SEC Media Days: Gators can't wait to make opening statement against rival Miami
HOOVER, Ala. — Thanks to an update to the schedule, Dan Mullen’s second season in Gainesville will start with a nationally televised showdown without any other television competition as Florida’s season-opener against Miami in Orlando was pushed up seven days to Saturday, Aug. 24.
The decision to bump up the game gives one of the most underrated rivalries in the country another level of exposure as the Gators and the Hurricanes will open the 2019 college football season with their own Saturday night time slot.
This matchup could be one of the better rivalries in college football if not for one fact — they rarely meet. The two programs last met in 2013 and have only met twice since the 2005 season.
There was a time, from 1944 to 1987, Florida and Miami played annually. Efforts have been made to renew the annual series but those efforts have been in vain.
Florida and Miami fans clearly view the series as a rivalry. Based on the Gators’ comments Monday at SEC Media Days, they feel much the same.
“Yeah, we don’t play often and that’s one of the things that makes it special,” Feleipe Franks said of playing Miami.”Two, we are good in-state teams. It’s a fun game, I love playing in games that are highly anticipated. You play a really good team, University of Miami is a really good team, University of Florida has a really good team, and when teams like that clash and play that’s when it’s awesome.”
Based on what the other two Gators in Hoover had to say about the game, climbing the SEC ladder isn’t the only goal in Gainesville — winning the state is among the most important pillars of Dan Mullen’s Florida program.
“Yeah, I feel like it is a rivalry because it’s an in-state game,” Lamical Perine said. “We got this motto where we feel like honestly, we are trying to be the best team in Florida. To be that, we have to beat the best teams — UCF, Florida State, Miami, whoever you want to put us against. USF, anybody.”
Pretty wild that Perine listed UCF before getting to FSU and Miami, but few could blame him based on the recent history of those teams.
Winning the state being among the chief priorities of Mullen’s program was a sentiment was echoed by Jabari Zuniga.
“Yeah, I do. I feel like they are in the state of Florida so you know, Miami and FSU, those are always going to be games that mean something more than football,” Zuniga said. “It’s just one of those things where they are going to get the best of us and we are going to get the best of them.”
When the Gators open their season against the Hurricanes, they will have a national spotlight on them. With the weight of not only heightened expectations following a 10-win season but facing a quality opponent just as eager and confident as they are under the new leadership of Manny Diaz.
How will the Gators respond to that pressure?
If the team follows Franks’ lead, look for the Gators to come out and deliver the first statement win of the 2019 college football season.
“The stage is set for you and you have to go out and perform,” Franks said on the nationally televised Miami game. “Those are the stages I like to play on. It will be fun.”