After seven months of waiting, college football has returned. This year’s inaugural game, however, has a deeper meaning to college football fans from Florida. A good portion of South Floridians ally themselves with either the University of Miami or the University of Florida. Although a rivalry exists between the schools, they rarely play against each other and last met in 2013. This Saturday, UM and UF will face off in one of the most anticipated games of this year’s college football season as both teams look to establish themselves as a threat to possibly make a run in the College Football playoffs.
The offseason started poorly for the Miami Hurricanes. One year after finishing with a 10-3 record and appearing in the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes fell to 7-6 and lost to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, marking their second consecutive bowl game loss to Wisconsin. It appeared that things took a turn for the worse when Miami’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz accepted a head coaching job at Temple University. However, on Dec. 30, everything would change for the Hurricanes.
Former head coach Mark Richt abruptly stepped down from his position and retired from college football; within 24 hours, Diaz left Temple and signed on as the next coach of the Miami Hurricanes. Fans were ecstatic that Diaz, the man who created Miami’s famous “turnover chain” and helped the Hurricanes defense only give up 278.9 yards per game (fourth best in the FBS), would return to Miami to try and help Miami become an elite football team once again after ranking as high as second in the nation only two years ago.
After Diaz’s hiring, the next big headline for the ‘Canes this offseason was their starting quarterback. After disappointing performances the previous season from then-redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry and now graduated Malik Rosier, the starting quarterback race was wide open for the Hurricanes. More competition came when former five-star recruit Tate Martell transferred to the Hurricanes from Ohio State University. However, both Perry and Martell would lose the starting job to redshirt freshman Jarren Williams, a former four-star recruit who wowed coaches in practice due to his strong instincts, high ceiling and work ethic. Williams has already won over several Hurricanes fans who expect big things from him this season.
“Jarren Williams can do it all, he is the future for the ‘Canes,” Palmetto junior and dedicated Hurricanes fan Aaron Schurr said.
Williams hopes to pull off an upset against the Gators to help propel the Hurricanes, who missed out on the Associated Press’s top 25 list by four spots, back into the rankings.
Fresh off a strong season, the Gators pose an enormous challenge to the Hurricanes. The Gators finished the 2018 season with a 10-3 record, topped off by a commanding 43-15 win against the Michigan Wolverines in the Peach Bowl. Unlike the Hurricanes, the Gators had a relatively quiet offseason. Second-year head coach Dan Mullen’s job appears safe for now as long as the Gators keep performing at a high level.
“I believe that [the Gators] had a very good 2018 season even though Dan Mullen was in his first year,” Palmetto junior and long-time Gator fan Julio Peralta said.
While Mullen said that Florida’s quarterback race was wide open, redshirt junior Feleipe Franks managed to hold on to the starting job and is set to open for the Gators during their Week zero matchup against the Hurricanes.
Whatever happens this week will set the tone for both teams, in addition to the pressure already created by their bitter rivalry. Fans on both sides have anticipated this game for a long time.
“What I’m most excited about for the game on Saturday is not only to watch the first college football season for the Hurricanes, but to argue and debate with the Gator fans and have a great time,” Palmetto sophomore and devoted Hurricanes fan Ethan Herskowitz said.
Both teams lost considerable talent to the 2019 NFL Draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball. UM lost notable players such as starting safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine, while UF lost starting linebackers Jachai Polite and Vosean Joseph. Additionally, both teams no longer have their star running backs, with UF’s Jordan Scarlett going in the fifth round to the Carolina Panthers and UM’s Travis Homer going in the sixth round to the Seattle Seahawks. Concerns have been raised for both teams about how these drafted players being gone will affect the team’s performance.
“I’m a little concerned about the defensive side of the ball due to the class of talent that was drafted into the NFL last year,” Palmetto junior and avid Gators fan Moutaz Talas said.
This will be only the third matchup between UM and UF since 2004. Here is a closer look at the history between the programs, as well as the Panther’s predictions for the game:
ALL TIME RECORD: 29-26, Hurricanes
LONGEST WIN STREAK: 7 games, Gators
LAST MATCHUP: 9-7-2013, 21-16, Hurricanes
LARGEST VICTORY: 11-16-1940, 46-6, Gators
RECORD IN LAST 10 MATCH UPS: 7-3, Hurricanes
Hurricanes X-Factor: Jarren Williams
Hurricanes Strength: Linebackers
Hurricanes Weakness: Offensive Line
Gators X-Factor: Feleipe Franks
Gators Strength: Receivers
Gators Weakness: Offensive line
Favored to Win: Florida (-7.5)
The Panther’s Prediction: Miami 27, Florida 24