For an SEC team facing three schools that played in BCS Bowls last year, Florida's schedule is surprisingly manageable.
August 30: Hawaii
September 6: Miami (Fl.)
September 20: at Tennessee
September 27: Ole Miss
October 4: at Arkansas
October 11: LSU
October 25: Kentucky
November 1: Georgia (in Jacksonville)
November 8: at Vanderbilt
November 15: South Carolina
November 22: The Citadel
November 29: at Florida State
Of Florida's four true road games, only one comes against a ranked opponent: Tennessee on September 20. The other three include a trip to Arkansas, where Bobby Petrino takes over a Razorbacks team that lost all of its offensive weapons and looks to rely on Casey Dick to quarterback the depleted unit. Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt: they'll give it the old college try and then they'll lose. FSU is a bad team. They might have a winning record because of the weakness of their out of conference schedule and the ACC, but they're a bad team. Tallahassee hasn't been a pleasant place for the Gators over the years, but that curse was broken in 2004 and decisively buried in 2006.
Speaking of bad teams, Miami's coming to town for the first time since 2002. The game will renew a rivalry whose latest chapter was written in 2004 and which took a decade-long break in the 90's. The Hurricanes went 5-7 last year. They'll be better in 2008, but they're relying in large part on the talent Randy Shannon brought in this past signing day. That group might one day form the core of a Miami resurgence. But as true freshmen, they're going to get handled with relative ease in Gainesville.
The remaining tough games on the schedule either come at home or on neutral turf. Ole Miss is getting a lot of play as a darkhorse, what with Jevan Snead and a new, competent coach to reap the benefits of Ed Orgeron's recruiting. But while Snead was a superstud in high school, he hasn't actually proven anything in college, so it's probably premature to fear him. If the game was later in the season and in Oxford, I would be more worried. But it's the fourth game of the season and it's in Gainesville. I'm not worried.
LSU will be tough, because LSU is always tough. Talent abounds in Baton Rouge. But the game's in The Swamp, and I refuse to tremble at the thought of Florida facing an LSU team quarterbacked by a transfer from Harvard's JV squad.
Ultimately, the climax of the season will come on November 1. In fact, Florida's year is essentially a three game season: at Tennessee, LSU and Georgia in Jacksonville. If the Gators win all three of those games, they're set up for an epic run to a national championship. 2-1 puts them in a great position for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. 1-2 and UF is looking at a bitterly disappointing 10-2 year. 0-3 and things get very hot for Urban Meyer.
A lot of the season is going to come down to injuries. It was announced today that Brandon Spikes, who I labeled an irreplaceable part of the team, is fighting a nagging foot injury. His status for the opener is in question, though Meyer doesn't seem to think the injury will cripple Spikes. Percy Harvin's too explosive a playmaker, too electrifying and dynamic a presence, to lose for a large chunk of the season without it having a massive effect on the offense. If he's in there for 10 or 11 games at full speed, Florida's offense could be something special. If he misses five or six games, or if his heel slows him when he does play, that offense becomes merely good.
And that's an important distinction. The quality of UF's season is going to be directly related to the quality of UF's offense. Considering how the defensive secondary and line played last year, all Meyer can ask for out of his defense is an average performance. If the defense is average, that puts the onus on the offense to carry the load. A special offense= a special season. It's a linear situation. Whatever adjective describes the offense will, by the end of the season, also likely describe the team as a whole.