Nothing signals the end of summer quite like the beginning of college
football. As Orlando’s Camping World Stadium prepares to host the 2019 College Football Kickoff between the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes, Central Florida Lifestyle previews the state’s most prolific programs and what you can expect from each this season.
FLORIDA GATORS – AP Ranking, #7
Dan Mullen enters his second season in Gainesville having already raised the expectation level. Last season’s return to 10-win form, followed by the signing of a top 10 recruiting class and a top 10 preseason ranking has Gator fans anticipating one hell of an encore in 2019. Mullen will also benefit from the return of many of his highest-caliber offensive weapons from a season ago — perhaps no more notable than redshirt junior quarterback, Felipe Franks. As familiar as Franks is expected to be in year two under Mullen, he’ll be even more familiar with this season’s top receiving targets Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond and Trevon Grimes — all of which played a pivotal role in helping Franks’ development last season.
As has been the case in recent years, the Gators will lean heavily on an experienced defense that boasts some of the nation’s top cornerbacks in C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson. Joining them to fill the void left by last year’s defensive leader, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, is none other than Brad Stewart. Where have you heard that name before? It was Stewart’s game-clinching interception returned for a touchdown last year against LSU that provided the momentum needed to return some swagger back to the Swamp and the Gators back into the national spotlight.
Sat, August 24, #21 Miami (at Camping World Stadium – Orlando)
Sat, September 7, UT Martin
Sat, September 14, at Kentucky
Sat, September 21, Tennessee
Sat, September 28, Towson
Sat, October 5, #14 Auburn
Sat, October 12, at #4 LSU
Sat, October 19, at South Carolina
Sat, November 2, #3 Georgia (at TIAA Bank Field – Jacksonville)
Sat, November 9, Vanderbilt
Sat, November 16, at Missouri
Sat, November 30, Florida State
8 wins, 4 losses — It seems almost unfathomable that a team returning as much talent as the Gators are to finish the 2019 regular season with one less win than last year. However, in at least two cases, the Gators must go on the road seeking revenge from teams who left Gainesville with victories last season. The SEC West rotation delivers an always difficult Auburn team at a time on the schedule that almost seems like a must-win if the Gators want to remain part of the National Championship conversation before entering the meat of their schedule with visits to Baton Rouge and Jacksonville.
UCF Knights – AP Ranking, #19
For as much change as UCF has endured over their two-year run of undefeated regular seasons, with just a single loss overall, more changes are ahead for the Knights as they enter 2019. Quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. appeared to be the front runner to fill the void left from McKenzie Milton’s gruesome leg injury; however, a broken ankle of his own has once again turned the position into a giant question mark as the season draws closer. The quarterback job now figures to be a three-man race between senior Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, redshirt freshman and Jones High School graduate, Quadry Jones, and freshman, Dillon Gabriel.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will certainly reap the benefits of the Knights returning many of their top play makers from the last few seasons. Running backs Adrian Killins Jr. and Greg McCrae, who combined for nearly 1,900 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last season, look to carry the #UCFast tradition through a schedule that once again appears manageable. Junior wide receivers Gabriel Davis and Tre Nixon will once again be the main targets in the passing game, regardless of who is throwing it their direction.
If the run of perfect regular season records were to be jeopardized by any area on the field, it will be along the defensive line. Head coach Josh Heupel exhausted much of his recruiting efforts focusing on that area, where attrition was the main contributor to the problem. Heupel added three transfers and five incoming freshmen to replace the depletion.
Thu, August 29, Florida A&M
Sat, September 7, at Florida Atlantic
Sat, September 14, Stanford
Sat, September 21, at Pittsburgh
Sat, September 28, UCONN
Fri, October 4, at Cincinnati
Sat, October 19, East Carolina
Sat, October 26, at Temple
Sat, November 2, Houston
Sat, November 8, at Tulsa
Sat, November 23, at Tulane
Fri, November 29, South Florida
9 wins, 3 losses — Undefeated regular seasons are extremely difficult in college football. Much less, three consecutive. The odds of the Knights achieving that feat are almost incalculable, although the schedule once again makes it seem plausible. Stanford should provide the season’s first true test and even if the Knights are able to outduel the Pac-12 power, answering the bell the following week at Pittsburgh could become that much more difficult. Remaining the highest-ranked non-power five team will certainly be the expectation, but achieving that goal will prove to be much harder than the prior two seasons.
