College football prediction: Billy Napier's gambling style will pay off for Florida Gators

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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There’s one good thing about Hurricane Ian interrupting our lives this week. It took people’s minds off Billy Napier’s math skills.

That was Hot Topic No. 1 in the aftermath of Florida football's 38-33 loss to Tennessee. After scoring a touchdown that cut the Volunteers’ lead to 11 points with 4:55 left, conventional football math wisdom dictated UF kick the extra point.

Cut it 10, so a TD and field goal would get the Gators into overtime.

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Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier coaches from the sidelines in the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, on Sept. 17, 2022.

Napier opted for a two-point conversion. It capped a day of risky calls and supposedly put Gator Nation’s team in a hopeless bind.


If not for Napier’s rambling, gambling approach, the Gators wouldn’t have been within hollering distance of Tennessee late in the game.

He went for it six times on fourth downs. I love a coach who isn’t afraid of taking risks — as long as he knows what he’s doing.

“This is one of those paths you go down where a lot of people don’t understand,” Napier said. “But we’re going to base our decision-making off of research and evidence and true facts and numbers.”

In other words, “analytics.”

I initially hated the concept of statistical probabilities determining sports strategy. Then again, I failed algebra I.

By now, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to realize analytics work. In this case, dozens of variables said an aggressive approach was the best way to beat Tennessee. They also said that if the game went to overtime, the Vols would win.

Seeing how Tennessee didn’t punt all day, playing for the win in regulation made sense. It also made for a lot of second-guessing this week.

Fear not, Guesser Nation. Napier’s math skills are just fine.

We can’t say the same about Florida’s defense, but the high-risk/high-reward approach is not a problem. It’s part of the solution.

“It’s helped us win a lot of games in the past,” Napier said. “I think it’s going to help us win a lot of games in the future.”

That’s one prediction I predict will be right. And I’ve been shockingly not terrible at this stuff lately. Last week’s tally was 7-3, and I’m 28-12 overall. The National Weather Service now predicts a 10-0 week is about to make landfall.

College football game predictions

(Games Saturday unless noted)

Eastern Washington at Florida (Noon Sunday, SEC+): I predict this one will not come down to two-point conversions. If it does, get ready for a lot of “Black Sunday” headlines about a certain team. Florida 47-13

Alabama at Arkansas (3:30, CBS): The Hogs lost last week, but unlike the previous game, none of their fans tried to bite anyone’s nose off. This may be like predicting a hurricane will hit Omaha, but I have a sneaky feeling we’ll be seeing “Hog Heaven” headlines come Sunday. Upset Special — Arkansas 24-21

SMU at UCF (1 p.m., Sun.): Ian forced this game to a Sunday slot. Knowing UCF, expect headlines like “Knights Remain Unbeaten During NFL Action, Declare Themselves National Champs of Sunday Football.” UCF 29-19

Georgia at Missouri (7:30, SEC Network): Kirby Smart reportedly bit off the noses of six defensive starters after the Bulldogs gave up 22 points to Kent State last week. That’s about 23 more than the Tigers will manage. Georgia 36 to Minus-1                 

Clarification: I know Stephen Hawking is dead. So is Bryan Harsin’s coaching career at Auburn, but we still refer to it in the present tense.

LSU at Auburn (7 p.m., ESPN): See above. LSU 31-20

Kentucky at Ole Miss (Noon, ESPN): My crack research staff of Hawking wannabes informed me the Rebels are 15-3 under Lane Kiffin when they score 30 or more points. It also informed me that the Wildcats are unbeaten under Mark Stoops when they score one point or more than their opponent. Kentucky 30-29

Bonus Pick: Miami vs. Open Week: Based on last week’s performance against Middle Tennessee State, I expect Open Week to throw at least two 80-yard TD passes. But the ‘Canes will rally and get their season back on track. Miami 35-34

Stephen Hawking Trivia: He attended Oxford, which has won as many SEC championships as Vanderbilt.                 

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (4 p.m., SEC): Did you know that about one-third of America’s broadcast meteorologists went to Mississippi State? All of them put on their slickers and predicted Ian would bring rain to Florida. I’m no Jim Cantore, but I know the Aggies have trouble moving the ball against a stiff wind. Mississippi State 24-16

North Carolina State at Clemson (7:30 p.m., ABC): Dabo Swinney says quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has “his mojo back” after last year’s 12-game rough patch. N.C. State has been mojo-ing pretty well itself, but I can’t see it winning a second straight game against the Tigers. Clemson 27-17

Jim Cantore Trivia: He attended Lyndon State College in Vermont, which also has won as many SEC championships as Vandy.

Iowa State at Kansas (3:30 p.m., ESPN2): The Jayhawks are an astounding 4-0. Coach Lance Leipold is being mentioned for every potential job opening this side of the Vatican. So is Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. This game might decide who gets offered the Nebraska job. Despite that, expect both coaches to try to win. Iowa State 24-22

Wake Forest at FSU (3:30 p.m., ABC): The Seminoles did not move their game to Sunday, sparking conspiracy theories they prefer a slip-‘n-slide field to slow down Wake’s passing game. FSU Athletic Director Michael Alford denied the accusation but refused to answer why the sprinklers at Doak Campbell Stadium have been on since last Wednesday. Wake Forest 28-20

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.

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