GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After months of anticipation and waiting, college football is finally here.
To help you ring in the season, SEC Country has launched a daily Florida podcast that kicked off this week. You can listen to the first edition here.
Three SEC teams open their season Thursday, and the No. 25 Florida Gators take the field Saturday night for the first time on Steve Spurrier-Florida Field.
As many as 12 true freshmen will play against UMass, which will be a great look for UF coach Jim McElwain on the recruiting front.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
How confident should Gator fans be about Elijah Blades’ commitment? Love his size and athleticism, but California is far away.
After his play the last two weeks, I’m not surprised to see fans worrying about keeping Blades. The 4-star cornerback has put together back-to-back performances to start his senior season, scoring a pair of touchdowns in each of his two outings.
Blades will obviously play defense in college, but he’s a gifted athlete with elite speed that could be dangerous in the return game for Florida. As of now, I believe that’s the college he’ll attend.
Despite being from Los Angeles, Blades actually grew up rooting for the Gators because of Tim Tebow and those national championship teams. He called UF his dream school and appears to be a solid pledge.
When that commitment happened, Blades said he still wanted to take official visits this fall. I get the sense he’s one of those recruits who just wants to take free trips and enjoy that part of the process.
If any school could flip him, it would be Southern Cal. That’s an appealing program to any California prospect, but I think Florida holds more weight for Blades.
What’s the latest with defensive end Jarez Parks?
Parks is one of the top overall targets remaining for Florida. The 4-star defensive end from Sebastian, Fla., listed UF as his leader early on in his recruitment, but he’s no longer claiming a favorite.
He visited several schools in July including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Florida State, but didn’t make it to Florida. Alabama has emerged as the biggest threat to the in-state Gators.
But McElwain and defensive line coach Chris Rumph will get him back on campus for an official visit and possibly a game as well. I expect his decision to come down to Florida, FSU and the Crimson Tide.
Would you say Saturday is a huge day and advantage for Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond, due to the suspensions and injuries at WR?
The suspensions are no doubt disappointing for McElwain, but he might benefit from only having six scholarship receivers available for the UMass.
He has senior Ahmad Fulwood and his top three wideouts in Antonio Callaway, Dre Massey and Brandon Powell, so there’s enough experience and talent to get by against an opponent such as UMass.
That being said, there still needs to be a rotation and that’s where Hammond and Swain step in. They were going to play in the first game regardless, but now they’ll see a ton of action with the lack of depth.
Swain should make some noise in the slot, while Hammond does damage on the outside. The amount of snaps they get Saturday may be the most they receive all season, and it should pay dividends for them.
Based on what I’ve seen and heard, should the other backs be worried about Lamical Perine? He looks like a beast in the making.
Florida assistant Tim Skipper made it clear Wednesday that the Gators will have a running back by committee to start the season.
All five guys are going to touch the ball against UMass, and what they do with their carries will determine the rotation moving forward. So the other backs need to worry about themselves before getting concerned about Perine.
The best ball carrier will play, whether it be a redshirt senior or true freshman. Skipper will go with the hot hand, and it sounds like Perine has had it at times during practice.
Skipper revealed that Perine has ran with the first-team offense and may do so in a game.
“For the last two weeks he’s taken reps with the 1’s here and there,” Skipper said. “So it’s not going to be an issue what line he’s with. … He’s done that in practice, so it won’t be a culture shock to him.”
And yes, Perine has beast written all over him. Skipper said they liked his physicality and power out of high school, and he hits the hole hard.
“We recruited him for a reason. I’m very pleased with him,” Skipper said. “He attacks the day. He’s not afraid to go in there.”
Worst and best case scenarios for Florida this season? And a game the Gators must win?
Last week I predicted UF to finish 10-2 or 9-3 in 2016.
I think the worst-case scenario would be a 7-5 record for the Gators. That could happen by falling to their three rivals and on the road at Arkansas and FSU. Those teams will be challenging, but Florida has too much talent to lose five games.
I don’t expect the Gators win more than 10 games this season, but 11-1 is probably their best-case scenario. An undefeated record just isn’t happening with the ’Noles on the schedule, but they could win their toss-up games with Tennessee and LSU.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.