Florida Atlantic Owls (0-0 Conference USA) vs #13 Florida Gators (0-0 Southeastern Conference)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 4th, 7:30 PM EST
TV: SEC Network: (Play-by-Play: Tom Hart/Analyst: Jordan Rodgers/Sidelines: Cole Cubelic)
Radio: Florida Gators IMG Radio Network (Play-by-Play: Mick Hubert/Analyst: Lee McGriff/Sidelines: Tate Casey)/Fox Sports 640 South Florida (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/Analyst: Kris Bartels/Sidelines: Mike Mreczko)
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
Betting Line: Florida -23.5 O/U 52
All-Time Series Record: Florida leads 3-0 (Florida won last matchup 20-14 in 2015)
Willie Taggart enters season two at Florida Atlantic with high expectations and that’s with good reason. The Owls return several starters from a defense that allowed just 17.4 points per game — ranking them 10th in the nation last season. They’ve also added former four-star recruit N’Kosi Perry, who joined the team in the offseason after spending four seasons at Miami. The Ocala, Florida native gives FAU a veteran signal-caller, appearing in 24 games (9 starts) and threw for 2,484 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his time as a Hurricane.
Joining Perry on the offensive side of the ball is another transfer in former South Florida running back Johnny Ford. The 5-5, 175-pound Ford rushed for 787 yards as a true freshman in 2018, before battling injuries over the last two seasons. The Owls return a veteran receiving core, led by grad transfer TJ Chase. After spending four seasons as a reserve at Clemson, Chase topped the team in receiving last year with 23 catches for 334 yards. Fellow grad transfer wideout Aaron Young enters his seventh year of college football, spending five seasons at Duke.
The aforementioned defense is led by a veteran secondary that should be considered one of the tops and most talented in Conference USA. Senior cornerbacks Zyon Gilbert and Diashun Moss have a combined 82 games of experience and are joined by Teja Young and Jordan Helm, who have played 54 contests during their time at Florida Atlantic. Keep an eye on Ahman Ross, who will play at the Star position along with Korel Smith.
On the defensive line, freshmen Evan Anderson, Courtney McBride and Jaden Wheeler will all see significant time. Arguably the group’s best player is defensive end Jaylen Joyner. The 6-3, 262-pound redshirt sophomore led the Owls with eight sacks, including a three-sack performance against UTSA last season.
The Gators open the season against two in-state Group of Five foes in Florida Atlantic and South Florida before opening up conference play by welcoming Alabama to The Swamp. Head Coach Dan Mullen will look to continue the offensive output that saw his team average 39.8 points per game, which ranked 13th among FBS teams last year. With two-year starter Kyle Trask off to the NFL, the reins of the offense have been handed to former four-star recruit Emory Jones. The Georgia native has appeared in spot duty over his first three years in Gainesville, rushing for 514 yards and throwing for 613 yards as a reserve.
A pair of seniors in Mailk Davis and Dameon Pierce will shoulder the rushing attack for the Gators, along with the dual-threat abilities of Jones. They’ll be depended upon as receivers Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter settle into more prominent roles in the offense.
The Gator defense will be led by Preseason All-American cornerback Kaiir Elam, defensive end Zachary Carter and linebacker Ventrell Miller. The 6-2, 196-pound Elam was named to the All-SEC First Team and AP Second Team as a defensive back in 2020 after finishing with 39 tackles (28 solos), 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Miller led Florida with 88 tackles in 2020 and played in 11 of 12 games.
FAU comes into this game with everything to gain and nothing to lose. Following his time at Miami, Perry won’t be shaken by the atmosphere of playing in front of what’s sure to be a hostile environment at The Swamp. The Owls’ defense gained valuable experience last year, putting them a year of ahead of schedule and are poised for a strong showing in ‘21. With all of that said, while I think there’s more than enough room for FAU to keep this one closer than the spread into the second half, Florida is the more talented team.
Final Score: Florida 30, Florida Atlantic 14