Every major college football team in Florida knows its 2022 schedule after the AAC announced its full slate Thursday. That means it’s time to continue one of my favorite traditions by taking our first big-picture look at the fall calendar:
Week 1 is kind of weird
Florida begins the Billy Napier era at home against reigning Pac-12 champion Utah, a potential preseason top-10 team. Transfer Mohamoud Diabate will make his Utes debut at UF, where he was the Gators’ second-leading tackler last year. Weird, right? On Sunday, Florida State and LSU meet in New Orleans to kick off the Brian Kelly era … even though it’s actually the Seminoles’ second game (they host Duquesne in Week 0). Also weird. BYU-USF isn’t particularly unusual, beyond the thought of the Cougars wilting in the Sept. 3 heat. A Bulls win would be pivotal to start Jeff Scott’s third season.
Sept. 17 has Sunshine State showdowns
The Bulls head to Gainesville, and Florida Atlantic hosts UCF. I don’t expect either game to be close, though Owls coach Willie Taggart has a memorable history against the Knights. Miami doesn’t play a Florida team, but it is reconnecting with former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher by visiting Texas A&M in a great non-conference matchup.
Most intriguing day
Oct. 15. The Gators face LSU in a rivalry matchup between first-year coaches. Miami-Virginia Tech isn’t as heated, but they’re theoretically the top programs in the ACC Coastal and have new-coach intrigue with Mario Cristobal and Brent Pry. Clemson still has Dabo Swinney, but the Tigers lost both coordinators to head-coaching jobs (Tony Elliott to Virginia and Brent Venables to Oklahoma) plus athletic director Dan Radakovich to Miami. I think Clemson will respond well, but I don’t know yet, which makes the trip to FSU more interesting. And USF’s homecoming game looks winnable against Tulane. I don’t have a great read on any of these games. Hopefully it makes for a fun weekend considering what comes next.
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Oct. 22. The Gators are off. So are the ‘Noles, Bulls and Owls. UCF hosts East Carolina in a potential snoozer, Miami hosts a Duke team that went 3-9 last year and has a new coach (Mike Elko), and Florida International plays at Charlotte. Yuck.
Measuring stick Saturday
Mike Norvell’s first game at FSU was an ugly home collapse against Georgia Tech, which makes the Yellow Jackets’ Oct. 29 visit a chance for Norvell to show how far his Seminoles have come. It’s probably unreasonable to expect Napier’s Gators to upset Georgia in Year 1, but the game in Jacksonville will show us how large the gap is between UF and the reigning national champions. USF and UCF both have big opportunities against two of the AAC’s top programs, Houston and Cincinnati. Even Miami-Virginia is interesting; their last four matchups have all been decided by one score.
Thanksgiving weekend is … different
I don’t mind the idea of FSU hosting UF on Black Friday, but it still looks odd on my calendar. We don’t know yet whether USF-UCF will be on Nov. 25 or 26. If it, too, remains on Black Friday, then Miami-Pitt will be the state’s best game on the final Saturday of the regular season.
Three non-rivalry November games that excite me
1. If Napier wants to make a big impression on UF fans in Year 1, beating Fisher’s Aggies in College Station on Nov. 5 would be a great way to do it.
2. Napier’s former team, Louisiana, plays at FSU on Nov. 19. It matters for the Seminoles, of course, but an up-close look at what Napier left behind will give us another sign of what he can build in Gainesville.
3. SMU has the talent and returning production to be a top-40 team, even with a new coach (former Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee). If the Bulls are progressing the way they hope, this can be a statement game for Scott and his future.
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