Back to soothing season opener with Charleston Southern instead of Michigan on Gators’ 2018 schedule


Florida has released its 2018 football schedule and the look will be comforting to Gator fans who didn’t get much out of that clunker against Michigan three weeks ago.

Next season it will be Charleston Southern, Kentucky and Jim McElwain’s old team Colorado State to get things started, and all at the Swamp. If there are suspended players for any of those, they won’t be badly missed. In theory, there will be no freshman quarterback leading an undeveloped offense, either, though it remains to be seen if Feleipe Franks can keep his job that long.

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) celebrates with fans after he threw a 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired to defeat Tennessee 26-20 on Sept. 16, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The LSU and South Carolina games later in the season are in Gainesville. There’s a bye week, as always, before the Georgia game. Even better, Mississippi State is on the second SEC West opponent on the schedule and not Alabama or Auburn.

Florida State isn’t going anywhere, of course, and that game is in Tallahassee, but you can’t have everything. There is a real opportunity here for McElwain to have a great fourth season at Florida if he can only get through his third without going nuts.

That final-play touchdown bomb of 63-yards against Tennessee left McElwain all but speechless. He was the winner, 26-20, and there’s nothing better than that in a rivalry game, yet the coach couldn’t summon up much elation for CBS’ on-field interviewer.

Truth is, both head coaches, McElwain and Tennessee’s Butch Jones, had reason to be shaken after that one. The Gators had a 10-point lead late in the game and needed a miracle to avoid overtime. The Volunteers forfeited too many vital points with missed field goals and the wacky decision to pass on first-and-goal in the third quarter rather than pounding away with running back John Kelly two or even three times. That scoring chance eventually was snuffed by a third-down interception.

Might as well get to the final play, though, because that’s all anybody saw on the national highlights and all that anybody will remember. How did Tennessee let any Florida receiver get behind the secondary? Here is what Vols defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had to say on Tuesday, and we give him credit here for beginning his comments by taking responsibility for the defensive formation there and giving Jones whatever protection he could.

“Florida has an outstanding kicker,” Shoop said of Eddy Pineiro. “The guy can kick 55- and 60-yard field goals. We thought they were going to play for getting the ball in that 35-40 yard area and kick a long field goal.

“We had four (defenders) over three (receivers) to the three-receiver side and we had three (defenders) over two (receivers) to the back side. If you actually watch the play, Feleipe Franks went to his first key and it’s there. We took away the play that they ran, which is the irony of the whole thing, really.

“And so he looked at (option) 1, looked at 2, looked at 3, started to run and, oddly, I feely like if it had been the second or third quarter of the game, he’s have just run. But then he said, ‘Wait, I can’t run. I’ve gotta do something.’ And somehow, someway he made eye contact with (Tyrie) Cleveland. You actually see Cleveland point and him point and he just was kind of falling backwards and I sort of wish (linebacker) Quart’e Sapp would’ve been a little more explosive and knocked the dog crap out of him right there, but he didn’t and he just threw a dime and the player got behind our player and it was a disastrous ending.

“I feel bad for our players. I feel bad for the people in this (Tennessee athletic) building and I feel bad for our fans because I would’ve liked to see that one go to overtime. I think that would’ve been a hell of a game.”

Like it wasn’t already?

[Get to know LB’s coach charged with patching up Dolphins mess]

[Only ‘bye’ for perfect 1972 Dolphins was week before Super Bowl]

[Way back to Santaluces, any legend you hear about Vince Wilfork is probably true]