MIAMI HURRICANES – AP Ranking, #21
No one around the state has experienced as much change in the eight-month off-season than the Miami Hurricanes. Just days removed from their egregious 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl, former head coach Mark Richt decided retiring was easier than rebuilding his alma mater back to national prominence. News of his retirement not only shocked the entire college football landscape but set up for one of the more awkward replacement hires in history. Former Hurricanes defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, who had taken the head coaching position at Temple just 18 days prior to Richt’s announcement, was hired back by Miami almost immediately. Diaz remained on staff through the Hurricanes bowl game and was technically only Temple’s head coach for a total of three days.
Much like last season, the Hurricanes could find themselves in a quarterback battle right up to the first snap in Orlando. Sophomore N’Kosi Perry returns with the most experience, while Ohio State sophomore transfer, Tate Martell, could also win the starting job. With just a handful of upperclassmen at offensive skill positions, the Hurricanes’ lack of experience won’t be much different than their lack of experience on the sidelines. Defensively, the Hurricanes are loaded with experienced upperclassmen who will once again be relied upon heavily to keep them in close games while the offense continues to be a work in progress.
Sat, August 24, #7 Florida (at Camping World Stadium – Orlando)
Sat, September 7, at North Carolina
Sat, September 14, Bethune-Cookman
Sat, September 21, Central Michigan
Sat, October 5, Virginia Tech
Fri, October 11, Virginia
Sat, October 19, Georgia Tech
Sat, October 26, at Pittsburgh
Sat, November 2, at Florida State
Sat, November 9, Louisville
Sat, November 23, at Florida International
Sat, November 30, at Duke
8 wins, 4 losses — With just one ranked opponent on the schedule, Diaz and the Hurricanes could appear to be on the rebound from Richt quickly. Their performance on the road in the in-state rivalry games will set the tone for expectations going forward under the new regime. Holding serve in five consecutive home games from early September to late October will go a long way in determining what to expect down the stretch as the Hurricanes close the regular season with four of their final five games on the road.
FLORIDA STATE – Unranked
Willie Taggart enters his second season in Tallahassee on the proverbial hotseat. Last season’s abysmal outcome, albeit due to a plethora of issues, was downright embarrassing for a program with such national prowess. The issues along the offensive line were the main cause, but much of Florida State’s offseason was spent stockpiling able bodies to avoid the same thing from happening this season. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell and offensive line coach Greg Frey were relieved of their duties and replaced with Kendal Briles and Randy Clements. Quarterback Deondre Francois was finally dismissed from the team after Tallahassee Police were showing up at his door nearly as often as opposing defensive lineman were in his backfield last season. Sophomore James Blackman is expected to take over under center, with Wisconsin graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook as his backup. Last season’s leading rusher, junior Cam Akers, will lead a young group of talented running backs for the Seminoles while Tamorrion Terry, D.J. Matthews and Keith Gavin will lead the receiving corp.
Defensively, the Seminoles will field a young group who comes with experience at nearly every position. Linebacker Dontavious Jackson and nickelback Hamsah Nasirildeen should anchor the center of a defense who will have to provide more pressure on opposing offenses than they were able to a season ago. With cornerbacks Stanford Samuels III and Akeem Dent on the outside, opposing quarterbacks may not find as many opportunities to break big plays as there were in 2018.
Sat, August 31, #25 Boise State (at TIAA Bank Stadium – Jacksonville)
Sat, September 7, Louisiana-Monroe
Sat, September 14, at Virginia
Sat, September 21, Louisville
Sat, September 28, N.C. State
Sat, October 12, at #1 Clemson
Sat, October 19, at Wake Forest
Sat, October 26, Syracuse
Sat, November 2, #21 Miami
Sat, November 9, at Boston College
Sat, November 16, Alabama State
Sat, November 30, at #7 Florida
7 wins, 5 losses – It may not be what the Seminoles are used to, but it should be an improvement none the less for Taggart and company. With just two opponents in the preseason top 20, the Seminoles should be able to take advantage of an extremely favorable home schedule and could factor in the ACC’s Atlantic Coast Division throughout much of the season. Getting the season off on the right foot against Boise State could have the Seminoles return to relevancy quicker than many are expecting.