Thursday, September 4, 2008

Welcome to the Swamp...

On Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes travel north to renew their rivalry with the my alma mater, the Florida Gators. I can't wait. While the Hurricanes lead the series by a few games overall, recent history is forgettable for Gator fans like myself. 2 embarrassing bowl games and a debacle in the now demolished Orange Bowl in 2003 are memories I wouldn't mind erasing. But this is 2008.

As I watch Vanderbilt beat the Ol' Ball Coach for the 2nd consecutive year, I am reminded that this is a new college football. Upsets are as likely as blowouts, it seems. This Miami team that ventures into the Swamp is talented, there is no doubt. Young, yes. Inexperienced, very. But there is no lack of potential, speed, or talent. But this isn't a state high school championship they're coming to play. This isn't Glades Central they're lining up against. This is the Orange and Blue versus the U.

As my esteemed colleague E.J. points out, college football is a game of emotion. And while the 'Canes might be too young and stupid to realize how big of a challenge this will be for them, you can bet the farm that Saint Meyer will be educating the current Gators on this matchup's recent history. There will be film sessions of the 2004 Peach Bowl. There will be DVDs made and passed out showing Sebastian the Ibis on the field celebrating with the U before the 2000 Sugar Bowl was over. While some of these players may not have grown up knowing this was THE rivalry in the state pre-1987, they will know now. Both teams will come into this game angry. This will be a rivalry game, have no doubts.

But this is the difference. Of the 100 players on Miami's roster, 40 or either true or redshirt freshman. 21 true freshman played in Miami's opening game against Charleston Southern. It may not have helped that they were able to sleepwalk their way to a 52-7 win. The last thing they need to be thinking is, "Hey, we just scored 52 points, we're unstoppable!" A freshman QB is starting his first collegiate game... ever... in the Swamp... at night... on national TV... The talent is undeniable; in 2006, he broke Tim Tebow's Florida State High School records in passing yards and touchdowns. But his receiving core is questionable, at best. There's no question that Miami's running game is the key to their upset chances. Time of possession will be a key stat on Saturday night. Unless of course the Gators score on 3-4 minute drives all night long...

Welcome to the Swamp. In Florida's opening win against Hawaii, the Gators scored touchdowns on offense (4 rushing, 1 passing), defense (2 INT returns), and special teams (punt return). 11 different Gators rushed to combine for 238 yards on the ground. 11 different players. Harvin didn't play, remember. Major Wright, Wondy Pierre-Louis, and Joe Haden have the Gators secondary looking much improved already, while Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap lead the front 7 that looks quicker and faster then last season's defense.

I'm superstitious, I don't like being favored. I don't like expectations. I was nervous before the Hawaii game. I'll be nervous before the Citadel come to Gainesville in November. I'm nervous now. Miami has speed, they have talent in the right places. I won't be surprised at all to see a tight score at halftime. But this is Florida vs. Miami. This is high school rivalries bleeding into collegiate hatred. This is making up for the last 6 times these two have met. This is a defense looking to prove they won't be the reason Florida doesn't have a title shot this year. This is the fastest, most explosive, weapon filled offenses college football may see. Ever. This is Gator country. This is the Swamp... only Gators get out alive.

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