Florida Team News

Saturday begins new chapter in Gator football

After four seasons of – at best – mediocrity, the Florida Gators and their fans hope Saturday’s season opener will be an official turning of the page.

The one constant offseason theme for Gators fans has been optimism.

In 1994, Steve Spurrier’s Gators opened the season against New Mexico State in The Swamp. The Gators won 70-21. Saturday’s game brings New Mexico State back to Gainesville and provides new coach Jim McElwain with an opportunity to set the tone for his 2015 version of Florida football.

Gators fans will return to Florida Field wanting to see one thing: offense. On the first third down of the first offensive series, fans want to see Treon Harris take a three-step drop, plant his back foot and fire the ball downfield to Demarcus Robinson on a seam route for a touchdown.

Jim McElwain's top priority? Make Florida football offensive again. KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY

Jim McElwain’s top priority? Make Florida football offensive again. KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY

If this happens, the keys to Gainesville officially will be handed over to McElwain. Hope will have returned to Gainesville. The offensive style of football that most fans who grew up in that stadium are used to will have returned.

Still, regardless of Saturday’s outcome, let’s let September play out before labeling this team. One year ago, Gator Nation felt happy days were here again following a 65-0 blasting of Eastern Michigan. Scoring points no longer was a foreign concept, and the 4-8 season in 2013 was ancient history.

Alas, a week after the Eastern Michigan rout, the Gators were lucky to escape with a triple-overtime win against Kentucky. In Week Three, the Gators were easy prey for Alabama. Even what has become an annual unofficial bye week, when Florida plays Tennessee, proved to be a nail-biter, with the Gators rallying to survive 10-9 in Knoxville.

This season starts with a similar schedule. Fortunately, Alabama is off the schedule. But for the first time in a long time, I’m both curious and concerned about the Kentucky and Tennessee games. Before the October gauntlet featuring Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Georgia, I want to see how Florida competes against teams they usually beat like a piñata. For now, those are the Gators’ peers.

The Gators are a long way from being conference title contenders. They’re even further away from being a national contender. For now, it’s all about beating Kentucky and Tennessee. Sad, but true.

On Saturday, on the first third down of the first series, I’m looking for hope. McElwain surprised most observers when he chose Harris over Will Grier as the starter. Both will play Saturday. That said, if Harris delivers a strike to Robinson for the first touchdown of the season, Gators fans will breathe a sigh of relief.

For that matter, so will Jim McElwain.

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