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Florida Facing Steep Climbs in Early Season

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It’s hard to find much fault with the Florida Gators opening game of the season. The defense pitched a shutout for three quarters and the Gators built a 28-0 lead that was never seriously in question against a respectable FAU team. Florida jumped two spots to #9 in the Coaches Poll and held at #13 in the AP Poll.

But take a look at the updated SEC championship odds and you would think UF stumbled out of the blocks. Hovering around +1550 before Week 1, according to the SEC title odds at SportsBettingDime.com, the Gators are now +1800 at DraftKings, and it’s through no fault of their own.

Arch-rival Georgia posted the best win of the young season, beating Clemson in a de facto road game in North Carolina, 10-3. The Bulldogs moved to #2 in the AP Poll and Coaches Poll, behind reigning national champion Alabama, garnering some first-place votes in both.

Speaking of the Tide, who are always looming in the potential SEC title game, Nick Saban’s squad looked every bit as dominant as the team that ran the table last year, despite losing starting QB Mac Jones, Heisman-winner Devonta Smith, and a plethora of other NFL-caliber talent.

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Alabama rolled to a 44-13 win over then-#14 Miami, building a 41-3 lead halfway through the third quarter. New starter Bryce Young went 27-38 for 344 yards and four TDs, immediately jumping to the top of the Heisman odds.

Dan Mullen and company will spend Week 2 in Tampa visiting the South Florida Bulls (0-1) as 28.5-point favorites. (The Bulls didn’t score a point in Week 1, getting blanked 45-0 by NC State.) But after that, it’s right into the fire of the SEC for the Gators, starting with the top-ranked Tide in Week 3 (Sep. 18).

One of the major concerns for Mullen at this point has to be QB Emory Jones, at least as far as his passing prowess. While he’s been on the roster since 2018, he had attempted fewer than 100 passes combined in his first three seasons as a Gator. Against FAU, he was only 17-27 for 113 yards, one TD, and two picks. He’s always a threat with his legs, but running on Alabama is a tall order. They held D’Eriq King – another dual-threat QB – and his Hurricanes to just 87 total yards on the ground on 31 carries (2.8 YPC).

Jones is also working with a receiving corps that was absolutely decimated after last season. The top-three pass catchers from 2020 are gone (Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, and Trevon Grimes). The top returnee is six-foot junior Jacob Copeland, who had just one catch for 15 yards in the opener.

Losing to Alabama in two weeks’ time won’t mean the end of the season for the Gators, just as pulling an improbable upset won’t mean booking a ticket to the College Football Playoff. But it’s clear that their SEC title odds are going to take a big swing in one direction or the other after the Tide comes to Gainesville. Florida will either establish itself as a true challenger to Alabama and Georgia or be viewed as a future also-ran in the toughest conference in the nation.