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Florida Gators

Gators future “Peachy” after pummeling Michigan Saturday

Matt Zemek

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators entered the Peach Bowl hoping they would play their best, or something close to it, but they also knew that all the pieces of a truly great team did not yet exist. Building for 2019 was the focus. Solving the whole puzzle on the offensive side of the ball was not realistic, but making noticeable improvements from the regular season represented an attainable goal well within the realm of possibility.

Dan Mullen and Feleipe Franks checked those boxes on Saturday in Atlanta.

Don’t start a runaway hype train with this team just yet… but the Gators very clearly showed that their future should own quite a few happy moments under their current head coach.

Don Brown is and has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the country over the past decade. Either at Boston College or now at Michigan, Brown has fielded a lot of tough and smart defenses which can physically punish opponents and possess good instincts. After getting smoked by Ohio State’s superior athleticism a month ago, Brown had a lot of incentive to get things right in the Peach Bowl, and since Florida’s passing game has not exactly lit up the skies this season, Brown had reason to think that even with star linebacker Devin Bush and pass rusher Rashan Gary not playing, his remaining players could at least contain the Gator offense.

No, it was unreasonable to expect that Michigan — minus Bush and Gary — could dominate Florida, but containment? That’s a standard of performance Brown needed from his defense.

Dan Mullen carved up Brown for most of the day, certainly in high-leverage situations.

Third-down quarterback draws, fourth-down jet sweeps to Kadarius Toney, tunnel screens — they all opened up big plays in timely moments. Florida’s pass routes schemed receivers wide open and confused Michigan’s secondary. The Michigan back four was not hit hard by player absences — Bush and Gary are both part of the front seven — so those breakdowns are harder to explain from the Michigan side than the other weaknesses the Wolverines displayed on Saturday.

Yet, as much as you might be able to say that the absences of Bush and Gary mattered — they obviously did to a considerable extent — not everything about Florida’s blowout win can be chalked up to the depth chart. Michigan still had Chase Winovich and a number of other really good defensive players who are better than many of the defenses the Gators faced this season. Once again, Michigan should not have been expected to crush Florida in its shorthanded state, but the Wolverines should have been able to keep Florida in the mid-20s.

Brown could not do that. Mullen very decisively outcoached him.

Florida’s players looked much sharper than they did late in the regular season. The month of fine-tuning Gator fans hoped would make a difference in this offense certainly carried the right effect.

The coaching staff was on top of its game. Players developed and improved, showing what can happen when their athleticism is more finely channeled into the feel and flow of a game against a 10-2, seventh-ranked opponent. (That opponent is now 10-3, but Michigan isn’t a bad team; it simply isn’t the great team many people thought it was heading into the battle with Ohio State.)

Feleipe Franks did not hit some open receivers in this game, but he didn’t make the big mistake, and he ran like a dynamo in the first half. In the second half, he relaxed and hit some tight-window throws down the field. He is not all the way there. He hasn’t yet reached a point of total comfort and command within Mullen’s offense.. but he came a lot closer in the Peach Bowl.

Now he gets an offseason to build on this performance.

Yes, it’s great… to be… a Florida Gator.

Now, though, let’s put the Gators’ situation in perspective. Optimism certainly floods the landscape and covers most patches of ground, but when I say that it’s great to be in Florida’s shoes, I am talking more about the program’s new floor rather than its new ceiling.

Let’s pump the brakes on the idea that, in 2019 and 2020, this program is going to be what Kirby Smart created at Georgia the past two seasons. Is that possible? Maybe. However, my focus on what this Peach Bowl romp means for Florida is more about the lower end of the spectrum for Mullen and Company.

What this game shows me is that even with a very imperfect quarterback and an offense which was stumbling in the dark for much of the season, Florida won 10 games and captured a New Year’s Six bowl trophy. Recruiting, talent and quarterbacking should all get BETTER in the coming years. Mullen — who did as much as he realistically could at Mississippi State, now has Florida’s resources to call upon. This season showed once again that Mullen does more with less.

