Few rivals can hold a candle to the Florida State Seminoles in terms of the enmity of Miami Hurricanes fans, and one such rival visits Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. The 12th-ranked Florida Gators come south for the first meeting between the two schools since 2008, and only the sixth since their annual series was discontinued in the late 1980s.
"We're excited for the opportunity we have this week to play the Florida Gators," said UM coach Al Golden. "We need to have some poise and use our maturity – it's nice to say that word, to say we have maturity and experience – and just keep our composure."
The Gators will enter Sun Life Stadium as three-point favorites, but the Canes hope their vaunted rushing attack and an improved defensive line can help pull off an upset. Sun Life Stadium will be sold out for the first time since the 2010 FSU game, and UM is encouraging fans to wear white and "White Out the Gators."
A win would send notice to the rest of college football that Miami is indeed back on the upswing, but a loss would be a setback in Golden's quest to return UM to glory.
When the Canes have the ball: Sophomore RB Duke Johnson led the nation with 186 yards rushing last week. He has 1,227 all-purpose yards and 8 touchdowns in his last five games, but has come up short against ranked opponents so far in his career.
Miami will try to create space for Johnson underneath with a vertical passing attack. Stephen Morris threw for a pedestrian 160 yards last week, but he could have had more if his receivers had dropped fewer passes against Florida Atlantic University.
The Gators gave up only 50 rushing yards against Toledo last week, and last season yielded just 95 yards per game last season. The Gators have more team speed on defense than every team Miami will face this season (save for perhaps FSU), something which could give the Canes fits.
Senior DE Dominique Easley is a force, racking up 4 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2012. CB Loucheiz Purifoy and LB Antonio Morrison will be back for the Gators after being suspended for the opener.
When the Gators have the ball: Like Miami, Florida boasts a strong running game, but the Gators' passing attack has not been the same since Dan Mullen left the team to become head coach at Mississippi State in 2009. QB Jeff Driskel completed 17 of 22 passes for 153 yards last week (when he didn't need to throw that much), but last season he averaged 137 yards per game (on 6.7 yards per attempt).
Senior RB Mack Brown rushed for 112 yards last week against Toledo, and sophomore (and usual starter) Matt Jones is expected to play after recovering from a viral infection that kept him out of fall camp.
After recording only 13 sacks all last season, the Canes got 5 sacks against FAU last week, something which should reassure Miami fans. UM may try to survive on single coverage in the secondary, daring Driskel to beat them with his arm and providing help up front against the Gators' run game.
Who has the edge? Florida matches up well against Miami, but Duke Johnson will be the difference-maker for the Canes.
The Pick: Miami 27-Florida 17
Kickoff is at noon ET, with coverage on ESPN.