It was a tale of two openers for Florida and Kentucky- on one hand, the Gators beat a top-ten opponent as Utah visited the swamp, en route to rising all the way up to #12 in the AP poll after previously being unranked. Meanwhile on the other, Kentucky played an unnervingly close first half against MAC opponents Miami before eventually pulling away. This week in Gainesville, will the Gators keep chomping, or will Kentucky get back on track with a huge road win?
Let’s get into some odds and picks for the SEC opener for these two teams
Florida Vs. Kentucky Odds
I’m seeing Florida as somewhere between a 5 to 6 point favorite, just about what you’d expect for the home (and slightly higher-ranked) team in a ranked, in-conference matchup. The points total is more settled, checking in at 52.5 on most sources. Is Vegas overvaluing Florida’s momentum, or will they prove to be too much for Kentucky and run away with this one?
Florida Vs. Kentucky Prediction & Pick
A year ago, Kentucky exceeded expectations, winning double-digit games, and Florida disappointed, finishing below .500 after a bowl loss. That being said, both teams were led by a strong offense, each averaging over 30 points per game while playing their conference games in the traditionally-defensive SEC. On a completely related note, those two offenses were, and continue to be, led by quarterbacks who are, by all accounts, NFL bound at some point or another, possibly even this season. Florida’s Anthony Richardson announced himself to the nation as a fringe Heisman contender and strong NFL hopeful with efficient passing and a 3-touchdown rushing performance, while Will Levis needs to do more to build on a strong junior season, his first with Kentucky after transferring from Penn State.
One key absence to watch in this game is that of Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez, suspended after a DUI arrest this offseason. Rodriguez is supposed to be the centerpiece of a Kentucky rushing attack, which really struggled without him- they put up an astounding 50 rushing yards on 20 carries against a MAC defense last week, while letting Miami run for twice as much. Kavoisey Smoke will hope to do better in Rodriguez’s absence this week than he did last time out. The absence of Rodriguez, paired with the continuing journey of replacing three NFL-bound o-linemen from last season’s team, will continue to hamper Kentucky’s offense against a talented Florida front seven. I think it’s likely that Levis and co. will be able to put up some points through the air as the senior QB looks for a big statement game, enough to push this game to the over but not enough to keep it within one score. I like Florida against the spread, although buying the line down just a bit would not be a bad move, as well as the over.
Prediction: Florida to cover -5.5, o52.5
Florida Vs. Kentucky Key Matchups
Saturday’s game will largely be decided by two key matchups. They are as follows:
Anthony Richardson Vs. Will Levis
Yes, I know that quarterbacks don’t actually share the field, but those are nonetheless the matchups that get talked about as we approach these types of games, and if the ramifications end up being large enough, even after the season. Both of these guys are going to be highly motivated, Richardson to show that last week’s strong outing was no fluke, and Levis to show last week’s inefficient game, in which he was intercepted by a MAC defense, was one. But of course, this is really a matchup of quarterbacks against defenses. For instance, Florida’s ended last game by forcing a big mistake from a veteran quarterback and getting the key turnover- can they do the same to Levis in the big spots? And of course, Kentucky’s defense will be tasked with at least slowing a potential Heisman candidate after weirdly letting a MAC team dictate the pace for half of last week’s game. This week will go a long way towards determining what they’ll be able to do this year.
Florida front seven Vs. Kentucky offensive line
As mentioned earlier, Kentucky’s new-look offensive line had a rough go of it in their first game after losing three starters to the NFL. Unfortunately for them, it’s only going to get harder, as they go from facing MAC defensive players, to SEC ones, including Brenton Cox Jr., co-winner of last week’s SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award. I’ve alluded to this a couple of times, but it’s really disturbing that Miami heavily outrushed Kentucky, when the more talented team should be the one controlling the game. Of course half of this is on the Kentucky defense, but it is really troubling how ineffectively the offensive line was in protecting the QB and creating run lanes. It’s not like the sky is falling if Kentucky loses this game, but if they’re going to have the type of season they hope to, their offensive line must start showing real improvement soon.