Florida should very, very rarely win fewer than nine games in any regular season over the next decade with Mullen in charge. This hire was not viewed as a home run throughout the college football industry. I loved it, but not everyone else did, and I could understand why, especially since Chip Kelly was the man many Gator fans hoped for. Nevertheless, Mullen has now shown how much he can do with a given level of talent. He has already shown so much more acuity and skill than Jim McElwain did in building an offense which can maximize players’ strengths and minimize or hide their weaknesses.

Yes, McElwain won a pair of SEC East titles, but remember: That was after Missouri and Gary Pinkel lost their mojo, and before Kirby built the Georgia colossus. McElwain’s East titles were mostly the product of a power vacuum in the SEC East. Florida’s 2018 team was better than either of those two East championship teams under Mac If this Florida team had existed in 2015 or 2016, it wouldn’t have beaten Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, but it probably would have won more than those Gator teams did.

Florida might not be ready to deliver 11-1 seasons, but the days of being unsure if the Gators would be a lock to win nine games appear to be over. Florida now looks like a program which will once again be in the SEC hunt every year. That’s not quite what this program expects, but it couldn’t maintain that modest standard for much of the past decade. Now it has regained that level of footing as it tries to climb higher.

The 2018 season, now complete, did not raise the ceiling for Florida — that’s what Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow did. This 2018 campaign is significant because it raised the floor.

Like this Peach Bowl against Michigan, the 2018 UF football season wasn’t a perfect performance from start to finish, but it represented considerable improvement as it continued. It left Gator fans feeling a lot better at the end, compared to the beginning.

For Year 1, Dan Mullen ought to be satisfied with the degree of progress he attained. Judging by his reactions throughout the fourth quarter in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the final Saturday of the year, Mullen certainly looked like a man who knows he has begun to reestablish a foundation Florida football can build on.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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Florida Gators

Gators and Canes- It’s complicated

Matt Zemek

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Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

If asked to explain the football rivalry between the Miami Hurricanes and the Florida Gators, the simplest answer points to anything but simplicity.

This rivalry is very complicated.

If you look at the broader contours of this rivalry, which had been played annually for most of its history through 1987 but then abruptly stopped before resuming in the 2001 Sugar Bowl and then (in the regular season) in 2002, you might conclude that Miami has been fortunate.

Example number one: The Hurricanes didn’t play the Gators in the mid-1990s. The Gators were clearly the superior program for several seasons but didn’t play the Canes in that time window.

Example number two: Miami played Florida only once from 2006 through 2012. The Gators were elite under Urban Meyer and improbably made the Sugar Bowl in the 2012 season. Miami likely would have been roughed up had it played Florida on an annual basis in that seven-year sequence. It played UF only once (and lost, in 2008).

Yet, these likelihoods and probabilities can’t be taken for granted. When these teams have met, likelihoods and probabilities haven’t held up very well.

In the 1983 season, Miami won the national championship, beating Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Yet, those Hurricanes lost to the Gators. Miami lost in Game 1 to Florida and didn’t lose again.

In the 1984 season, Florida finished first in the SEC for the first time ever, winning a long-sought SEC championship. The title was later stripped, but it remained that the 1984 Gators were a special team on the field.

That year, Miami — with Jimmy Johnson in his first year as head coach after Howard Schnellenberger jumped to the USFL — slumped to an 8-5 record.

The Canes, however, defeated the Gators. Much as Miami lost to Florida in Game 1 of 1983 and didn’t lose again, the 1984 Gators lost to the Canes and never lost again, finishing 9-1-1.

In 1985, Miami had the better team than Florida. The younger but still hugely formidable version of the Miami crew which dominated the 1986 regular season entered its bowl game, the 1986 Sugar Bowl, with a No. 2 national ranking and a chance to win the national championship. The 1985 Canes lost only one regular-season game. Yep, you guessed it: to Florida in the opener.

The 1983-1985 Gators had high-quality teams, but no one talks about those squads because of the enormous amount of NCAA violations accumulated by Florida under Charley Pell (the head coach of the team throughout 1983 and on opening day of 1984) and Galen Hall (Pell’s 1984 offensive coordinator and his successor as head coach).

The corruption of Florida football was so pervasive — and the SEC so merciless toward Florida (in a way it never would be with cash-cow Alabama) — that Steve Spurrier’s first Florida team in 1990 was not given an SEC championship despite finishing first in the conference. It paid a price for sins committed by Galen Hall.

