Miami matchup could set tone for Florida's season


Published: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.

The game will have nothing to do with their respective conference races. It's so early in the season that the loser won't be eliminated from anything.

Both teams have been ranked higher when they played in the past. On a national scale, there will be a lot more attention paid to Notre Dame-Michigan and probably South Carolina-Georgia.

It's a rivalry game that has rarely been played since 1987. One team hasn't won a bowl game since 2006 and hasn't won a conference championship in 10 years. The other hasn't won its conference since 2008.

And yet, why do I get the sense that this is a HUGE game for both teams?

I know it is for Miami. The Hurricanes haven't won a big game in a long time. The last was against Oklahoma four years ago when QB Sam Bradford was injured. This is their Super Bowl.

But it's also big for the Gators.

It's big because this game will be a tone setter for the rest of the season.

I felt the same way a year ago when Florida went to Texas A&M. I told people at halftime that the second half would define what kind of team Florida would have in 2012.

You win this kind of a game and your players believe. You build momentum. This isn't about bragging rights, it's about making a statement.

I'm certainly not going to say this is the biggest game in Will Muschamp's career. Florida's No. 1 goal is to win the SEC East and this game won't count in the standings. But in a way, it will have a lot to do with the conference season.

I've said a million times that every game is its own game, but you'd much rather have a confident team heading into that schedule than one with a lump in the shape of a “U” on its head.

It's big for the offense. Miami struggled on defense a year ago, but improved later in the season. Florida believes it can run the ball, but what if this turns into a shootout? Is this offense capable of winning a game in the 30s?

We may not have to find out, but aren't we all curious? Florida's going into this game with a sledgehammer for a weapon, but it may need to bring out something a little more flashy. Do the Gators have it in their arsenal?

It's big for the defense. Florida has faced some pretty good offenses during Muschamp's tenure. I don't think they've faced one any better and certainly better-balanced than this one.

Think this game is big for Antonio Morrison and Loucheiz Purifoy?

For Matt Jones?

After missing the opener, will those guys be more about adrenaline or rust?

That's the thing — there are more questions than answers as this game approaches. Many of them will be answered today.

For example, I've been saying all summer that I felt this Florida team was slightly better than last year's, but wondered if it would show up in the W-L record. Today would be a big step in the right direction for the Gators if they win.

Can Florida cover big-time receivers with a quarterback who can really spin it? Last time out (Sugar Bowl) the answer was no. Can the Gators shut down an elite running back? Will Florida allow its receivers to try to be great? Was Kyle Christy's shaky first game an aberration or a trend?

And the biggest question of all — is Miami back?

In front of a sellout crowd on a hot and muggy day, we won't find out the answer to that question. One win does not a recovery make. But it would feel like it.

More than anything, today will feel big. And we'll find out if Florida is ready to win big games.

Because there are plenty of them on their way.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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