UAB Blazers at Florida Gators: Game Time, Betting Line, TV, and History. Oh Yes, There Will Be History

(UAB Blazers (7-3, 5-2) at Florida Gators (3-6, 3-5)

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL

Time: 4:00 PM ET

TV: SEC Network

Line: UF -11, O/U 48

History: Florida has won both previous meetings in 2002 and 2011

Here’s an interesting historical nugget. This is the third time UAB has ever faced the Gators, and it has always come during a time of change in Gainesville:

  • Their first-ever game at Ben Hill Griffin was Ron Zook’s first game as the Gators’ head coach
  • Their second trip was the second game of Will Muschamp’s tenure at Florida
  • Their third trip is the third game of the Randy Shannon… era?

Anyways, last week I predicted that UAB would get a lead early and sit on it all the way to a close win. I was wrong about how big the initial lead would be, but right about everything else. The reason I bring this up is that it’s a good demonstration of how advanced stats can tell you just a little more when it comes to projections.

UAB and UTSA were 56th and 41st in full-season S&P+, but 32nd and 66th in S&P+ over the previous four weeks. Those numbers by themselves simply showed that the two teams were trending in opposite directions, but knowing that UAB was finding their offensive groove through Spencer Brown and UTSA was losing theirs through offensive line injuries allowed me to have confidence in the accuracy of those data trends in suggesting that UAB would probably win.

I say all that because we’re right back in that same situation; just like UTSA the Florida Gators have ranked worse over the past month than they have for the season, which is indicative of the downward trend that got JIim McElwain canned.

That said, pure ranking can only have so much value, as we learned last week when ULL traveled to Ole Miss. Sure their offenses both ranked well, and their defenses both ranked poorly, but they had played very different schedules (Ole Miss’ SOS was 39th, ULL was 116th). A team that posted similarly great offensive and awful defensive numbers against a tougher schedule than you should handle you comfortably, and they did.

So it matters not just where you rank, but why you rank where you do, and how the numbers that give you that ranking compare to the average. For instance, it matters not only that Ohio State and Wisconsin are #1 and #3, respectively, in S&P+, but it also matters that the gap between them from a pure points perspective is just as big as the gap between Wisconsin and #10 Oklahoma.

What does all this have to do with UAB and Florida? Well, you have a game that, from a “guessing what will happen” standpoint, looks very different depending on how you wash the numbers. The Blazers rank better than Florida on a pure S&P+ level, and that gap gets wider if you look at the last month’s data.

But that doesn’t show you that Florida has played a much harder schedule than UAB has (16th in SOS versus 126th). The Gators are a 3-6 team whose last two home losses were by a total of three points, while the Blazers are a team that struggled to put away both Charlotte and UTSA on the road.

As good as UAB has been this year, and as bad as Florida has been this year, from a pure available talent perspective a bad SEC team is still a distinct level or two above a good CUSA team, and with the game occurring in Gainesville, that’s enough to give the Gators at least a six or seven point line.

I’m also okay with being the underdog because this Florida squad is in flux. The head coach position is changing, as Jim McElwain left and has been replaced by Randy Shannon for now. The quarterback position has been veritable roulette; Feliepe Franks has played in every game this season but has only played every snap in three games.

He is expected to start this week because, for the second time this season, Franks played poorly enough that the coaches benched him for a more experienced player, but have had to put Franks right back in due to injury (first Del Rio’s collarbone, now Zaire’s knee). The offensive line is in flux; two weeks ago their left guard went down, and last week they lost their starting center for the season.

With UAB, you know exactly what you’ve got; a good young team that runs the ball well and plays strong defense, but has a hard time closing out games because their play-calling gets far too conservative and far too concerned about ball security versus gaining first downs. They also struggle to close games with a defense that keeps getting better but has just enough difficulty getting off the field on third downs to make things interesting.

With Florida, you think you know what you’ve got; a relatively young team that can’t pass the ball because their offensive line gets beat on the regular (30 sacks on the season, 11% sack rate), and that was before linemen started getting injured. They tend to start slowly, and struggle to get first downs unless they do so on first down. The defense plays well but struggles with teams who run well, especially of late (789 rush yards and 11 TDs the last three games) and struggles to prevent big plays.

Last week I talked about how UTSA’s offensive injuries had devolved them into something like Rice but with a much better defense, and that turned out to be not wildly inaccurate. This Florida team, between their offensive line injuries, lack of stability under center and overall lack of punch on that side of the ball once again projects to be similar.

PREDICTION

The Blazers need to be smart – Franks isn’t a great runner but is a good enough athlete to make you pay if you don’t respect it. They need to stick to what works, wearing teams down with Spencer Brown until they start to sag, then hit the open zones with intermediate passes that might turn into big passes, then give it back to Spencer and Donnie Lee once the running lanes get even bigger.

This is a tricky one. Everything is trending right for the Blazers; the offense is hitting its stride, gets to face a defense that’s struggling to stop the run and an offense that’s struggling to do anything. This week will be a good measuring stick, but I’m betting that a lot of the struggles Florida has had on offense won’t be as severe against UAB’s non-SEC defense. I root hard for the Blazers, but I think this will have to get marked down as a moral victory, not an actual one.

Florida Gators 27, UAB Blazers 23

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