In 1994, the Florida Gators opened the season ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.
UF hosted New Mexico State, throttling the Aggies 70-21.
The GatorNation hopes for a repeat performance Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
Though a lot has changed in 21 years — namely UF starts the season unranked for the second straight year — Florida’s fan base remains starved for offensive fireworks. New coach Jim McElwain was hired to resuscitate the Gators’ moribund attack and he’s aiming to appease fans’ appetite for touchdowns right away.
“As hungry as they are,” McElwain said, “I’m twice as hungry to see [us] get after it.”
It has been a long wait.
McElwain was hired last December, and the 53-year-old Montana native has spent nine months slowly stamping his imprint on the program. He hired a solid staff, fast-tracked the indoor practice facility and recruited a number of transfers to buoy the roster.
Now it’s time to actually play football.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what our identity is going to be,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that we are looking forward to [see] how they respond in a real game situation.”
Specifically, quarterbacks Treon Harris and Will Grier. On Wednesday, McElwain tabbed Harris as the starter, but quickly insisted the battle remains ongoing and that Harris has simply earned the right for the first audition.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” McElwain said, adding Grier will get ample snaps against the Aggies, too. “Somebody has got to take the first snap.”
Ideally, one quarterback seizes control of the starting job, but the derby could extend into next week, considering the opponent.
The Gators are 37-point favorites Saturday, as New Mexico State is just 2-20 the past two seasons against FBS teams — with the lone wins coming against 1-11 Idaho in 2013 and 1-11 Georgia State in 2014.
The Aggies dropped 10 straight games to end last year, and finished the season with the nation’s worst rushing defense (308.8 yards per game) and most turnovers (34).
“Even though with them not being a big team, we haven’t played a game in a long time so I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for anybody to get excited for Saturday,” senior defensive end Jon Bullard said.
“We’re hungry. We’ve got a lot to prove. The last few years we haven’t been much. Nobody really gives us a chance and it’s hard to blame them.”
Florida is fired up to usher in a new era, but with so many questions — Who wins the quarterback competition? Will the patchwork offensive line hold up? Can the defense really develop into the nation’s best unit? Which playmakers will emerge? — even McElwain is edgy to get started.
“Shoot, I get nervous going to practice,” he said. “The day you don’t get butterflies is probably the day to get out of this. It’s fun. Our guys are excited.”
Saturday: New Mexico State at Florida
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville.
TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 37.
Series: UF leads 1-0.
UF injuries: Questionable — WR Raphael Andrades (leg); WR Valdez Showers (leg). Doubtful — DB Keanu Neal (leg). Out — DB Kylan Johnson (leg); OL Martin Ivey (knee).
New Mexico State injuries: Out — DL Drew James (concussion); QB King Davis III (shoulder); DL Kourtland Busby (knee); OL Thomas McGwire (knee); DE Derek Watson (shoulder); DE Kalei Auelua (knee).