GAINESVILLE - For seven years, Florida has loomed over Miami as the superior program, and this could be the Hurricanes’ last chance in the foreseeable future to fire back.
But after storming to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl appearance last season, the Gators are accustomed to opponents salivating over the chance to take them down.
“Every team’s gunning for us,” defensive tackle Dominique Easley said when asked what he expected from Miami this week. “So we’ve just got to prepare correctly and come out there and do what we do.”
When No. 10 Florida takes on the Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday (noon, ESPN), it might be the final regular-season opportunity for either team to “do what we do” against each other.
The teams can always meet in a bowl, but this game closes out a home-and-home contract signed by the schools in 2006. Both athletic directors indicated there are no plans for a new deal.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said he loves the rivalry, but his school’s preference is to play seven home games every season and keep Florida State as its only major nonconference opponent. With the SEC likely heading toward a nine-game conference schedule in the next few years, there is no room for Miami in UF’s plans.
“When you play in this league and you play Florida State, we don’t have to apologize for our schedule,” Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley said in May. “If you played nine conference games plus Florida State, you’d never have to apologize for the schedule.
“There has been no discussion between us and the University of Miami. I have great respect for Miami’s total athletic program, but that’s just something that is not high on the list right now.”
In terms of this season, the Hurricanes (1-0) would instantly grab some credibility by toppling a top-10 team. UF, meanwhile, knows that any loss could derail its shot at playing for a national title. Both teams are coming off decisive season-opening wins against small-conference foes: The Gators beat Toledo 24-6 on Saturday, and Miami defeated Florida Atlantic 34-6 the night before.
Beyond that, the Gators (1-0) are looking to continue their recent dominance. While they have only played UM once in the past seven years, a UF win in 2008, they had the better record each season and won two national championships during that period.
Muschamp and Miami coach Al Golden weren’t around for the ’08 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and all of the players from those rosters are gone other than Jeremy Brown, UF’s sixth-year senior cornerback. Still, the Hurricanes’ fan base certainly remembers the sting of that 26-3 defeat.
As if losing to UF for the first time since 1985 wasn’t bad enough, the Hurricanes watched Urban Meyer tack on a field goal with 25 seconds left instead of letting the clock run out.
“Sometimes when you do things and people see what kind of person you really are, you turn a lot of people off,” former UM coach Randy Shannon said afterward.
That was actually the second touchy kick in the series. After watching the UF crowd throw oranges at his players during the Hurricanes’ 1980 blowout, Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger opted for a field goal on the final play of a 31-7 win.
The 2008 loss ended Miami’s six-game winning streak in the rivalry. The Hurricanes won two games in each home stadium, plus the 2000 Sugar Bowl and 2004 Peach Bowl. They have a 28-26 lead all time and have won 11 of the last 15 meetings.
Stopping the Hurricanes’ streak was a highlight of Meyer’s incredible run from 2006-09. The Gators went 48-7 and won two BCS titles, while Miami stumbled to seven losses in the 2007 season alone and went 28-23 overall in that span.
UF has been beating the Hurricanes off the field as well by staying out of NCAA trouble and cleaning up in recruiting. The recent signing class marked the eighth straight time the Gators were ahead of UM in Rivals’ recruiting rankings. Florida made the top five nationally in six of those years; Miami did it just once.
Games like this can sway prospects who are trying to decide which school has the brighter future.
“Definitely,” Gators running back Valdez Showers said. “They are playing to win the state, just like we are. It’s big.”