Standard-bearers: Florida, Miami embrace spotlight as they start season

Florida coach Dan Mullen. [File]

ORLANDO — The date they have been talking about, pointing toward and preparing for since the start of offseason conditioning in early January is finally here for the Florida Gators.

Aug. 24, 2019.

For historical purposes, let’s call it GS-Day.

GS — as in Gator Standard.

Ever since his return to the school where he helped the Gators win two national championships as the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, Florida coach Dan Mullen has been persistently talking about, preaching about, the Gator Standard — a level of overall excellence he says everyone in the program should be striving to achieve.

If you’ve listened to Mullen this week, it’s time for the Gators to put that standard to the test — and put it on display. This is an opportunity like no other. The college football world — maybe the entire football world — will be watching when Florida and Miami renew their rivalry in a game that stands alone to kick off the 150th year of college football.

Florida’s motivation today?

Playing up to the Gator Standard with everyone watching.

“Not just the fans, but all the other teams are watching us,” Mullen said. “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?”

For those out there who aren’t exactly sure what the standard is, quarterback Feleipe Franks can explain it in simple terms.

“We expect to win games. That’s the Gator Standard,” he said. “We expect to go out there and win every Saturday and try to be a playoff contender and win a championship here again.”

Clear enough. Now comes the hard part. Going out and doing it against the aggressive, athletic Hurricanes, who have quite a standard of their own and are just as fired up as Florida to show it off.

But the Gators don’t seem focused on the ’Canes, more on themselves. Mullen has been talking to them for weeks about this opportunity to play up to the UF standard.

Now it’s finally here.

“It’s a privilege,” sophomore linebacker James Houston said. “We play in the first game of the season before everybody, so everybody’s watching us. We’re in Orlando, neutral site, so it’s going to be hyped, it’s going to be a big game. The 150th anniversary, that’s history right there. We’ve got to put on.”

Some of UF’s veteran players have tried to tone down the hype this week, hoping to make sure everyone’s focus — especially the younger players — is simply on preparation, executing and playing well.

“I don’t really focus in on who’s watching and who isn’t,” senior wide receiver Freddie Swain said. “But other guys know we’re the only game on that day, that weekend. So, I mean, we’ve just got to come in and play our A game.”

“Everybody’s watching. Who doesn’t like attention. That comes with the game. Hopefully, we’ll come out and execute.”

A big part of the Gator Standard is to play for championships, something UF has not done much of since Mullen left to take over as the head coach at Mississippi State after the Gators won the 2008 national championship.

After winning 10 games and finishing in the top 10 in his first season in 2018, the Gators open the season tonight ranked No. 8 in both polls. So, obviously, the expectations that come with the standard are back.

“Our expectations are definitely a lot higher,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “You know, try to go to Atlanta and try to get a berth into the College Football Playoffs

“But that’s got to start every week in practice — grinding it out and continue to focus on the details. We have to continue to grind and stay together as a family and just continue to get better each and every week.”

And it all starts tonight. On the biggest stage of college football’s regular season. The Gators seem pretty sure of themselves heading into this one.

“I think going off last season, we have a lot more confidence in ourselves now,” junior safety Donovan Stiner said. “I think we’re just ready to take the next step.”