The first week of the college football season is here, and the Florida Gators will kick off their latest campaign and fourth under head coach Dan Mullen at home against the Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday night.
Beyond the return of football season, this Saturday should be a special night as UF and stadiums across the country welcome back fans at full capacity, after a year of trimmed seating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A game against a non-Power 5 opponent usually leads to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium emptying out early, so long as Florida builds the lead it is expected, but that may not be the case on Saturday with fans pouring into The Swamp unlike they had all last year.
How large of an impact will the crowd have on the game? That has yet to be determined, but as of now, Vegas likes the Gators by a couple of scores regardless. OddsShark lists the Gators as a 23.5-point favorite over FAU with the over/under set at 52.5 points.
The AllGators staff makes its predictions for the game below. Season-long predictions records will not be against the spread, although the odds can be used for a reference point.
Zach Goodall: Florida 41, FAU 21
Yes, I have the Owls covering the spread against the Gators. No, I do not believe this will be or will feel like a close game, despite that fact.
FAU is returning some solid talent offensively and pairs that talent with Miami transfer N'Kosi Perry as the Owls' new QB1. Going against a totally retooled Florida defense that struggled immensely in 2020, I can see the Owls putting up a surprising amount of points when the game is all said and done.
That being said, there is an obvious talent gap between the Gators and Owls rosters. Even though FAU's defense also returns some playmakers, Florida's strength will always be its offense so long as Dan Mullen is the head coach. Even if FAU is able to turn a few possessions into touchdowns, new starting quarterback Emory Jones and Co. shouldn't have any issues matching scores and adding some more.
Look for Florida to establish a rushing presence early and maintain it as the offense is transitioning to a balanced, or perhaps run-heavy identity compared to a year ago. It will be important to hit the ground running against a non-conference opponent for Florida to build any rushing momentum for the year.
Demetrius Harvey: Florida 42, FAU 13
The Florida Gators are opening up its season against the Florida Atlantic Owls under the night lights at The Swamp. For the first time in over 600 days, the crowd will be in full attendance and Florida will try to take home its Week 1 matchup as it is wont to do over the years. Florida will need to establish itself early against FAU.
While the program doesn't have the pedigree of a Power 5 opponent, there's always a chance the Owls could come out swinging, catching Florida off guard. I don't believe that will happen, however, and we won't see a repeat of its matchup years ago in overtime. The Gators will be able to easily find a rhythm, executing on all cylinders on offense. While it may start off a little sluggish, Florida's ground game will be the major reason it will have success against the Owls.
Defensively, I expect Florida to give up a touchdown or two either early on or during garbage time later in the contest. The team's pass rush should be able to handle a middling Florida Atlantic offensive line, and the Gators will hope to fine-tune some of its lineups in order to get ready for the weeks to come.
Brandon Carroll: Florida 45, FAU 13
With questions swirling around the new-look Gators offense, UF has an opportunity to establish some expectations for their season with an efficient performance. While the unit may experience some growing pains in the early portions of the contest — especially upfront — the pace of scoring quickens in the second quarter with Emory Jones showcasing his playmaking ability both through the air and on the ground. From there, an onslaught of points begins to rain in.
Defensively, the Gators hold the Owls to just two field goals when it matters but concedes a garbage-time touchdown that allows them to eclipse the double-digit mark on the evening. However, the defense stakes their claim that last year was a fluke and 2021 provides brighter days.
Ultimately, the Gators accomplish their goal of a securing lopsided win and provide comfort to onlookers in the fashion that they do so. Florida will cruise to a swift victory over the in-state visitors.
Ethan Budowsky: Florida 48, FAU 17
I am more worried about how the Gators look than what the score is this week. I know the Gators should put up a big score against Florida Atlantic, and everybody will feel better if they do, but my bigger concern will be how Emory Jones handles the offense.
I want to see Jones move the ball effectively through the air and put together a mix of long and efficient drives. I also want to see if the defense can keep FAU to a low score, because early on last year the defense was cut apart early. Nevertheless, I think the running game shines and Jones does enough through the air in a simple offense to put up a big number on the Owls. Dan Mullen is never going to show a ton of his offense early.
This will be no UT-Martin-like score, but I think the Gators will win by at least three possession. Chalk Jacob Copeland and Nay'Quan Wright up for a touchdown apiece.
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