Florida football got off to a tremendous start to the Billy Napier era in Week 1 with an upset of the Utah Utes at home that catapulted it into the top 20 of both major polls. On top of that, there are even others who see the Gators as a top-10 team after the season-opening victory.
However, things do not get any easier as Florida kicks off its Southeastern Conference schedule this weekend against the Kentucky Wildcats, who are also ranked in the top 20 (No. 20 in both the AP and Coaches polls). Once proud owners of a 31-game winning streak over the Bluegrass State boys, the Gators have split the last four meetings including a loss in Lexington last season that helped start Dan Mullen’s decline.
The Gators Wire roundtable was assembled to give their respective takes Napier’s first game in the SEC gauntlet, including our composite result comprising of each person’s predictions. Take a look below at what the five of us had to say about Week 2’s matchup.
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
The Gators are coming off a historic win over to open the season and emotions are flying high in Gainesville. Billy Napier made good on his first Power Five appearance as a head coach and proved the critics and the bookmakers wrong with Florida’s 29-26 victory.
Kentucky poses a much more formidable opponent despite where the two respective teams sit in the rankings. SEC football is an entirely different ball of wax from what they play out on the west coast.
While the ‘Cats will be a tougher matchup for UF — after all, they have won two of the past four meetings, including one in Gainesville — the team is still riding a tsunami of confidence into Week 2 and will have a raucous crowd behind them in the Swamp.
Florida 33, Kentucky 27
David Rosenberg - Assistant Editor
After beating Utah in week one, Billy Napier instructed his team to enjoy the victory but remain humble. Kentucky is ranked No. 20 in the land, according to the AP Poll, and they’ve split the series with UF over the last four years after losing 31 straight. It’s tempting to predict a Gators victory this week with the Wildcats being down their top running back due to team-imposed suspension, though.
Back-to-back wins in the series might be tough for Kentucky to manage without Wan’Dale Robinson, too. He did the bulk of Kentucky’s damage against Florida last year, bringing in four receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown. Tayvion Robinson has replaced him as the team’s top pass catcher, but the ‘Cats won’t have many weapons to turn to with Rodriguez out.
[autotag]Anthony Richardson[/autotag] could be in for another big week. Before the season, he was spotted with a poster that listed the “Top 4 Quarterbacks in the SEC.” Kentucky’s Will Levis made the cut but Richardson did not. If that’s not fuel for the fire, I’m not sure what is. If Richardson is at his best and Florida limits the penalties and mistakes — something tells me Montrell Johnson won’t be fumbling on his first carry this week — then Florida should be able to come out with a win over a ranked team for the second-straight week.
Florida 31, Kentucky 20
Pat Dooley - Staff Writer
The SEC now has a better sample size of what Anthony Richardson can do and it will be interesting to see how Billy Napier schemes it up. Kentucky may not be as good as last year’s 10-win season because of the suspensions, injuries and a new offensive line, but expect a game like last week that will fly by because both teams want to run it.
Florida 30, Kentucky 24
Sergio de la Espriella - Staff Writer
What a difference a week makes, huh?
The Billy Napier era got off to its best possible start. An electric home win against a top 10 team, the Gainesville-native quarterback fulfilling the prophecy of the No. 15 jersey, a game-clinching interception in the red zone. You couldn’t write a better start to the season.
Now comes the hard part. How do the Gators keep maintain their calm and not let the excitement of the moment catch them slipping against Kentucky? Under previous regimes, that might be a problem. Under Billy Napier, however, that doesn’t seem to be as much of a concern.
Kentucky is always a game where both teams realize the importance of getting the conference slate off on the right foot. Unfortunately for Mike Stoops, there are issues (suspensions or injuries) to the Kentucky RB room. Pair that with the offensive line not being as good as its been in previous season and Kentucky’s “ground and pound” identity takes a hit.
I think Florida is able to build upon the good that came from the Utah game and takes advantage of Kentucky’s offensive handicaps in this game. Will Levis may be an NFL prospect, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to throw all over a Florida secondary that held its own last week. If the self-inflicted mistakes can be limited, I can see the Gators winning this one in the second half.
Florida 28 Kentucky 17
Tyler Nettuno - Gators Wire alumnus
Florida’s performance in the win over Utah was far from flawless, but it was impressive nonetheless. The defense came up with some huge stops when needed against one of the more physical, ground-and-pound teams it will face all season, and Anthony Richardson showed how much of a game-changer he has the potential to be.
This week presents a fairly different challenge. Kentucky’s offensive line is definitely a step down from Utah’s, and its run game is likely to suffer with Chris Rodriguez suspended. UK likes to air it out with potential early round quarterback Will Levis, and the secondary will be tested in a way it wasn’t last week.
I’m obviously a lot more optimistic in my season outlook for this team than I was before Week 1. Take care of business on Saturday, and Napier could be putting something pretty special together in his first season. I think that will happen, but it’s going to be a close game, and I expect the Gators to give up some points.
Florida 35, Kentucky 31
Editor’s note: Tyler is also the managing editor of LSU Tigers Wire
In an about-face from last week’s predictions, the Gators Wire roundtable was unanimously in favor of a Florida win this time around. The confidence built up after the Utah win last weekend plus the rash of suspensions and injuries that Kentucky faces has us very optimistic about the Gators’ chances at home in Week 2.
The group’s narrowest prediction was a four-point win while the largest margin of victory was 11 points — which two of our respondents called for. The composite results in a one-touchdown victory for the Orange and Blue.
Florida 31, Kentucky 24
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