College football is officially back in our lives — at least for the next few months — and it will be kicking off it’s 150th season with a rivalry game we will see more of in the future. No. 8 Florida and Miami (FL) will make the trek to Orlando on Saturday night to meet in a neutral-site game to open “Week 0.” The two schools haven’t met since 2013 when the Hurricanes upset the No. 12 Gators in Miami Gardens. The good news for fans of both teams is that they have actually agreed to the first consecutive home-and-home series in two decades slated for 2024-25.
The Gators are coming off of a solid season in Dan Mullen’s first season as their coach, which included a 10-3 record and a thorough dismantling of Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Feleipe Franks will return as their starting quarterback after putting up the most prolific passing season by a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow’s final season in 2009. Miami is entering its first year with first-time coach Manny Diaz, who served as its defensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Redshirt freshman Jarren Williams will take the snaps and has a talented set of skill players to help him transition to the starting role.
What will happen Saturday night? Let’s break it down with some analysis, storylines and a prediction on the outcome of the first game of the 2019 season.
Date: Saturday, Aug. 24 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Camping World Stadium — Orlando, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Florida: The Gators will enter the season with the best set of skill players they’ve had in nearly a decade, including running back Lamical Perine and wide receivers Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Trevon Grimes and Joshua Hammond. The biggest question, though, is who will block for Franks? Four offensive linemen are gone from last year’s squad, which will put a ton of pressure on first-year starters including junior Stone Forsythe at left tackle and fellow junior Jean Delance at right tackle. The defense has plenty of veterans at all levels, including star defensive end Jabari Zuniga, veteran middle linebacker David Reese and stud defensive backs CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson. Depth could be a problem for the Gators, especially in the defensive backfield.
Miami: Williams was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and has tremendous upside in an offense that includes veteran running back DeeJay Dallas, wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn. Like Florida, the Hurricanes have some inexperience up front, so protecting Williams will be key. Miami’s front seven might be one of the best in the country before season’s end. Star defensive lineman Jonathan Garvin, and senior linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney lead a a veteran crew that finished 11th in the country in sacks last season (40).
Game prediction, picks
If you’re expecting a crisp, well-played game on Saturday night, this one won’t live up to your expectations. Why? Miami’s defensive front will take advantage of Florida’s uncertainty up front on the offensive line, and Florida’s defensive front will make Williams extremely uncomfortable in his first meaningful action as a major college quarterback. Because of that, I’ll side with the signal-caller who has gone through several ups and downs in his career but ended last season on a high note. That quarterback is Franks, of course. Give me the Gators to win, but covering will be more of challenge Pick: Miami (+7.5)
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