Abolverdi's Analysis: Can Emory Jones keep Gators undefeated vs. in-state teams?

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Between the six losses and in-season coaching changes, there have been few positives for the Florida football team this year. 

The defense didn’t make progress, the offense regressed and the Gators had their worst record in SEC play since 1986.

They can hang their hat on beating two rivals at home (Tennessee and Florida State) and going 3-0 against teams from the state of Florida, but not much else. UF opened 2021 with non-conference wins over FAU and USF before closing out the regular season with a victory over the Seminoles.

The Gators had lost four straight SEC games — and former coach Dan Mullen — heading into the FSU matchup. I picked against them, but they proved me and many doubters wrong with a 24-21 win. Kudos to Greg Knox for pulling it off with a staff that had lost its offensive coordinator (Mullen), defensive coordinator (Todd Grantham) and offensive line coach (John Hevesy). 

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Knox now has a chance to improve to 3-0 as an interim coach in Thursday’s Gasparilla Bowl against UCF, but most importantly, the Gators can claim state supremacy and stay undefeated against Florida teams.

Bragging rights in the Sunshine State

Miami is the only major in-state program UF didn’t play this year, but the Hurricanes lost at FSU, 31-28, on Nov. 13. So, a win over Central Florida would give the Gators bragging rights in the Sunshine State, which should be all the motivation they need for Thursday. 

These two teams haven’t met in 15 years, but Knights players and fans have been clamoring for this matchup ever since they crowned themselves "national champions" in 2017. Be careful what you wish for. 

Florida won the last two meetings against UCF by a combined margin of 36.5 points, including a 42-0 shutout in 2006, but Thursday’s game should be much closer. The Gators are favored by 6.5 points, with the over-under sitting at 55.5 points. 

The key for UF will be quarterback Emory Jones, who was benched after three interceptions against FSU. Jones must play better than he did in his first game at Raymond James Stadium this season, when he threw two picks on back-to-back series in the second half. 

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson warms up before an NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Anthony Richardson

With Anthony Richardson unavailable (knee) Thursday, I expect Jones to play more confidently knowing he won’t rotate and lead Florida to a win in his final game as a Gator. 

Prediction: Florida 31, UCF 24

—  Zach Abolverdi is a staff writer for The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached at zabolverdi@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbolverdi

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