If UF football gets 3 fixed SEC opponents, they shouldn't all be killers | David Whitley
Which three SEC teams are Florida’s biggest football rivals?
I’d go with Georgia, Tennessee and LSU.
Do you want to play them every year?
If you like games with drama, history, emotion and high-caliber performers, the answer is easy. If you like games that give Florida the best chance to win a national championship, it’s not so obvious.
Whatever that answer is, we didn’t get it this past week at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin. After four days of huddling, the power brokers punted on what to do about football scheduling.
They had other things on their plates, of course. But unless King Solomon reappeared to chair the meetings, nobody expected the NIL pay-for-play dilemma or the transfer portal blues to be resolved.
No decision on SEC football schedules
We did show up expecting the league might vote on what football schedules will look like when Oklahoma and Texas join in three years.
Instead, the Big Reveal got sidetracked by infighting over how many conference games should be played. The big programs wanted nine since that makes the most sense.
“The SEC should lean into competing against one another as often as possible in all sports — not just a football deal,” UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “Those are the ones the fans want to go to or watch on TV. Those are the ones the players want to play.”
Tell that to the not-so-big programs. They wanted eight league games, mainly because it would allow more leeway to schedule a Bemidji State and pad their bowl resumes.
Either proposal will be a big improvement over the divisional setup we’ve had for the past 30 years. Georgia and Texas A&M have played once in 10 years. Alabama’s trip to The Swamp last year was its first in a decade.
Now everybody will play everybody else at least every two years. But some games simply have to be played every year. An eight-game conference schedule wouldn’t allow that.
It would have one permanent rival and seven rotating opponents. That would mean Texas-Oklahoma would be played every year, but not Texas-Texas A&M?
Auburn would play Alabama every year, but not Georgia? That rivalry began shortly after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
The nine-game schedule would mean three fixed opponents and six rotating ones. It would preserve just about every rivalry worth preserving. What would that mean for the Gators?
“I don’t know enough to give you an educated answer,” UF coach Billy Napier said.
He’s had bigger worries since arriving than who the Gators will play in 2027. But assuming the SEC does the smart thing and goes with a nine-game schedule, there’s plenty of room for argument.
So who should the Florida Gators play every year?
Georgia’s a no-brainer. It’d be easier to cancel Christmas than the cocktail party in Jacksonville. From there, the most obvious rivals are Tennessee, LSU and Auburn.
Auburn’s out. If it has to play Alabama and Georgia every year, the SEC needs to give the Tigers a Vanderbilt-like reprieve in the third game.
LSU and Tennessee aren’t quite that complicated, but this is where reality meets rivalry.
Does UF really want to play Georgia, LSU and Tennessee every year?
The Bulldogs will probably be a monster until Kirby Smart retires in 25 years. Even in its down years, LSU is a royal pain for the Gators (see: 2020, 2021). Those down years are likely gone now that Brian Kelly’s in charge.
Josh Heupel has quickly revitalized Tennessee. UF has won 16 of the past 17 against Rocky Top, but nobody should expect the Gators to keep that up.
A dose of scheduling pragmatism seems to be in order here.
“Georgia, obviously, would be one that’s important to us, given the game in Jacksonville and the history there,” Stricklin said. “Other than that, I really don’t have a preference.”
Oh, he probably does. And Napier does, too.
I suspect the Gators fixed opponents would be Georgia, Tennessee and … (drumroll, please) ... South Carolina.
It would make geographic sense. There’s a Steve Spurrier connection. And it would make for a respectable slate of opponents. It’s not as thrilling as the Georgia-Tennessee-LSU troika, but let's be real.
A program can take only so much rivalrous excitement. Napier has more than enough SEC education to know that.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley