GAINESVILLE -- At first glance, Florida-Toledo looks like a mismatch.
The 10th-ranked Gators — on the heels of an 11-win season and a BCS bowl berth — begin the season with high expectations and a 23-game winning streak in season openers.
But under third-year coach Will Muschamp, presumed dress rehearsals have never been cakewalks for Florida.
Although a date with in-state rival Miami looms in Week 2, the Gators aren’t looking ahead this weekend.
Last season, despite knocking off highly ranked heavyweights Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, UF struggled mightily against lesser foes — especially non-BCS competition.
The Gators were tied with Bowling Green late in the third quarter, and the Eagles had more rushing yards against UF than LSU or South Carolina did. Florida needed a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to avoid a massive upset to Louisiana-Lafayette.
And Missouri (5-7) nearly overcame James Franklin’s four interceptions in a 14-7 loss to Florida — including his dagger in the end zone as time expired. According to Gator players, their effort and focus waned against alleged cupcakes.
“We took it easy,” senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley said. “We didn’t prepare the same way we need to prepare and didn’t have the same type of motivation [that we have] for a Georgia or LSU.”
Toledo, 9-4 a season ago, is no pushover. The Rockets ranked No. 32 nationally in total offense and return nine offensive starters, including two dynamic playmakers — wide receiver Bernard Reedy and tailback David Fluellen — who recorded more than 1,000 yards apiece.
And yet Toledo is the type of squad — a solid, albeit unspectacular Mid-American Conference team — that Florida overlooked a season ago.
“You can’t just roll your helmet out and win,” UF quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “We had a couple close ones, and we’re hoping not to have that again.”
Said sophomore pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr.: “We can’t ever take a team for granted. You saw that with Louisville. We kind of got away with it last year and came real close [to losing a] couple times. Coach Muschamp always tells us to prepare as if we’re playing the Southeastern Conference championship.”
Florida’s ugly, yet effective smashmouth style lends itself to little margin for error, but senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins said the team learned from its mistakes a year ago and is determined to play with a killer instinct — no matter the foe.
“We know we have to be prepared for this type of game just like last year,” Watkins said. “We know they’re going to come in and play their hearts out. It’s the first game, they return a lot of starters and they have a lot to prove just like us.”