FAU at Florida pregame notebook: Florida opens season at Swamp

Special to Gatorsports.com

Florida Atlantic (0-0) at No. 11 Florida (0-0), 7:30 p.m. today, SEC Network, AM-850/103.7-FM

Series record: Florida leads 3-0

What's at stake?

Florida begins life without Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask, All-American tight end Kyle Pitts and dynamic receiver Kadarius Toney. The trio made the Gators hum offensively last season, when they averaged 39.8 points a game. Quarterback Emory Jones, tight end Kemore Gamble and receiver Jacob Copeland have huge cleats to fill in Gainesville and will get a chance to shine against Florida Atlantic, which enters its second season under ex-Florida State coach Willie Taggart and its first with Miami graduate transfer N’Kosi Perry at quarterback.

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Key matchup

Florida’s defensive front vs FAU’s experienced offensive line. The Gators have a seemingly endless rotation of pass rushers led by Zach Carter, Brenton Cox, Jeremiah Moon and Khris Bogle. They could be challenged against a FAU unit that has combined 123 collegiate starts, including 35 for center Nick Weber and 33 for right tackle BJ Etienne.

Players to Watch

Florida Atlantic: Perry grew up about 40 miles south of Gainesville in Ocala. He spent three years at Miami, playing in 24 games and starting nine. His best outing came in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl, where he completed 19 of 34 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma State.

One more chance:Florida Atlantic hopes N'Kosi Perry's second chance leads to wins for Owls

Florida: Senior Trey Dean returns to a prominent role, this time at safety. He’s played just about every spot in the defensive backfield, recording 16 starts, 86 tackles and three interceptions. He had six pass breakups as a freshman and just two since.

Gator legends

Florida will recognize Leonard George and Willie Jackson Sr. before the opening kickoff. George and Jackson, who became the first Black scholarship football players at Florida when they signed in 1968, will serve as honorary captains. 

Facts & Figures

The Gators have won the three previous meetings by a combined score 120-37, but only two of them were routs. Florida needed overtime to beat the Owls 20-14 in 2015. … Florida’s last game in the Swamp was memorable: a 37-34 loss to unranked LSU in a dense fog. CB Marco Wilson threw an opponent’s cleat to keep the winning drive alive, and Cade York drilled a 57-yarder with 23 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference. ... The Gators open the season at home for the first time since 2018, a 53-6 victory over Charleston Southern in UF's first game under Mullen, who is 29-9 in his first three seasons. Steve Spurrier was 28-8 and Urban Meyer was 31-8. 

— Mark Long, The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

NIL opportunities

Student-athletes can profit off their name image and likeness without penalty for the first time this year, and Florida is looking to capitalize. The Gators partnered with The Brandr Group on Thursday to establish group licensing for student-athletes across all 21 sports.

The partnership means that players can use the school logo in their personal endorsement deals. Three or more athletes from a team or six or more athletes from multiple sports can join the program and TBG will facilitate the licensing.

“The Florida Gators have one of the strongest brands in all of college athletics, and this agreement with The Brandr Group provides great value to our student-athletes in expanding their NIL opportunities,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “This is a win for Florida student-athletes and Gators fans, who will be able to represent their favorite players like never before.”

The big news here for Gators fans is that the door is now open to merchandise with players’ names and numbers. Fans have long desired official team jerseys but only now has that dream become a reality.

Florida fans will have more to look forward to with the launch of the Gator Collective, a fan platform founded by former Gators pitcher Eddie Rojas. The Gator Collective offers fans access to players through interviews and video conferences, and there are plans for raffles and giveaways.

Rojas lived the struggle of a student-athlete and wanted to give back to his school after hearing about the NIL changes.

Five Gators have signed with the Gator Collective: linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, linebacker Diwun Black, defensive end Zachary Carter, offensive lineman Gerald Mincey and tight end Keon Zipperer. While all are on the football team, the goal is to branch out to other sports. The group licensing agreement extending across all sports should help with that.

— David Rosenberg, Gators Wire