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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Napier, Richardson face gauntlet in Florida's 2022 football schedule

Matchups with Utah, LSU and Texas A&M will define the Gators’ campaign

Florida Football Coach Billy Napier arrives with his family at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for his first day on the job on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Florida Football Coach Billy Napier arrives with his family at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for his first day on the job on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.

The structure of a team’s schedule can drastically shape how fans view their team and its season.

Gator nation rode high after a 3-1 start to the 2021 season, as Florida only fell to then-No. 1 Alabama in the opening month. The hot start was a distant memory after UF lost five of its last seven games to finish the season. 

As the 2022 season edges closer, Florida looks to rebound with a schedule including top-10 opponents, the annual trip to Jacksonville and UF’s first trip to Florida State since 2018.

Head coach Billy Napier’s era at UF begins with three consecutive home games. Although the week three matchup with South Florida offers a potentially comfortable win, the opening two games of the season are anything but guaranteed wins.

The reigning Pac-12 champions, the Utah Utes, will travel more than 2,000 miles for a week-one matchup in The Swamp. Most preseason projections place Utah among the nation’s elite, and the Utes are ranked 13th in ESPN’s initial FPI rankings. The game offers an opportunity for a signature win to kick off Napier’s tenure.

Southeastern Conference play opens the next weekend against Kentucky, another likely top-25 opponent. The Wildcats threw a wrench into Florida’s season last year, as Mark Stoops’ squad dealt Florida a 20-13 defeat in Lexington, Kentucky, for the Gators’ second loss of the year.

History favors the Gators in week two — UF hasn’t lost back-to-back games to the ‘Cats since 1977 — but a confident Kentucky could prove too much yet again.

SEC play will take a back seat when the South Florida Bulls travel to Gainesville week three. Florida won the first edition of the intrastate rivalry last season, 42-20.

The Gators hit the road for the first time in week four for a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols’ suffered a blowout loss in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last season, but momentum trends upward in Rocky Top with head coach Josh Heupel after UT won three of its last four regular-season games.

Florida beat UT in 16 of the last 17 appearances; there won’t be a game circled with darker ink on Tennessee’s calendar than its date with UF.

Aside from the USF matchup, Florida’s first four games could prove daunting. The road gets no easier in the latter portion of the schedule.

Another three-game homestand awaits UF after it returns from Tennessee. The first two, against Eastern Washington and Missouri, figure to be two tallies in the “W” column for the Gators. 

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The third Saturday in October will be yet another pivotal matchup in how fans remember the 2022 season. 

The Louisiana State Tigers, led by new head coach Brian Kelly, will seek their third straight win over Florida. Both head coaches will get their first taste of the rivalry, but Napier, the former coach of Louisiana-Lafayette, has marked familiarity with the Bayou.

Halloween weekend will once again occupy the annual pilgrimage to Jacksonville for the Florida-Georgia game. Despite losing notable players on both sides of the ball, including five defensive players selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the reigning national champions will be the Gators’ toughest test all season. A UF upset win in Duval County would send shockwaves through the nation.

Florida closes the season on the road for three of its last four games. 

Texas A&M, a consensus preseason top-10 team, will be a colossal opponent for the Gators. Beyond the trip to Kyle Field, the remaining three games should all be winnable. 

A home tilt against South Carolina, an away game against Vanderbilt (which usually sends Gator fans flocking to Nashville) and a trip to Tallahassee to take on the Florida State Seminoles provides potential for UF to end the season on a roll. 

The questions surrounding Florida’s football program, combined with the competitiveness of its schedule, makes predicting a final record nearly impossible. Tons of pressure falls on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson. If the Gainesville native produces an elite campaign, and the defense takes a step forward, UF could rebound from a mediocre 2021. 

If one or both of those things don’t work out, though, Florida could be in for a rocky first trip around the SEC with Napier.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.

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Carson Cashion

Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.

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