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Miami Seeks Momentum Against Florida

By Dave Holcomb
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With so much turmoil since last year’s disappointing opener, there isn’t a team in the ACC Coastal division that needs a fast start more than Miami.

As is the case with most rivalry matchups, there are plenty of storylines heading into the Miami-Florida matchup this weekend.

For one, the two programs are meeting for the first time since 2013. Behind center for Miami will be redshirt freshman Jarren Williams instead of transfer Tate Martell, who surprisingly lost the job to Martell over the summer. That decision from Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz sent a tidal wave through the college football world.

Another wave will go through Miami if Williams and the Hurricanes don’t perform well in the season opener. With so much turmoil since last year’s disappointing opener, there isn’t a team in the ACC Coastal division that needs a fast start more than Miami.

Florida is ranked eighth in the AP Top 25 heading into the 2019 season. Coincidentally, Miami was in the same spot going into its season opener against LSU last year.

While LSU outplayed its preseason projection, Miami turned out to be a lot worse than its August poll position. The Hurricanes never returned to the Top 10 following a rough loss on national television to LSU, 33-17, and after the middle of October, they dropped out of the rankings for good.

Maybe it was unfair to expect the Hurricanes to repeat their 2017 magic last year, but the high expectations made Miami’s fall from grace last year even higher.

That’s not something that’s really going to be possible this year. If Miami turns in another 7-5 season, the national reaction is more likely to be “see, I told you so” than shock. With the Hurricanes outside the rankings heading into the season, they don’t have as long of a fall to mediocrity.

However, if things are going to get back on track immediately with the Hurricanes football program, which at least some Miami faithful believe is possible (why would they have spurned Mark Richt for Diaz and grabbed one of the top transfer quarterback on the market otherwise?) than a good showing on opening night is almost essential.

No, a loss against Florida won’t hurt Miami’s chances at winning the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes could very well lose Saturday and still win the division crown -- otherwise known as the right to face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

But another lackluster performance similar to last year’s opener or the defeat against Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl last December or the loss in the 2017 ACC Championship, will be rather damaging.

Not only are the Hurricanes seeking to start the Diaz era on the right foot, these primetime games are classic recruiting tools. Of course, only if the program has a good showing.

This weekend’s matchup has even higher stakes because of the recruiting battle grounds in Florida. If Miami is truly back or on it’s way, then it can’t lose by double digits to the Gators.

If that wasn’t enough, the fact Miami and Florida are the only teams in action this weekend east of the Grand Canyon puts extra pressure on both coaches and programs.

College football fans saw it with last year’s Notre Dame-Michigan matchup in Week 1. No matter what happened with that result, we knew one fanbase and group of boosters were going to be upset with starting the season 0-1. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that was Michigan.

But at least there were other great games from Week 1 other than Notre Dame-Michigan to discuss and other storylines besides the 0-1 Wolverines to debate. That really won’t be the case for Miami and Florida after Saturday’s affair.

Besides Arizona-Hawaii, there isn’t another college football game for five days after this Saturday. Should Miami play poorly, the team is going to hear about it.

Of course, the same is true if they play well and win. With a victory, Miami will rule the state for a few days.

While obviously playing to win and not to lose is the object of sport, it still feels as though this is a Week 1 matchup that Miami really just wants to keep competitive.

In other words, beating Florida isn’t essential to a successful season for Miami, but avoiding embarrassment could be.