We’re in the 11th hour. Football is upon us and it’s starting off with a bang. Dan Mullen is determined to return the swag and prominence to the Florida Gators program and sitting at No. 8 (AP) and a Saturday night date with the Miami Hurricanes with the whole nation watching feels like he’s on the right track. We could spend hours reviewing the storylines and talk right up to kickoff about all the details we need to remember. Instead let’s just review the big five and get ready for some football.
One Thing to Remember
For so long, this was the game that meant college football season had arrived. In 1984, it actually helped close out ESPN’s first day of broadcasting live college football games. From the “Gator Flop” in 1971, to Brock Berlin’s transfer from Florida to Miami in 2002 (and subsequently leading the Canes to defeat the Gators in a comeback 2003 win), the rivalry has been rife with hate. And time only makes the heart grow fonder. This will be only the 7th time the two Sunshine State teams have faced off since the turn of the century. Miami currently leads those games 5-1 and leads the entire series 29-26. The Gators last win came in 2008, helping to kick off (albeit from a second game) a National Championship run. At neutral site games, the teams are tied 3-3. Whatever happens Saturday will most certainly be reviewed ad nauseam between now and 2024. That’s the next time Florida and Miami are scheduled to face off, the first fold of a home and home that will conclude in 2025.
One Florida Player to Watch
Sophomore Amari Burney steadily carved out a spot for himself on this defense last season. After a solid freshman campaign, he capped it with a sack of Shea Patterson in the Peach Bowl that left little doubt he was coming to make an impact in 2019. He finished the season with 11 tackles and two pass breakups in his few minutes. Burney is a reverted safety who has the size to step up in the box. As such the coaches have primarily placed him at outside linebacker to replace the NFL departed Vosean Joseph. Burney has a nose to help stop the run with the cover ability to drop by when necessary. This could be most beneficial when covering tight ends, a position that too often torched the Gators in 2018. Burney’s versatility has also made him the first backup to Trey Dean at STAR. He could be the dark horse that helps shore up this Gators defense and he’s definitely one to watch.
One Miami Player to Watch
The Canes have some star playmakers including a linebacker corps that could prove disruptive. But the one to watch this Saturday will undoubtedly be redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams. The Gators defensive players have been smart, making sure they give Williams credit and not talking themselves in a corner they can't play out of. But it has to be acknowledged, if Jarren Williams is the next freshman phenom a lá Trevor Lawerence, then it stands to reason he wouldn't have been redshirted last year. And so there's a greater chance that Saturday could look early familiar to Gator fans with Williams playing the role of Feleipe Franks versus Michigan in 2017. However, if Williams is able to come out swinging and build confidence quick, then everything we thought about this game shifts. The chances of that happening aren’t great but it's something to watch nonetheless.
One Big Question
The SEC is a trenches league and the Gators will get a good glimpse of what they’re working with on Saturday. The Canes return to the field after finishing the 2018 season 4th in the NCAA in total defense. It was Miami’s secondary that did a lot of the work, coming in No. 1 in the NCAA, but that group returns only one starter. In the front seven, every position is filled by upperclassmen and they will test the Gators young offensive line. However, while center Nick Buchanan is the only returning starter on that unit, he’s flanked by Brett Heggie who has started in the past, and three others who have been in the program for two offseason now. Alternatively on the Canes offensive line sits two freshmen (one true, one redshirt). They’ll be facing a Gators defensive line that returns its interior starters (Kyree Campbell and Adam Shuler) and defensive end (Jabari Zuniga), while adding a veteran transfer at the BUCK position (Jon Greenard). Who outlasts? The cards seemed stacked in Florida’s favor.
One Last Prediction
Florida wins 35-14.
I’m nervous saying that because I sat through that 2013 Florida-Miami game where the Gators were coming off that 2012 Sugar Bowl season and had all the expectations in the world then bumbled it all away in Miami Gardens. I’m nervous saying that because there are no rules in rivalry games. I’m nervous saying that because if something goes wrong, I don’t know if we’ll see the team that lost to Missouri or the team that embarrassed South Carolina. I’m nervous saying that because as much confidence as Dan Mullen has injected into this program and this team, there is still a decade of games in the back of my mind that have set a devil on my shoulder making me doubt. But I also saw what this team could do when motivated like the back half of last season. I see the importance Dan Mullen isn't afraid to put on rivalry games. I see that Tim Tebow, hype speech extraordinaire, is speaking to the team ahead of kickoff. And I see who they bring back compared to Miami’s roster. I’m nervous saying this prediction but every time I work through the possible outcomes, logic kicks back in and I land back on a 35-14 Florida win.