Premature Preview: Florida

Previously: Memphis, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Alcorn State, Houston

Before I head off for a week’s vacation in oil-stained Destin, Fla., let’s take our weekly look at MSU’s football schedule. The Week 7 opponent is a familiar one for coach Dan Mullen, of course.

Florida Gators (Oct. 16, in Gainesville)

Conference: SEC

2009 Record: 13-1 (8-0, 1st Eastern Division)

Final ranking: Third (AP, USA Today)

Coach: Urban Meyer (5 years, 57-10)

Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists)

Last meeting: Florida, 29-19 (Oct. 24, 2009, in Starkville)

On the web: gatorzone.com

OK, so Tim Tebow is gone. Judging by the preseason talk, that shouldn’t hurt the Gators too much. Surprised? Don’t be, because his successor is pretty dang good.

John Brantley, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound junior, has yet to start a game but is already considered one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. He passed for 201 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s spring game, and ESPN.com’s Chris Low has ranked Florida No. 1 in the league at the quarterback position.

By this point in the season, we’ll know whether Brantley is for real. MSU also hopes, by this point, to have figured out its defensive backfield rotation, which is pleasantly crowded right now but still has some things to prove to new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Even though MSU lost last year’s meeting, Tebow was intercepted twice, with Johnthan Banks returning both picks for touchdowns. The 100-yard return was the highlight of the game, but you can’t count on getting something like that again … can you?

Anyway, Florida’s got much more going for it than a promising QB. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are back on offense, and Phil Steele rates Florida’s defense as the best in the SEC. Notable returnees there include cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Ahmad Black.

MSU is making its first trip to Gainesville since 2005, when it lost 35-9. It its last six trips to the Swamp (since 1987), State has been outscored by an average of 35.7 to 9.5. I’m sure Mullen’s familiarity with UF helped the Bulldogs keep it close last year, and that could be a factor this year, too, plus the fact that Mullen will be a little more stoked going against ex-boss Meyer.

Can pupil defeat mentor? Not likely, but if he did, it could turn a good season into a memorable one for MSU.

Up next: UAB