UF at Ole Miss pregame notebook

Staff and wire reports

Florida looks to get coach Dan Mullen’s third season, the most anticipated one yet, off to a good start in Oxford, Mississippi (noon today on ESPN).

The Gators have hopes of competing for the Southeastern Conference title. This is the first time since 1987 that Florida begins its season with a true road game. Florida’s title chase begins today in Oxford, part of a retooled SEC schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rebels are trying to get coach Lane Kiffin a program-changing upset in his debut. Ole Miss leads the series 12-11-1.

Some other notes:

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Florida: The Kyle to Kyle connection. TE Kyle Pitts will be one of QB Kyle Trask’s favorite targets. Pitts had 54 receptions for 649 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019 while sharing the ball with future NFL WRs Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond and Tyrie Cleveland.

Ole Miss: QB Matt Corral is expected to get the start in Kiffin’s debut, with Plumlee sure to see playing time. Corral was once committed to Florida. He started four games last season and led the team with 1,362 yards passing, with six touchdowns and three interceptions.

QB QUESTION

Kiffin declined to say whether quarterback John Rhys Plumlee or Matt Corral will start, but said “there’s a good chance both of them will play.” They bring different styles, with Plumlee being the more dangerous runner and Corral putting up better passing numbers.

“We’re very fortunate to have two really good quarterbacks, quarterbacks that have seen SEC football and done really well with it,” left tackle Nick Broeker said. “It’s a really good problem to have.”

COVID CONCERNS

Kiffin said his team is coming off two straight weeks with no positive tests for the coronavirus and hopes the trend continues heading into the opener. Florida, meanwhile, had nine positive tests over the last two weeks and could be missing several players in the opener.

Mullen declined to say which guys are quarantined due to a positive test or contact tracing.

“Ultimately, it’s pretty easy for the team because we know want to play this season, and if a bunch of guys have corona, then we won’t be able to,” tight end Kyle Pitts said. “So you can pick one side of the fence or the other. But I feel like we all bought in. We want to play.”

NEW FACES

A number of transfers will debut with their new teams. Canadian Tavius Robinson, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound pass rusher, could start for Ole Miss. Florida expects to get its first look at former Georgia linebacker Brenton Cox, former Mississippi State guard Stewart Reese, former Penn State receiver Justin Shorter and former Miami running back Lorenzo Lingard.

FACTS & FIGURES

This is the third consecutive season that Kiffin opened against a top-five team. Florida Atlantic lost at Ohio State 45-21 last year and at Oklahoma 63-14 in 2018. … Ole Miss’ last win over a ranked opponent came in 2017 - against Mullen in his final game with Mississippi State. … This is Florida’s first trip to Oxford since 2007, a 30-24 victory in which eventual Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow accounted for 427 yards and four touchdowns.

GATORS COUNTING ON EARLY HELP FROM NEWCOMERS

Florida will rely on a number of newcomers — some transfers, some freshmen — as it tries to dethrone rival Georgia in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division. Here’s a look at seven players expected to make immediate impacts (assuming they’re healthy and still on the team):

BRENTON COX

A five-star recruit at Georgia in 2018, Cox left the Bulldogs in August 2019 and landed in Gainesville a few days later. The NCAA denied his waiver request to play right away, so he ended up sitting out last season under transfer rules.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound pass rusher had 20 tackles and a sack as a freshman while playing in 13 of Georgia’s 14 games. The Gators are hoping he has the kind of impact that Louisville transfer Jon Greenard (SEC-leading 9½ sacks) did last season.

“The thing I like about the guy is he likes to play ball,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I’m just pleased with the guy’s work ethic, his demeanor and really glad he’s on our team.”

JEREMY CRAWSHAW

Mullen went Down Under to find his next punter. The 6-foot-3 Crawshaw graduated from high school in Australia in December 2018 and spent a year training for an opportunity to play in America like many of his fellow countrymen have in recent years

Six of the last seven winners of the Ray Guy Award, given annual to college football’s top punter, hail from Australia.

“He hasn’t played in live game situations or live football situations where people are coming, running at you to try to block the kick,” Mullen said. “But he certainly has a lot of talent in there.”

GERVON DEXTER

The 6-6, 294-pound defensive tackle is Mullen’s first five-star signee in three years in Gainesville. He also may have been Mullen’s easiest sell.

Dexter visited only one school — Florida — before signing day. He grew up about 50 miles south of Orlando in Lake Wales and always dreamed of playing for the Gators. He had 103 solo tackles as a senior, with 35 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Eighteen of those were sacks.

XZAVIER HENDERSON

The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback CJ Henderson, the ninth overall pick in the NFL draft, could be the fastest player on Florida’s roster. That kind of speed usually gets on the field, and the 6-4 receiver should have a chance after the Gators lost Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond to graduation.

