Roundtable: Conference-only schedule, FSU game, Elijah Conliffe's exemption
GatorsTerritory brings you another roundtable discussion from our team of writers.
This week, Corey Bender, Zach Abolverdi, Conner Clarke, Joseph Hastings and Lauren Reynolds discuss the SEC West schools Florida should add to its schedule, the cancellation of the FSU game and if it affects UF's recruiting efforts, and how Elijah Conliffe’s exemption impacts the Gators this year.
Which SEC West teams should be added to Florida’s schedule?
Bender: Considering the games are already booked for future seasons, I think a few of the logical choices are Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Razorbacks are scheduled to invade the Swamp during the 2023 season, while the Aggies have a home matchup scheduled for 2022. Another matchup against Mississippi State would grasp my attention as well, this time being in Gainesville for the first time since 2010. As long as Dan Mullen is in Gainesville, that matchup will always have a College GameDay feel to it. However, if the conference wants to keep the schedules intact as much as they can, I believe hosting the Razorbacks and traveling to College Station are the most likely moves.
Abolverdi: I don’t expect one of the two additions to be an SEC team’s rotational cross-division opponent in 2021, which is Alabama for UF. That matchup is already set in stone and I doubt the league wants to rearrange another SEC schedule after having to revise the one this year. I think 2022 and 2023 are far enough out that you can take the rotational opponents from those seasons, so look for the Gators to travel to Texas A&M (’22) and host Arkansas (’23) this fall. In that scenario, they would instead play at Auburn in 2022 and host Mississippi State in 2023.
Clarke: Based on the SEC's decision to keep the two divisions separate during the 10-game conference only schedule, they will likely try to keep the cross-division games as close to on schedule as possible. With that being said, I think the Gators will end up adding Texas A&M and Arkansas. Florida hasn’t played Arkansas since 2016 and A&M since 2017, so logically they’re the next teams in line to be added if the SEC tries to follow the traditional scheduling format used in the past.
Hastings: As a fan of college football, I would love to see Florida play Alabama and Texas A&M this year. I view the Gators and the Crimson Tide as the two best teams in the SEC, and this contest would be one of the most anticipated games in the entire season, regardless of conference. That's not going to happen, however, though I do believe that a matchup with the Aggies is likely. Like Conner mentioned above, I would also probably go with Arkansas as the second cross-division game for UF this season.
Reynolds: Though they played last year, I would love to see another matchup between Florida and Auburn on the Plains. This was one of the best and most entertaining games on UF's 2019 schedule and both teams are still toward the top of the SEC. From a travel standpoint, this trip makes the most sense for the Gators and I think both sides would be happy to renew this rivalry. This would probably be the best game to replace FSU with. My second choice would be Mississippi State traveling the Swamp for the first time since 2010. This matchup could also have that rivalry feel to it after Dan Mullen returned to Starkville and beat MSU two years ago.
Will the cancellation of the Florida State game affect UF recruiting at all, especially with in-state kids?
Bender: Other than Terrion Arnold and Ahmari Harvey, the Gators and Seminoles are not competing for any prospects in the class of 2021. As for the underclassmen, a Gators win in Tallahassee could have went a long way with dozens of in-state prospects who would have likely been inside Doak Campbell Stadium. If there was one season Florida didn't need this game from a recruiting perspective, it would be this year. It's more of a stinger for Florida State's first-year head coach, Mike Norvell, who would have had the opportunity to make a major splash recruiting-wise and by snapping a two-game skid against FSU's in-state rival. This is more of a lost opportunity for Florida State considering the current standing of both programs.
Abolverdi: Florida and Florida State are recruiting on different levels right now — UF boasts a top-five class and FSU isn’t even in the top 25 (26th) — so the impact on the Gators is minimal. If anything, it’s a missed opportunity to win three in a row over the Seminoles and reaffirm their standing as the top program in the state. For new Florida State coach Mike Norvell, he loses a major recruiting weekend and one of the rare games that sells out in Doak Campbell Stadium. However, his Noles would’ve likely lost this year and he’s now spared from that.
