No. 25 Florida returns to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday to take on Charlotte. This will be the last nonconference game for the Gators before seven consecutive SEC games providing an opportunity to iron out any kinks in their game.
Florida is coming off one of its biggest wins in the Billy Napier era. The Gators beat then-No. 11 Tennessee 29-16 last week, stopping the normally explosive Volunteers offense while playing efficient, ball-control offense of its own. It was the second victory vs. a ranked team in two years for Napier, as the Gators climbed back into the AP Top 25 for the first time since the week of Sept. 18, 2022.
Charlotte is on a two-game losing streak after winning its season opener against South Carolina State. The 49ers are in their first season under coach Biff Poggi, who was an associate head coach at Michigan from 2021-22. This is also Charlotte’s first season competing in the American Athletic Conference after eight years in Conference USA.
Saturday marks the first-ever meeting between Florida and Charlotte. The Gators are 49-19-3 all-time against teams in the AAC, adding to their win total last season with a victory against South Florida. Florida has won 16 out of its last 18 nonconference games in the regular season and has outscored its opponents by an average of 40.7 to 18.0 in that span.
How to watch Florida vs. Charlotte live
- Date: Saturday, Sept. 23 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
- Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — Gainesville, Florida
- Live Stream: fuboTV – (Start Your Free Trial)
Florida vs. Charlotte: Need to know
Mertz’s efficiency standing out: Graham Mertz may not be the most exciting quarterback in the nation, but he is running Florida’s offense really well. He currently leads the SEC with a 75.3% completion rate and he’s taking care of the ball well, with just one interception through three games. His 8.1-yard average per attempt is pretty low, but it does rank ahead of a few preseason standouts like Tennessee’s Joe Milton and Mississippi State’s Will Rogers. Essentially, Mertz is excelling as a game manager. While the Gators may need a bit more from him when they face imposing defensive fronts, the run-first approach while scheming easy, underneath throws is working excellently right now.
Charlotte dangerous on special teams: Florida should overwhelm Charlotte in almost every phase of the game, but the Gators need to be wary on special teams. The 49ers are particularly dangerous on both sides of the punting game. Senior punter Grant Gonya is averaging 44.5 yards per boot — which ranks 35 nationally — and five of his 16 kicks have been downed inside the 20-yard line. The 49ers also average 13.13 yards per punt return, compared to Florida’s 2.75-yards per return, which ranks 29th nationally. Running back Henry Rutledge has already taken one punt for a touchdown, while Jairus Mack has two punt returns of at least 15 yards.
Armstrong experiment paying off: Napier drew plenty of criticism when he hired 30-year old Austin Armstrong as defensive coordinator, taking a huge gamble on a very young and mostly unproven name. So far it’s paying huge dividends. Last week, Florida’s defense held Tennessee to 16 points, the third-lowest scoring total in Vols coach Josh Heupel’s tenure. The Gators rank 10th nationally and first in the SEC in total defense and sit in the top 25 nationally in rushing defense and pass defense. This is against a schedule that has already featured two games against top-15 opponents.
Florida vs. Charlotte prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus
Simply put, Charlotte is a very bad football team. It ranks outside the top 90 nationally in almost every major defensive and offensive metric. The 49ers scored just 24 points against FCS South Carolina State and then lost their next two games by an average of 17 points. Florida should absolutely dominate on both sides of the ball. The Gators’ starting defense may not allow a score, and Mertz just needs to sit back and let the duo of Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson gash a run defense that gives up over 150 yards per game. The only thing stopping Florida from covering is itself, but a 28-point win is attainable. Prediction: Florida -28