Henderson caught 37 passes for 503 yards and seven touchdowns last year at Columbus High.

“He been showing a whole lot of talent,” tight end Kyle Pitts said.

LORENZO LINGARD

The former Miami running back landed in Gainesville in January and was granted immediate eligibility four months later. He likely will share carries with returners Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Lingard played in six games as a freshman with the Hurricanes, running 17 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns before sustaining a knee injury. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Orlando, where he had 4,478 yards rushing and 69 touchdowns.

STEWART REESE

Reese started 34 games at Mississippi State before moving to Florida as a graduate transfer. He has familiarity with Mullen’s scheme from their time in Starkville, immediate eligibility and enough experience to help the Gators right away.

Florida returns four starting offensive linemen, so the 6-foot-6, 350-pound Reese will at the very least provide competition or be a quality backup.

“I think it’s coming back to him pretty quickly, which is great and a little different than a regular grad transfer because it’s a guy who has played in the system before,” Mullen said.

DEREK WINGO

After losing leading tackler David Reese, who led the team with 94 stops last season, the Gators have concerns at linebacker. Juniors Ventrell Miller and James Houston are expected to get the first crack at starting roles.

But there should be playing time available for the 6-1, 230-pound Wingo, the state’s Gatorade player of the year from football factory St. Thomas Aquinas.

MEDIA PICKS

Alabama is the media favorite to win the Southeastern Conference title while Florida is the pick to win the Eastern Division.

Alabama received 77 votes to win the championship game on Dec. 19 in Atlanta, while Georgia and LSU each were picked on seven ballots. The SEC released results of voting Wednesday from reporters covering the league.

The Gators edged Georgia 624 points to 613 in the East while Tennessee was picked to finish third.

Alabama was a lopsided pick in the West with 660 points topping LSU (489) and Auburn (488).

The Crimson Tide also led the way with 13 players on the Preseason All-SEC team, including eight first-teamers. LSU had 10 and Georgia nine.

The media has correctly picked the champion only seven times since 1992.

The media's preseason All-SEC teams:

OFFENSE

First-Team

QB — Kyle Trask, Florida

RB — Najee Harris, Alabama; Kylin Hill, Mississippi State

WR — DeVonta Smith, Alabama; Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

TE — Kyle Pitts, Florida

OL — Alex Leatherwood, Alabama; Trey Smith, Tennessee; Landon Dickerson, Alabama; Landon Young, Kentucky

C — Drake Jackson, Kentucky

Second-Team

QB — Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

RB —Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas; Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

WR — George Pickens, Georgia; Terrace Marshall, LSU

TE — Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M

OL — Deonte Brown, Alabama; Darian Kinnard, Kentucky; Sadarius Hutcherson, South Carolina; Ed Ingram, LSU

C — Trey Hill, Georgia

Third-Team

QB — Mac Jones, Alabama

RB — Zamir White, Georgia; Larry Rountree, Missouri

WR — Seth Williams, Auburn; Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

TE — Arik Gilbert, LSU

OL — Austin Deculus, LSU; Brodarious Hamm, Auburn; Evan Neal, Alabama; Wanya Morris, Tennessee

C — Landon Dickerson, Alabama

DEFENSE

First-Team

DL — Big Kat Bryant, Auburn; LaBryan Ray, Alabama; Jordan Davis, Georgia; Malik Herring, Georgia

LB — Dylan Moses, Alabama; K.J. Britt, Auburn; Nick Bolton, Missouri

DB — Patrick Surtain II, Alabama; Derek Stingley Jr., LSU; Richard LeCounte, Georgia; DB - Jacoby Stevens, LSU

Second-Team

DL — Bobby Brown, Texas A&M; Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt; Kobie Whiteside, Missouri; Zachary Carter, Florida

LB — Henry To’o To’o, Tennessee; Monty Rice, Georgia; Jabril Cox, LSU

DB — Kaiir Elam, Florida; Eric Stokes, Georgia; Marco Wilson, Florida; Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina

Third-Team

DL — Aaron Sterling, South Carolina; Glen Logan, LSU; Josh Paschal, Kentucky; DJ Dale, Alabama

LB — Ventrell Miller, Florida; Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State; Boogie Watson, Kentucky

DB — Demani Richardson, Texas A&M; Smoke Monday, Auburn; Tyree Gillespie, Missouri. Christian Tutt, Auburn and Bryce Thompson, Tennessee (tie)

SPECIALISTS

First-Team

P — Max Duffy, Kentucky

PK — Brent Cimaglia, Tennessee

RS — Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

AP — Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Second-Team

P — Jake Camarda, Georgia

PK — Cade York, LSU

RS — Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss

AP — Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

Third-Team

P — Zach Von Rosenberg, LSU

PK — Anders Carlson, Auburn

RS — Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

AP — Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss