The Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes have had nearly eight months to prepare for the one-time revival of their rivalry in the 2019 Camping World Kickoff in Orlando. Or rather, by Saturday, they will have had three and 1/3 years- or 1,215 days- to prepare for it. That’s how long it’s been since the matchup was announced on April 27, 2016.
Of course, this means an insane amount of hype surrounding this game. It’s gotten to monopolize the prime time Saturday night slot on August 24, the trash talk from players and fans alike has been through the roof in terms of frequency and intensity, and tickets are now going for over four hundred dollars in the lower level of the Citrus Bowl. Oh, and this matchup pits one team looking to take the first step back toward national relevance against another team trying to take the last step from national relevance to national power- and if that’s not enough, it’s a classic student vs. teacher matchup in Manny Diaz of Miami and Dan Mullen at Florida (Diaz was Mullen’s defensive coordinator at Mississippi State).
What I’m saying is, not only is this chapter of the Florida-Miami series perhaps the most highly anticipated matchup in the rivalry’s long and storied history, but the new and unique stage it’s been placed on means there really isn’t even a close second. And while that makes for a lot of good headlines, tweets and TV rants, the fact of the matter is that it could make for one hell of an ugly game.
The fact of the matter is that 18-22 year old kids- particularly those at the younger end of that range- are not especially talented in the art of channeling built up emotions into optimal on field results. If you require clarification, google “FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels III punches Florida receiver Josh Hammond.” But it won’t necessarily come out in as stupid of a fashion as one player trying to injure an opponent by throwing a fist at a hard helmet. Spring and summer practices aren’t adequate enough preparation to avoid the things you always hear announcers and beat writers categorize as “opening game kinks.” You know. Bad snaps. Missed protection assignments. Blown coverages. Running the wrong route. Timing on a back shoulder throw being a half second off. Dropped passes due to heavy footsteps. Delay of game and pre-snap procedural penalties. And last and most importantly, turnovers. (Remember the last time these teams played?) Those things are all at increased levels of likelihood in this unique type of showdown, so watching the game with a bottle of Xanax in your hand may not be the worst idea in the world.
The fact that these teams know each other from high school- and because Diaz used to work for Mullen- but then don’t really know each other because they never play anymore- is only likely to heighten the standard opening game ugliness. And the on-field personnel is going to be conducive to just that, too. Florida’s offensive line is comprised of four new starters- each of whom has promise and potential but has proven very little if anything at all to date. And Miami’s offensive line will feature a pair of 18 year old true freshmen at both tackle spots, a similarly young redshirt freshman quarterback in Jarren Williams, and a secondary that’s respectable enough at the top of the depth chart, but virtually zero depth behind it. Opposite both of those green offensive lines are pretty nasty defensive lines that are well equipped to take advantage of their direct opposition, and that means we could be in for three hours of downright ugly football.
Of course, it’s possible that one of the two offensive lines (more likely than not, it would be Florida’s) comes out and magically looks like a team of All-Americans, gives their QB time to make things happen and that team runs away with it, but with all of the factors considered, there are too many unknowns to reasonably predict the game to go in any other direction. Of the two starting quarterbacks, Feleipe Franks is clearly more proven and trustworthy, but you only have to go back to the fifth most recent game he’s played to realize he’s certainly not immune to letting things get away from him when his offensive line doesn’t block at the level they were initially recruited to. So while, sure, Williams is more likely than Franks to suffer an absolutely miserable night, you’re fooling yourself if you think the chances of Franks suffering an absolutely miserable are zero.
None of the words I’m using to convey this message to strap yourselves in and prepare for some nauseating speed bumps on Saturday is an attempt to persuade you that the Gators shouldn’t be expected to win. They are, of course, but not really any more so than they are against any other Power Five team on their schedule. All I’m trying to say is, prepare yourselves for perhaps one of the most gruesome and hideous games of football you’ve ever seen, and then when you see it, don’t use it to discount Florida the rest of the way. Because the Gators should, and likely will, improve as the season progresses- particularly on the offensive line- which would render the grotesque slugfest I’m forecasting for this Saturday night the anomaly.
But in a cosmic sort of way, that’s kind of what we want. We want this Florida team to get battle tested, to have to win ugly games and be forced to beat teams with its collective “B” or even “C” games on days where its “A” game is not available. And if last year’s 13-6 win at Mississippi State was any indication, winning an ugly game like that could make the team better for having played in it.
UPDATE: prediction time.
I actually think Miami scores first. The energy that the Canes have been injected with will translate into a touchdown on their first possession of the game on a trick play or busted coverage of some sort. Florida, for its part, will struggle mightily out of the gate with four new offensive linemen in the starting lineup.
And the game likely isn’t going to get any prettier as it wears on. I’m forecasting a multi-turnover game from both teams, at least a half dozen pre and post snap penalties from each side, missed tackles and just a general array of sloppiness.
However, football games are sixty minutes of action long, and often span well over three hours. That’s a virtually microscopic slice of time compared to the months (six year, really) long buildup leading into the game, but it’s enough time for the superior talent, coaching and program to prove those things on the field. And that’s what I think happens. Ultimately, the Gators are the better team and assuming they can shut down Deejay Dallas and the Canes rushing attack, shouldn’t have too much of a problem figuring things out.
So Florida wins, and possibly in gigantic fashion- they’re simply too talented not to- but not before scaring the collective s%#t out of us all for a quarter or two.
Prediction: Florida 24, Miami 7