Gators make it to game week, eye Saturday's opener against Ole Miss
Game week has arrived for the Florida Gators.
With everything that’s been going on — the start of the season getting pushed back due to COVID-19, all the testing and uncertainty, all the long days on the practice field in a preseason camp that extended beyond a month — it seemed at times like it would never get here.
But it has.
“I'm excited. We haven't played in forever, so I'm excited for us to play,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “You keep asking, 'Hey, how are we going to be this year?' I don't know, we're going to find out on Saturday.
“We’ve kind of had a weird training camp only going against each other. It’s going to be good to see what we look like against another team, and a quality SEC team."
At this time a year ago, the Gators had already played four games and were 2-0 in the SEC, and they were playing every Saturday in stadiums packed with fans.
But this year is different. Everything about it is different — from the offseason, to the preseason, to the start of the season, to the number of fans in the stands.
It seems like forever since the Gators last played, way back in December in the Orange Bowl.
But Florida has finally made it here — to game week.
“I’m excited,” junior cornerback Marco Wilson said. “The season got delayed so there’s been a lot of practice against our own team. So we’re excited to go against somebody else and just start competing.
“We're pretty relieved. It's been a long time, and a lot of uncertainty, but me personally, I don't feel anxious. I'm just continuing to get prepared. I'd rather not be anxious because that might throw my mind out of whack, but be ready, just stay calm, get prepared, and focus on what I need to do."
The Gators have made it to game week. Now, can they make it to game day — Saturday in Oxford?
The football team had six positive tests for COVID-19 last week. Mullen would not divulge whether there have been any more positive tests or tracing since then that might impact Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know. I’m not going to get into that stuff. That’s not for me to get into,” he said. “All that stuff and how that works, I don’t know. I’m going to have to brush up on all my medical staff of how we would let people know if there is anybody of that nature.”
For now, the Gators and Rebels are a go for Saturday. That, of course, could change at any point leading up to the game, with more testing being done later in the week at both schools.
So, some of the uncertainty the Gators have been facing since their return to campus earlier this summer still lingers with the season now just a few days away.
“Obviously, all the COVID stuff makes you anxious,” Mullen said. “All the different scenarios that can play out during the course of the week.
“I could be getting ready to walk on the plane (Friday) and they could say, ‘Hey, these 10 guys can’t get on the plane.’ And you’ve got to do a whole new game plan Friday night. That makes me pretty anxious.
“It will keep you up at night just trying to solve as many different problems with every one of the scenarios that could happen.”
While Mullen may be anxious about the impact that COVID-19 could have this week, he’s also eager to see how his players perform in the opener Saturday after such a long layoff from actual game activity.
“I’ve never been this late in September where we haven’t played,” he said. “It’s a hug adjustment this week for us because you’ve got to change into full game mode. It's been a long time since we played, so we're excited to go. Looking forward to seeing how your team responds to all that they’ve gone through and then go on the road and start the season.”
Mullen gives credit to the players for reaching game week — and having the chance to start the season Saturday.
“Our guys have done a great job to this point,” he said. “We’ll see how it translates Saturday. I’m pleased with how our guys have handled everything. The maturity, how they’ve continued to work and improve. The responsibility of wearing their mask, social distancing, trying to limit issues.
“Our guys have done a really good job. I’m happy with where we are. We’ll see how it plays out Saturday.”
Who: No. 6 Florida vs. Ole Miss
Where: Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850