No players for Miami or Florida have been part of a game in this once-heated rivalry. That doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of the significance.
“It’s playing the ‘U,’” Gators quarterback Tim Tebow said. “I’ve never done it before. I’m excited about it. I’m sure we’ll have about 80 percent of the state of Florida here in Gainesville.”
What was considered one of college football’s biggest rivalries earlier this decade will be renewed on Saturday night when Tebow tries to lead fifth-ranked Florida to its first win over the Hurricanes in 23 years.
“I know we have not beat them in 20 or 25 years or some ridiculous number like that and we’re 0-6 against them,” said Gators coach Urban Meyer, also participating in this rivalry for the first time. “I grew up watching Miami. I’m very well aware of what personnel they have. We’ll face arguably one of the best personnel teams in the country.”
While the Hurricanes have dropped from the elite of college football in recent years - they haven’t been to a BCS bowl game since the 2003 season - their resurrection could begin with another win over Florida. Miami has won the last six meetings, including two bowl games, since a 35-23 home loss in 1985.
The teams last met in the 2004 Peach Bowl and the Hurricanes won 27-10.
Though more than half of Miami’s roster is freshmen and sophomores, many of its players hail from the Sunshine State and have seen how much attention this rivalry receives.
Junior tailback Javarris James, cousin of former Hurricanes star Edgerrin James, is among the team’s most experienced players and said none of his teammates need to be made further aware of the magnitude of Saturday’s contest.
“We don’t have to give anyone any advice,” James said. “If we’re not ready for that game, we shouldn’t be here.”
The Gators, though, are heavy favorites to end their losing streak in the series, in part because they have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Tebow might have to be more of a factor this week after not having to do much in last Saturday’s season opener as Florida rolled past Hawaii 56-10. While seeing his NCAA-record streak of having at least one touchdown rushing and one passing snapped at 14 games, the junior went 9-of-14 for 137 yards and a score while rushing nine times for 37 yards.
Last year, Tebow was the first player in BCS history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in one season, though Meyer wants to limit his rushing attempts this season.
“It’s all to take the wear and tear off of Tim and not to lean on him too much,” Meyer said. “But we all know at the end of the day, No. 15 will carry the mail for us in critical situations.”
This game’s other starting quarterback not only broke many of Tebow’s Florida high school passing records, but will be making his college debut against him.
Robert Marve was one of the most coveted signal-callers, but a horrible car crash forced Marve to miss the 2007 season and he was suspended for this season’s opener due to an arrest last fall.
“I know how great it can be to be on the upside of a program that’s been down for a second,” Marve said. “I’m just trying to do as much as I can to prepare and help us get to where we need to be.”
Another player making his season debut is Florida speedster Percy Harvin, who had heel surgery in April and sat out the opener. Harvin was the Gators’ leading receiver last year with 59 catches for 858 yards, and he ran for 764 yards to finish second on the team behind Tebow (895).
Florida is facing a Miami defense which impressed in its opener, limiting Charleston Southern to 126 total yards and seven first downs in a 52-7 win last Thursday night.
However, that Football Championship Subdivision opponent clearly doesn’t compare to what Miami faces this week.
“No matter how good they played other teams last year or whoever they’re going to play the rest of the year, they’ll play their best game next Saturday versus us,” Tebow said. “Hopefully, we’ll do the same.”