For a half century of college football seasons, it was routine that every other year the Florida Gators would be making a trip to South Florida to play in front of their fans – but since ending that yearly game with the Miami Hurricanes after the 1987 game, a 31-4 thumping inside the old Orange Bowl stadium, those trips have become a rarity.
Monday’s Orange Bowl game between the Gators and the Virginia Cavaliers will be just the sixth time the orange and blue have played in Miami-Dade County since that game – with two trips being for wins in the annual postseason game and third being for a national championship inside what is now Hard Rock Stadium.
For second year Florida head coach Dan Mullen, the importance of playing a game in South Florida is beyond important for both recruiting and state pride.
“It’s really cool, especially when growing up you look at the game and as a kid you watch and think ‘hey, this is right here in my backyard and now I am getting the opportunity to go play in it,” Mullen said after the Gators arrived on Christmas Day. “Not just for the players, but for all of the Gators in South Florida too. We haven’t played in a lot of Orange Bowls and I think for our fan base it is really exciting.”
Florida hopes to have a much better showing inside Hard Rock Stadium than their last visit – an upset 21-16 loss to the Hurricanes in the 2013 season. Virginia, at the same time, hopes to avenge their last trip to the stadium earlier this season when they were upset by the ‘Canes 17-9 in a Friday night game that had many wondering if this team was going to plummet.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall was able to turn things around, winning five of their final six regular season games and making it to the ACC Championship game for the first time in program history. At Sunday’s final media session with the coaches, Mendenhall was very straight face and straight forward with what a win would mean for his program.
“The University of Virginia has one 10-win season in 130 years of football,” the leader of the currently 9-4 Cavaliers said.
While this will be the first ever trip to the Orange Bowl game for the Cavaliers, Mullen’s Gators are in the game for the fourth time – winning their three previous games. More importantly than anything, a win Monday would be the stepping stone toward something bigger – the national championship game next season, scheduled to be played inside Hard Rock Stadium.
"This year’s team gets one more game together, but there are a lot of guys on this year’s team that will also be on next year’s team," Mullen said earlier in the week. "It can build a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. For the team that’s why bowl games are huge.”