Florida vs. Miami in any sport, at anytime, in any place, is usually going to be big and heated because of the rivalry factor.
But this football matchup in Orlando on Saturday night transcends the rivalry. It’s huge on so many different levels, the main one being that the Gators and Hurricanes will be kicking off the 150th season of college football and they’re going to have the national stage all to themselves.
The football world will be watching the prime-time event at Camping World Stadium.
Some coaches might approach a game like this a little wary, worried their players might get distracted or be blinded by the bright lights.
Florida’s Dan Mullen is not.
He wants to make sure his players embrace the big stage, he said Monday.
“Everybody in the country is ready for college football, excited for college football,” Mullen said. “It’s Saturday, so a lot of teams aren’t practicing and a lot of teams haven’t started their game week yet. One of the great things is not just the fans, but all the other teams are watching us.
“What are they going to see? What’s our stamp? When every college person in the country turns on their TV, what’s their thought when they see the Florida Gators? We have to go out there and live up to that on the field. Everybody is watching. What do you want them to think about you?”
It’s a mission. How well the Gators carry it out may well be determined, at least in part, by what transpires this week in the solitude of their own practice field.
Be prepared. Be focused.
That’s been the message from some of the veteran players who have experience — some good, some bad — playing in big-time games before a big audience.
“I think we’ve just got to stay focused,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Being that it’s the only game in college football, the kickoff game for the 150th year, the biggest thing is to just stay focused.
“College Game Day will be there and everybody will be watching. The biggest thing is to just stay focused and paying attention to the details and that will start in practice. Not letting the media get to us on social media or anything like that. Just stay focused on what we need to focus on at practice so we can play at a high level come Saturday.”
Third-year sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said the Gators need to make sure they’re not distracted by all the “noise” that will accompany this matchup of state rivals.
“Really just focus on what you need to do, don’t focus on what’s going on around you,” he said. “That’s just outside noise. Focus on what you’ve got to do, your assignment and play for your brothers out there.”
The Gators plan to take the same approach that they’ve taken throughout the offseason, spring and summer — through lifts, runs and preseason camp.
This is another week. Another challenge. Get ready for it.
Wilson said waking up to game week Monday should have felt like just any other day.
“It’s the same,” he said. “We’ve always been focused. Mind’s been wired on getting better every day, going hard every day, giving your all. Because in the back of my mind, we know what’s ahead of us and we know we have a team to go play.
“So, I think if your mind was changing today then you’re too late. Our mind hasn’t been the same since we went through winter workouts and fall camp. Summer workouts, it’s been the same.”
What won’t be the same is the atmosphere in Orlando. It should be electric and loud — and everybody will be watching.
“Everybody knows it’s going to be a pretty exciting game,” senior running back Lamical Perine said. “It’s Week Zero, we’re going to be the only game on that day. You’ve just got to, honestly, look yourself in the mirror and understand what you’ve got to do and don’t lose composure and just play your game.”