The Florida Gators are the two-time defending SEC East champions and own a 30 game winning streak over the Kentucky Wildcats. Yet, one again, optimism is high that this will be the year that Kentucky ends that streak and finally defeats the Gators.
Despite the two SEC East titles, there are still a ton of questions in Gainesville and they come off as vulnerable. Granted, the streak will end eventually, but will this be the year?
The biggest question for this Gators team starts with the quarterback position. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks appears to be the frontrunner, but he will be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire. Luke Del Rio returns as well, but he appears to be a darkhorse, at best, to win the job. Zaire has the benefit of playing three seasons for Notre Dame, but he has less than 100 pass attempts for his career.
While talented, there are questions about the offensive line for the Gators. Martez Ivey will move from guard to tackle and there is the potential for this to be a very solid line. The Gators were not able to run the ball effectively for most of the year and were shut down by teams like Arkansas and Alabama.
Jordan Scarlett could become just Florida's fourth 1,000-yard rusher in the past twenty years and the Gators have solid depth with Lamical Perrine and Mark Thompson. The key once again is the line, and their improvement is essential with a redshirt freshman under center.
Franks or Zaire will have the targets at their disposal. Antonio Callaway returns as one of the top receiving targets in the SEC. If Tyrie Cleveland can stretch the field and Dre Massey recovers from a knee injury, this will be a very explosive bunch.
In the past, Florida has relied on their defense when their offense has sputtered and the Gators return just three starters. New defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is one of the best but he will have to work his magic for this to be another top fifteen unit for a tenth straight year.
The Gator secondary took the biggest hit in departing talent, but Nick Washington and Marcell Harris will key the unit. They will both play on Sundays in the future and the Gators still return Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner.
Florida has always recruited well and for the most part, that depth steps up every year to replace the departed talent and that should be the case again this year. The linebacking corps were hit hard as well, but there is plenty of young talent in Vosean Joseph and David Reese.
The biggest challenge will be on the defensive line. CeCe Jefferson should be a solid pass rusher but the middle of the line has holes. The pass rush was inconsistent last season averaging three sacks a game in their wins and just one in the losses.
While there are question marks for the Gators, there is certainly the talent for a third straight SEC East title. And the talent is certainly there to extend the Gators streak over Kentucky to 31 games. After a couple of years of close calls, Kentucky fell apart last year in the Swamp in a 45-7 loss.
That loss could have been the nail in the coffin for Kentucky's season as it was devastating for the fanbase and caused a portion of the fanbase to jump ship on the Stoops regime. This is not the same Kentucky team as they fought their way back from that terrible loss and turned their season around. This Wildcats team has come a long way since then and grown up before our eyes and once again, the talk of ending the streak is prevalent.
I know that I have been torched for calling for the streak to end in the past yet I am going there once again. I like how Kentucky closed the season and I like the way that Mark Stoops' young talent has grown up. Florida, as always, has more talent, but Kentucky has closed the talent gap and this will be a home game.
If Kentucky comes into this game at 3-0, this has the potential to be a very special night. The streak has to end eventually, and it will happen this year with a 21-17 Kentucky win.