After a marquee opening weekend in Florida college football, Week 2 looks like a letdown. Two state teams, USF and the Gators, play competition from a lower division, while No. 4 Florida State has its home opener against a mid-major, Southern Miss.
But there will be plenty of things to watch and take away from Saturday.
The intrigue begins in Gainesville, where Florida hosts a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team, McNeese. It’s a chance for the Gators to rebound after two consecutive rough showings.
The first came in the blowout bowl loss to Oregon State in a performance ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he had the misfortune of covering.
“It was just body language, the buy-in,” Herbstreit said. “I don’t care if we’re playing with all walk-ons, you still need to go with an attitude. You still need to show up prepared and ready to go. They definitely failed to do that in that bowl game in Las Vegas.”
The effort was solid at Utah, but the result was a two-score loss that featured three false starts, two illegal formations and one play with two No. 3s on the field at the same time.
“Man, Florida’s a bit of a mystery for me right now,” Herbstreit said. “I had much higher expectations than what I saw in that opening week.”
So did the fan base, which is why Week 2 has so much pressure for second-year coach Billy Napier and his staff. Saturday’s outcome should not be in doubt — if it is, then Florida has much bigger problems than a lineman jumping early — but style points matter. The Gators need to show their last two games aren’t indicative of where they’re headed as they prepare for next week’s rivalry showdown with No. 9 Tennessee.
“We look forward to getting this taste out of our mouth,” Napier said, “and this weekend presents that opportunity.”
It’s also an opportunity for USF to reach two notable milestones: the first win under new coach Alex Golesh and the end of the longest losing streak in program history (11 games).
Though Golesh was clear that he took no moral victories from a Week 1 loss at Western Kentucky, his Bulls acquitted themselves well against one of the top mid-major teams in the country. USF’s improved defense allowed only 6.37 yards per play — better than any performance against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent last season.
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Florida A&M provides an opportunity for more progress. The Rattlers have won 10 games in a row since losing to Deion Sanders’ Jackson State team last year, but they, like McNeese, are an FCS program with fewer scholarships to offer. Golesh is treating FAMU like any other opponent, and he expects his Bulls to do the same.
“If anything, you’re probably a little bit tougher on them,” Golesh said, “knowing that, hey, like, who are we to take anybody for granted?”
FSU, however, could. The Seminoles are the talk of college football after trouncing LSU at Camping World Stadium. FSU went from having the eighth-best national title odds in the country a week ago (plus-1,800) to fifth-best (plus-1,000), behind only Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State, according to BetMGM.
Facing Southern Miss at home has the potential to be a letdown spot for Mike Norvell’s team. He indirectly addressed that possibility immediately after the biggest win of his career and the Seminoles’ best game in a decade.
“There’s a lot of things that we are going to have to clean up after …” Norvell said. “Obviously there’s excitement in the locker room, but that’s one game and it was a first step and it was a big step. You get a chance to be on this stage, you want to go play well.”
FSU did it in Week 1. Now the ‘Noles will have to do it again to extend their winning streak to an ACC-best eight games.
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