The SEC opens the 2020 college football season on Saturday with all 14 teams in action. One of the more intriguing matchups sends Florida to Oxford for its first game against Ole Miss since 2015. It's also Florida's first trip to Oxford since 2007. But the most compelling reason to watch this contest is to see what the Rebels look like under new head coach Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin has shown a propensity in helping turn programs around. In his first season at all three locations - Tennessee, USC, FAU - Kiffin's team improved collectively in win differential (+3.33), scoring (+10.2), passing (+34.5 ypg) and rushing (+51.3 ypg). But he also took a lot of criticism for leaving the Vols after just 14 months to take the USC job that he was subsequently fired from after 3 years + 5 games.
He landed his first head coaching gig with the Oakland Raiders at the ripe age of 31, but was fired after going 5-15 in 1-1/4 seasons.
Kiffin resurrected his career as, first, an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama, and then as head coach of Florida Atlantic where his teams went 26-13 with a pair of Conference USA titles (2017, 2019).
He comes to Ole Miss as an experienced head coach at the more mature age of 45.
Kiffin's counterpart on the sidelines is Florida' Dan Mullen who is the first head coach in UF history to post top-10 finishes each of his first two seasons at the helm.
Mullen's, and the Gators, success, last season can be directly traced to QB Kyle Trask.
Trask took over Florida’s offense at the start of the fourth quarter at Kentucky last season and the redshirt senior finished the year with 2,901 yards and 24 touchdowns (plus four rushing touchdowns) while completing 233 of his 349 pass attempts (66.8%). Florida wound up 16th nationally in passing offense (300.8 yards per game), which was the first time in nearly two decades it threw the ball that consistently. Florida’s highest national finish in passing offense since the start of 2010 was 79th (in 2016), and it finished outside the top 100 in four of the nine seasons from 2010-18.
Florida had eight representatives on the Preseason Coaches All-SEC Team, including two on the first-team selections. Trask is the first Gators quarterback to be a preseason first-team selection since Tim Tebow in 2009. Tight end Kyle Pitts also made the first-team squad after a productive 2019 that saw him haul-in 54 catches for 649 yards and 5 scores.
Ole Miss' highest preseason honors went to 2nd-team selections Jerrion Ealy (all-purpose) and WR Elijah Moore. Last year, Ealy had 722 yards rushing and 6 TD's, 172 receiving 1 TD, and 317 in kick returns with 1 taken to the house. Moore was 7th in the SEC in receiving in 2019 with 67 catches for 850 yards and 6TD's.
Ole Miss holds a 12-11-2 advantage in the series dating back to 1926, but Florida holds a 5-2 edge in games played in Oxford. The only previous time these teams met in a season opener was in 1948 in Gainesville with the Rebels prevailing, 14-0.
This will be just the second time Kiffin has faced a Florida team. The Gators defeated a Kiffin-led Tennessee team 29-13 in 2009 in Gainesville.
Time: 12 Noon ET, 11:00 A.M. Central
Consensus Odds: Florida (-13.5) after opening at -10
Congrove Computer Rankings: Florida (-17.17)