problem with East Carolina, either. The only good thing about this weekend is FSU’s trip to North Carolina, whom the Seminoles upset last year.