- Here's what you should be looking out for when the Gators and Hurricanes open the 2019 college football season on Saturday night.
College football is back! Or at least, sort of.
For the fourth consecutive season, we’ll get an early start to the season as Week 0 opens things up a few days ahead of Thursday’s formal kickoff. Although there will be some anticipating a late-night matchup between Arizona and Hawai’i, the centerpiece game will be the first—a Sunshine State battle as Miami and No. 8 Florida clash in Orlando. The neutral site battle will be played at Camping World Stadium and air on ESPN in a showcase of the state’s best power-conference programs.
With excitement building toward the first live action of the 2019 season, we run through a few of the storylines that will be worth watching at the Gators and Hurricanes renew a once-annual rivalry Saturday night:
Pressure Under Center
N’Kosi Perry was Miami’s best quarterback last season, although that’s not saying much. In 2018, Perry averaged less than 100 yards per game through the air and threw for just 13 touchdowns in 11 games. So when Tate Martell announced that he’d be transferring to the U from Ohio State and won immediate eligibility, most figured the former high school All-American would be in line to take over the starting job in Coral Gables.
But neither Perry nor Martell will start against Florida. Instead, head coach Manny Diaz announced Jarren Williams as the starter following a camp competition. The redshirt freshman was a consensus top-10 quarterback recruit, but he played in just one game last year, making it hard to have any real expectations. If the decision works out, there will be plenty of praise for Diaz. A first start against a Florida defense that ranked 13th in the nation against the pass last season should be a heck of a measuring stick for Williams.
Horses in the Back(field)
Both of these teams were among the top half of FBS teams in rushing last season, and it’s not unreasonable to expect those numbers to tick up this season. Gators senior Lamical Perine (cousin of Washington Redskins RB Samaje Perine) and Hurricane junior DeeJay Dallas should carry the loads for their respective teams—both logged more than 700 yards and at least 119 touches.
Although both of these defenses were stellar against the pass last season, neither was all that good against the run. It will still be plenty hot and sticky, as usual, meaning the big boys in the trenches will get tired quickly. Miami and Florida would be wise to lean on their tailbacks to get things going in this one.
Get in Line
If Perine is going to have a big year, he’ll need his offensive line to lead the way. The problem is that there are lots of questions with that group. Four starters from last season are gone—Jawaan Taylor, Martez Ivey and Fred Johnson are all on NFL rosters and Tyler Jordan is trying to find his way onto one as well. That means it’s going to be nearly an entirely new crop in front of QB Feleipe Franks.
The numbers show that the Gators’ front five was much better last season, and there’s reason to think that scheme changes under Dan Mullen helped as well. But this is still a young group that has yet to play together in a real game. They’ll be thrown into the fire vs. Miami, which racked up 40.0 sacks last season and tied for first in tackles for loss (136.0) with national champion Clemson.
Bringing It Back
From 1938 through 1987, these teams met annually, typically flip-flopping hosting duties between Miami and Gainesville with the occasional matchup in Jacksonville or Orlando. But once the SEC mandated that conference games increase from six to seven in 1988, the series stopped. It only resumed in 2001 thanks to a Sugar Bowl matchup, yet continued over the next few years with a home-and-home arrangement as well as another postseason meeting at the 2004 Peach Bowl.
Since 1987, however, the series has been lopsided, with the Hurricanes winning five of the six games, including two by double-digits. Florida, however, will be favored in Saturday's primetime battle thanks to the Gators' status as a top-10 team. Regardless of who wins, we won't need to wait forever for the next continuation of this rivalry. Earlier this week, the schools announced a home-and-home series in 2024 and 2025, ensuring there's more clashes to come on the horizon.