FLORIDA FOOTBALL

Cloudy future of state rivalry adds importance to outcome


In what used to be a much bigger rivalry, Miami and Florida have only played five times over the past 25 years. (The Associated Press)

Published: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

MIAMI GARDENS — The Florida players who were asked this week if they have any memories of the Florida-Miami series pretty much had the same response — a sideways shake of the head.

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In what used to be a much bigger rivalry, Miami and Florida have only played five times over the past 25 years. (The Associated Press)

“I don't really have too many,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “I saw (former safety) Ahmad Black tweet the other day one of the scores to a game that we won. That's about all I know of the history of Florida-Miami. Just worried about this year.”

Driskel's response was typical among the Florida players, which is understandable.

The Gators and Hurricanes have not played since 2008 and have met on the football field only five times over the last 25 years. The two schools didn't play each other a single time in the 1990s.

And after Saturday's game in Sun Life Stadium, it could be decades before the schools get back together again for a game.

Which begs the question: Does Florida-Miami qualify as a college football rivalry?

Well, yes. Absolutely.

The series has no future, but it has quite a past, one filled with memorable games, moments, coaches, players and characters.

And even during those long stretches when the schools weren't playing each other, they were competing intensely against one another in recruiting, a battle that will continue to be waged in the coming years.

Today's players may not know much about the rivalry. But they know it is one. They can feel it, sense it, they say.

“It does (feel like a rivalry game),” said junior cornerback Cody Riggs, who is from South Florida (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas). “I've waited a long time to play Miami, so of course it feels like a rivalry.

“You feel it at practice, where everybody is excited to go down and play Miami.”

Junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who is from Miami, said this week has had the same feel as the buildup to the Georgia game, or the Florida State game.

It's rivalry week.

“I mean, it's very intense,” Dunbar said. “We came into practice very excited because we're ready to get out there and play Miami. It's pretty intense.”

One Gator who does have memories of the rivalry, who has experienced it, is Florida coach Will Muschamp. He grew up in Gainesville following Florida football, and UF-UM was big back in that day (the early 1980s).

Muschamp said he witnessed one of the rivalry's biggest moments sitting in the north end zone of Florida Field for the 1982 game.

“Since we expanded in the SEC (in 1992), it's not a game that's been played every year,” Muschamp said. “But we're looking forward to this Saturday. It's a game with a lot of tradition.

“Back in the '80s, when I lived in Gainesville, (UF fullback) James Jones made a one-handed catch in the north end zone and won the game, I think it was 17-14.

“(The rivalry) led off the year every year. So, it's been a fantastic series, and we'll see where it goes after Saturday.”

Muschamp said earlier in the week that he planned to educate his players on some of the history of the rivalry to give them a better feel for the intensity of the game and what it means to both schools.

“Our players understand the importance of the game,” Muschamp said. “We've talked about it, and we will continue to educate our players about the game.”

Muschamp pointed out two good reasons why the game should feel like a rivalry to today's players.

Many of them know each other from playing against (or with) each other in high school and in all-star games. And, Florida and Miami are big-time college programs that are in the same state and share much of the same recruiting ground.

“Anytime they're playing guys that they're familiar with and they know, it's obviously very important,” Muschamp said. “(The two programs) are very well aware of each other. We have great respect for their program, as I'm sure they do for us.

“I don't know that the history is as much (of a factor in the rivalry) as the carry-over of maybe knowing players on the team, whether you played with them in high school or against them in high school and having respect for them.”

The Florida players said Muschamp has added a little extra motivation to the rivalry by stressing that the Gators have a chance to win the state championship this season because Florida, Miami and Florida State all play each other.

“Muschamp always stresses to win the state, so this is a pretty big game for us,” Dunbar said.

Said Riggs: “That's the whole thing that I'm looking forward to, being able to win this game and win here (against FSU later in the season), to beat both of those guys and hopefully we'll be the state champs.”

As for the UF-UM rivalry, Riggs knows so little about it that he didn't realize until this week that this is the last time the two teams will play for perhaps many years.

“I didn't know that. I thought we played them again (next season),” Riggs said. “That's kind of sad that two big-time programs in the state don't play each other. I would hope to play them every year.

“Hopefully, times can go back to old times. It's kind of disappointing that this might be the last time.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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