GAINESVILLE -- The undercards are finished.
The 10th-ranked Gators powered past an explosive Toledo team 24-6 in their season opener Saturday, and sophomore sensation Duke Johnson propelled the Hurricanes to a 34-6 victory over a pedestrian FAU bunch on Friday to begin the University of Miami’s season.
Now it’s time for the main event.
It’s Florida-Miami week.
Just one week into the 2013 season, the Gators and Hurricanes square off in a pivotal in-state matchup — each fighting for bragging rights, recruiting ground and respect.
Basically everything except the old Seminole War Canoe.
“It’s a big one,” Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “They’re a good team.”
Said Marcus Roberson, UF cornerback and former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout, “It’s gonna be fun for all of us.”
And, hopefully, for the fans, too.
The Gators and Canes last played in 2008, and Saturday’s matchup could be the final regular-season meeting for a long time.
The two powerhouse programs once played an annual rivalry game — every season from 1938 to 1987 (except for 1943, when UF didn’t have a football team) — but Florida discontinued the regular-season series in 1987, and the schools have met just five times since 2000.
UM, winners of four of the past five, dropped the series’ most recent meeting in 2008 — a blowout win for UF (26-3), and a game in which former Gators coach Urban Meyer infamously kicked a late field goal to the dismay of ex-Canes coach Randy Shannon.
But bad blood dissipates over time, and now the two programs simply rest in very different circumstances.
Saturday’s matchup is the ultimate juxtaposition of style and stature.
After several subpar seasons, Florida is once again among the nation’s elite. Under coach Will Muschamp’s guidance, the Gators are projected to compete for a national title, bullying foes with a superb defense and a ground-and-pound attack. It’s an ugly, yet successful formula.
In its win over Toledo, UF rushed for 262 yards and held the nation’s No. 32 offense in 2012 to 205 total yards, six points and just a single third down conversion (1 of 13) — even though two top defenders (Antonio Morrison and Loucheiz Puifoy) missed the game because of suspension.
Although Florida’s offense remains a work in progress, the Gators did flash potential improvements in the season opener, as well as display some new toys for offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Fullback Gideon Ajagbe — nicknamed postgame the “Nigerian Nightmare” by teammates — tailback Mack Brown and scat-back Valdez Showers all emerged as quality offensive pieces missing a season ago.
Florida’s penalty problem popped up again, as did inconsistent offensive line play.
“We got to get that out of our system, and I’ve been saying that for three years,” Muschamp said. “But the best thing about being 1-0 is a chance to be 2-0. We’ll look at the film and make the corrections for a really good Miami football team.”
Overall, Muschamp was pleased with his team’s effort but admitted they have to play even better against Miami.
“They always say your best improvements are from Week 1 to Week 2,” he said. “We hope that old adage continues.”
Meanwhile, Miami is engineered by a high-octane offense, led by Johnson and experienced quarterback Stephen Morris. The Canes defense played well against FAU, especially rushing the passer, but Miami struggled mightily stopping the run in 2012 (No.114 nationally in rushing defense), and it remains to be seen whether UM can slow down UF’s bread-and-butter rushing attack.
The Canes haven’t won 10 games in a season since 2003, but Al Golden’s team is desperate to reenter the national conversion. and a date with a top-10 former rival could be just that opportunity.
“It’s a big game because we’re in it,” UF linebacker Ronald Powell told GatorZone TV.
It really is Florida-Miami week.