Clarke: I don’t think that losing the game against FSU will affect UF’s recruiting efforts very much. I think if prospects have truly been paying attention to the teams the last couple seasons, they see that Florida is a far better program at this time and FSU wasn’t going to close that gap with this year’s game. I think the addition of more conference matchups could help the Gators in recruiting because prospects will be impressed if they have another great season against the higher-level talent of the SEC.
Hastings: Florida already flipped Jake Slaughter from the Seminoles, so there aren't many battles between the two programs at this juncture. Ahmari Harvey and Terrion Arnold are the pair of players they're fighting for in this cycle, but that's it. Also, I don't believe prospects in next year's recruiting class would have put a lot of weight into the outcome of this year's matchup if the game had transpired. The Gators have proven over the past couple of years that they are trending toward competing for a national championship, so on-field results, even if it's not against FSU, will be the biggest assist for them in the recruiting battles with their in-state rival.
Reynolds: While I don't think the cancellation will affect recruiting much, it’s still one less thing on Florida's resume to reel kids in. Since Mullen became the head coach at UF, he hasn't lost to the Seminoles. That’s impressive to recruits, many of whom remember Florida State’s five-game winning streak prior to his arrival. On top of that, the cancellation will prevent Norvell from getting his chance to face Mullen in his first year as head coach of the Seminoles. I think that could have a negative recruiting impact on FSU more so than Florida, especially when it comes to in-state kids.
How does Elijah Conliffe’s exemption impact the Gators this year?
Bender: Not having Conliffe in the lineup shouldn't affect Florida's plans in the trenches for the 2020 season. He wasn't a realistic option for a starting job and also battled injuries throughout his tenure in Gainesville. Kyree Campbell is a well-established veteran inside, while TJ Slaton is back in the lineup after initially flirting with the 2020 NFL Draft. Then you also have Gervon Dexter, a five-star prospect who is already physically suited for early playing time in the SEC. David Turner has plenty of depth inside, with Conliffe's medical exemption opening doors for some of the additional highly-touted underclassmen as well.
Abolverdi: Fortunately for the Gators, they’re used to Conliffe not being in the lineup. He missed all of last season after suffering a right-foot injury in training camp, but UF still had plenty of depth at defensive tackle with five upperclassmen. Conliffe would have been counted on in 2020 with the departure of two seniors, but he wasn’t going to start over Kyree Campbell or T.J. Slaton. Incoming freshman Gervon Dexter already had high expectations for this fall, and Conliffe’s medical exemption opens the door more for him to make an immediate impact.
Clarke: In my opinion, the loss of Conliffe isn’t a big one in terms of immediate impact on the field. He wasn’t a starter and constant injuries prevented him from seeing a lot of playing time over the course of his career. His loss might affect the depth of the unit when it comes to players with college experience, but I fully expected some of the younger defensive tackles like Gervon Dexter and Jaelin Humphries (if fully healthy) to pass him on the depth chart during fall camp or early in the season.
Hastings: I also agree that this isn't a huge loss on the field for the Gators. It's definitely an unfortunate situation, however, and I hope everything works out for Conliffe in his academic endeavors. As for what this means for Florida, I think it opens up the doors for someone like Gervon Dexter to get more reps this fall. Dexter is just a fun player to watch and is physically imposing in the interior of the defensive line, so I can envision him seeing time in each game during UF's upcoming season.
Reynolds: I don't think his exemption will have that big of an impact on the Gators in 2020. Despite losing defensive tackles Luke Ancrum and Adam Shuler, the Gators still have three seniors at the position in Campbell, Slaton and Marlon Dunlap, as well as four more players. Conliffe’s departure will also give the younger DTs a chance to prove themselves and get in the rotation, especially five-star freshman Dexter.
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