Television executives have sent a strong message to the college football world: they expect the Florida Gators to be must-watch television under Billy Napier. Immediately. And we know that because Florida will featured on national TV early and often in Napier’s maiden voyage in Gainesville.
Last week, four kickoff times and TV networks were announced for Napier’s inaugural season. Each of the Gators’ first two games- against Utah and Kentucky- are slated to kick off at 7:00pm ET in the Swamp and air on ESPN. The ensuing week, Florida will play its third straight home night game in the Swamp, against South Florida. That game will air on the SEC Network and kick off at 7:30pm.
ESPN also announced the fate of Florida’s home game against Eastern Washington on October 1. That game won’t be on television, but it will be streaming live on the ESPN app on SECN+. (This is the same situation that Florida had with last year’s home game against Samford). This game will get started at high noon.
Those four games being attributed kickoff times means that we now know the statuses for half of Florida’s twelve games on the season. As always, Florida-Georgia will start at 3:30pm and air on CBS. We also learned a few months ago that Florida’s Thanksgiving weekend rivalry game against FSU would be pushed up a day to Black Friday. That game has now been given a 7:30pm start time on ABC.
All of that paints a fairly clear picture of what the bigwigs at ESPN’s family of network think of Florida. At the very least, they think Florida’s new-school, motion-centric, pistol-heavy offense will be entertaining to watch and hope that Billy Napier can deliver more memorable quotes like, “Scared Money Don’t Make Money.” And they might just think of the Gators as a dark horse to do some damage on the national scale.
The betting experts don’t seem to agree with the latter piece. The Gators did open among the top half of the SEC in terms of odds to win the conference at +4000, but for perspective, Georgia is listed at +150, Texas A&M opened at +1200, and even Tennessee has been given less lopsided odds at +3300.
(Personal advice: while these numbers are still fresh, new bettors should take advantage of the latest Barstool Sportsbook promotion to get their risk-free bet in, and use it on Florida. The Gators being a top six team in the league means that those +4000 odds are a good bet compared to other teams in the league.)
And maybe the Disney execs don’t really think Florida will be a true contender for the SEC crown. It certainly would be a monumental leap for a program that just went 6-7, and even the most joyous moments under the program’s past three coaches did not net the Gators an SEC Championship.
But in any game that Anthony Richardson participates in at full health or close to it, the Gators will have a puncher’s chance. If nothing else, ESPN is telling us that he will be must watch TV.