Breaking down UF’s football schedule

Aug. 31, at Utah, 8 p.m., ESPN

The buzz: The Gators stunned Utah in the Swamp to open the Billy Napier Era. The Utes will be ready to avenge the loss in one of the sport’s most scenic and underrated environments. The reigning Pac-12 champions’ jump to the Big 12 creates an unique dynamic, but expect Kyle Whittingham’s squad to be undistracted.

Sept. 9, vs. McNeese State, 7:30, ESPNU

The buzz: The Gators will use a breather against an FCS foe to either regroup or build momentum. The Cowboys won their final three games to finish 4-7 during coach Gary Goff’s debut season, but will be severe underdogs overmatched at every position.

Sept. 16, vs Tennessee, 7, ESPN

The buzz: UF’s 38-33 loss last season in Knoxville was only its second in the series since 2004. To maintain their grip on the rivalry, the Gators must contain former UCF coach Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense with an unproven, rebuilding defense.

Sept. 23, vs. Charlotte, 7, SEC Network

The buzz: Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill, a longtime UF associate AD, brings his 49ers to his ol’ stomping grounds for a big payday ($1.55 million) and a likely beatdown for first-year coach Biff Poggi’s squad. Charlotte was 3-9 and allowed an average of more than 39 points in 2022. This will be the final respite on one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with UF’s opponents going 96-60 (61.5%) in 2022.

Sept. 30, at Kentucky, TBD

The buzz: UF’s streak of 31 straight wins ended in 2018, the first of three losses in five meetings with the Wildcats. The Gators’ 26-16 home loss a week after the Utah win was a reality check for Napier’s program and a reminder a series once an afterthought has become a dogfight.

Oct. 7, vs. Vanderbilt (Homecoming), TBD

The buzz: Unlike their series with Kentucky, the Gators’ dominance of Vandy rarely wavers, making last year’s 31-24 loss at Vanderbilt the low point. UF has not lost consecutive games to the Commodores since 1958-59 under Bob Woodruff — or 10 head coaches ago.

Oct. 14, at South Carolina, TBD

The buzz: The last visit to Columbia ended in a 40-17 defeat that doomed Dan Mullen and served as Shane Beamer’s first big win. The Gamecocks’ 38-6 road loss last November was their low point and arguably the Gators’ top performance. Many feel South Carolina’s program is ahead of UF’s, providing Napier’s troops plenty of motivation.

Oct. 28, vs. Georgia (Jacksonville), 3:30, CBS

The buzz: The Bulldogs are two-time defending national champions and the program everyone is chasing. The gap has grown considerably with the Gators. UF has lost five of the past six meetings by an average of 22 points, including a 42-20 decision in October — the first for Napier, a Georgia native, during the series.

Nov. 4, vs. Arkansas, TBD

The buzz: Napier aims to field a physical team and rely on the run game. The blueprint has keyed the Razorbacks’ rise from West division doormats during Sam Pittman’s three seasons. The approach was ineffective during a 63-35 loss to Kyle Trask and Co. in 2020. Expect a old-fashioned SEC slugfest this time in the Swamp.

Nov. 11, at LSU, TBD

The buzz: The SEC’s best crossover game between East and West has been decided by an average of six in eight meetings before 2022. LSU was in command most of last season’s 45-35 decision in the Swamp. A visit to Tiger Stadium to face electric quarterback Jayden Daniels shapes up to be the Gators’ toughest true road game.

Nov. 18, at Missouri, TBD

The buzz: The Gators have no-showed in the Show Me state all too often since the Mizzou’s 2012 SEC arrival. A November chill could arrive late during a challenging season unless the Gators defy oddsmakers’ predictions. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s Tigers, picked sixth in the East behind UF, could be in the same boat.

Nov. 25, vs. Florida State, TBD

The buzz: In 2022, the Seminoles’ 45-38 win on Black Friday was the highest-scoring contest during a rivalry dating to 1958 and ended the Gators’ three-game win streak in the series. Coach Mike Norvell has a two-year headstart on Napier, who needs to close the gap with rivals after going 0-4 against FSU, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at