Nevertheless, despite the darkness of the mid-1980s in Florida football history, it remains that in 1983 and 1985, these schools met at the height of their powers. This has rarely happened in UM-UF annals. The 2001 Sugar Bowl was another instance, the 1966 game yet another… and that’s the full list of games between the Canes and Gators when both programs were riding high. For a series which dates back to 1938, that’s not a lot of showcase games.

Miami was weak when Florida was strong in the past 30 years. The discontinuation of annual play between the schools cost college football fans many clashes which probably would have been quite memorable and significant.

Imagine the 1991 Canes — co-national champions — facing the Gators at some point. Florida was in the top five entering the Sugar Bowl that season.

The 1994 Canes weren’t spectacular — Nebraska, often UM’s punching bag in the Orange Bowl, outplayed the 1994 Miami team — but they were still a top-five-quality group. The 1994 Gators led Florida State 31-3 in Tallahassee before the “Choke at the Doak” unfolded. UM-UF would have been fun in 1994, without question.

Imagine the 2001 Canes, possibly the best college football team of all time, facing Rex Grossman (whom many people feel should have won the Heisman Trophy over Nebraska’s Eric Crouch) and a loaded UF offense. That matchup didn’t occur in the regular season, but it could have happened in the Rose Bowl for the national title.

Florida, though, was stunned in The Swamp by Tennessee on December 1, dashing that possibility to bits.

Miami and Florida played a home-and-home series in 2002 and 2003… right after Spurrier left for the NFL and the Washington Redskins. Ron Zook was no match for the Larry Coker teams which were the last at UM to win on a massive scale.

Florida versus Miami is a story of two schools who don’t like each other, rarely meeting when both teams are great. The stop-and-start quality of this series, plus the untimely lapses for Miami and the equally untimely departure of Spurrier from Gainesville in 2002, have deprived this series of so many more special moments. Miami-UF could have become a rivalry on par with Miami-Florida State and Florida-Florida State, but it was not meant to be.

Let us see if yet another Canes-Gators season opener will cut against the grain. Don’t expect the losing team to go unbeaten the rest of the way, as 1983 Miami did after losing to UF, or as 1984 Florida did after losing to UM..

.. but given the way this series has played out, don’t take a single thing for granted. Miami is 12-4 in the last 16 games of the series dating back to 1978. It might be easy to think this is Florida’s time.

Yet, if UM-UF has taught Floridians anything, it is to let the drama play out and not assume one school has the obvious upper hand.

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Florida Gators

Gators- Hurricanes make home and home series official

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the Gators and the Hurricanes get ready to tangle on the neutral field of Orlando in a huge matchup Saturday night to open the 2019 college football season, the official word has come down that the two schools will meet each other twice more starting five years from now.

Both the Gators and Hurricanes released the information simultaneously Tuesday Morning announcing that Florida will host Miami in the opening game of the 2024 season at the Swamp and Florida will return the favor at Hard Rock Stadium against the Canes in September of 2025:

This is the first of a home-and-home schedule between the two programs since Florida hosted the Hurricanes in 2008, a 26-3 Gators romp and the Gators returned with a visit to Hard Rock Stadium in 2013, a Miami 21-16 victory.

The last time the two schools played in back-to-back years was 2002 – 03.

The Gators announcement of hosting Miami in the opening game on August 31, 2024, is the second piece to their non-conference schedule for that season. Obviously, Florida ends every year playing with Florida State in their rivalry game. Also, it has been previously announced that Florida will host USF as part of a two-for-one home game deal with the Bulls and that game will be on September 6th, 2025. Or, two weeks before Florida will now travel to play the Hurricanes in Miami.

The Canes now have three pieces to their non-conference schedule for both 2024 and 2025. Miami will host Florida A&M after the Gator opener on the road and then will play Notre Dame later in the season. In 2025 ,the Hurricanes will host USF, Notre Dame and now Florida, as part of a robust home schedule out of conference.

Saturday night’s showdown on the neutral field in Orlando is at Camping World Stadium and will be televised as a standalone ESPN national broadcast. The Gators are ranked in the top 10 of every preseason ranking and are a touchdown favorite of the Canes.

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