Florida coach Billy Napier’s third season, one expected to be pivotal for the Gators’ future, will be tougher than expected because of the revamped eight-game SEC schedule in 2024 that was announced Wednesday.
The league office did the rebuilding Gators no favors.
Napier’s 2023 squad is expected to improve on consecutive 6-7 seasons but still has a lot of ground to make up in the nation’s toughest football conference. The 2024 slate offers Florida little let-up but also plenty of chances to show strides.
Besides their annual date in Jacksonville with Georgia, the reigning two-time national champions and winners of five of six meetings, the Gators will travel to longtime rival Tennessee, 38-33 winners in 2022 and on the rise under former UCF coach Josh Heupel, and SEC newcomer Texas, matching for the first time since 1940 two blueblood programs pushing to return to the nation’s elite.
A trip to Mississippi State, home to one of the league’s tougher environments, rounds out UF’s schedule away from Gainesville.
The Gators’ four-game home slate is similarly daunting. It features longtime crossover rival LSU, Ole Miss led by offensive whiz Lane Kiffin, coach Jimbo Fisher’s talented yet unpredictable Texas A&M Aggies, 41-24 losers at home to the 2022 Gators, and pesky Kentucky, winner of three of the teams' past five meetings.
Dates and times will be announced at a later date.
In addition to eight challenging SEC games, Florida’s non-conference schedule is as deep as it’s ever been. Miami will visit the Swamp Aug. 31, 2024, and UCF will travel to Gainesville Oct. 5, 2024. The Gators will close the regular season Nov. 30, 2024 at Florida State.
A Sept. 7, 2024, visit from Samford is the only breather on a schedule featuring 11 Power 5 foes.
SEC schools have debated the scheduling impact of expanding to 16 teams with the arrival of Texas and Oklahoma. During the league’s annual spring meetings in Destin, the SEC decided to stick with eight games rather than add a ninth.
But the new eight-game model is still a break from the past. In 2024, the conference will eliminate the two-division setup launched in 1992 with the additions of South Carolina and Arkansas and in place for the final time in 2023.
The SEC eventually will consider a move to nine conference games, but school presidents June 1 in Destin opted for short-term solution to a scheduling quandary causing angst among many league members.
“Our long-term options are fully open,” commissioner Greg Sankey said at the time.