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The Swamp returns to life Saturday when the Gators open the season against Toledo.

Friday August 30, 2013The Opening Kickoff: Gators vs. Toledo

The Swamp returns to life Saturday when the Gators open the season against Toledo.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

No. 10 Florida vs. Toledo
#UFvsTOL
Saturday, 12:21 p.m.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Broadcast Info | Game Notes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Three years ago it was Miami (Ohio). Last season Bowling Green stopped by. Next up: Toledo, the latest member of the Mid-American Conference to visit The Swamp for a Gators season opener.

The 10th-ranked Gators welcome the Rockets to town Saturday to kick off the 2013 season. Florida sent Miami and Bowling Green home with losses and will try to do the same against a Rockets team coming off a 9-4 season and trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

The Gators open their third season under head coach Will Muschamp with visions of winning the SEC East and playing for the conference title in Atlanta. That journey starts Saturday afternoon.

Let's face it – we've all had enough of the offseason – so let's get right to Saturday's matchup with The Opening Kickoff:

 

Five Storylines to Watch

  • Gators junior quarterback Jeff Driskel enters his second season as the starter and once he recovered from an appendectomy right before camp, Driskel looked sharp in practice. A more seasoned Driskel is a major reason second-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects more big plays in his second year. How will Driskel look in the opener?

  • Florida's offense will be without three projected starters: running back Matt Jones (viral infection), right tackle Chaz Green (torn labrum, out for season) and right guard Jon Halapio(pectoral tear). The absence of Jones creates an opportunity for others to be the featured back. Redshirt junior Mack Brown will start, but expect to see Valdez Showers and Mark Herndon carry the ball, too.

  • The Toledo trio of quarterback Terrance Owens, running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy are productive and prolific in the Rockets' offense. Owens likes to stay on the move and will test Florida's defense with his running ability.

  • Gators sophomore defensive ends Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard are coming off strong freshman seasons and move into the starting lineup. Together they form an impressive duo and will be key in keeping Owens in check.

  • Caleb Sturgis was a gift from the kicking gods in Muschamp's first two seasons. Sturgis is now in Miami, and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin is Florida's new kicker. Hardin has a strong leg but still has a lot of tests to pass to make the Gators feel better about life after Sturgis.

 

Cast of Characters

  • Redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor is expected to start at middle linebacker in place of suspended Antonio Morrison. Taylor has played in 25 games and made two starts in his career.

  • Gators redshirt junior Ronald Powell will play for the first time since the 2012 Gator Bowl win over Ohio State. Powell missed last season following two knee surgeries.

  • A pair of Florida offensive linemen – right tackle Tyler Moore and left guard Max Garcia – will be making their debuts after transferring last year. Garcia transferred from Maryland and Moore played as a freshman at Nebraska.

  • Rockets senior center Zac Kerin, 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, will be a good matchup for Florida's interior linemen. Kerin was an All-MAC selection last season and is on the Rimington Trophy watch list as one of the nation's top centers.

  • Freshman receiver Demarcus Robinson emerged in spring practice and fall camp as a potential downfield target for Driskel. If Robinson is the real deal, Florida's offense could have the playmaker receiver it has been missing.

 

The Quote File

  • "There's two ways you can take it. You can take a fear-based spirit and worry about it or you can be excited. We get to go and test ourselves against a top 10 team in the country." -- Toledo defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz on facing the Gators

  • "The bottom line is if they are the best at their position, they will start. If they are good at their position, they will play. We don’t really sit back and try to ease anybody into anything." -- Muschamp on playing freshmen in season opener

  • “I always expect the most out of myself. That’s every day I wake up. The way that factors in, of course, it will be a different feeling for me.” -- Powell on his long-awaited return

 

10 Quick Hitters

  • Former Gators running back Errict Rhett returns to the field, this time as "Mr. Two Bits" in a new tradition Muschamp announced this week. A Gators celebrity will return each home game to honor the tradition of Florida's most famous cheerleader.

  • The Gators have won 23 consecutive season openers, the nation's second-longest streak behind Nebraska's 27 consecutive wins on opening day.

  • The Gators went 7-0 at home in Muschamp's second season a year ago. The last time the Gators lost at home was a 21-7 setback to Florida State in the 2011 regular-season finale.

  • Florida opens the season ranked No. 10 in both major polls, the Gators' highest ranking to open a season since 2010.

  • Fowler was a teammate of Rockets receiver Reedy at Lakewood High in St. Petersburg.

  • Toledo has never played a game against an SEC opponent but opens with back-to-back games against SEC foes. After playing the Gators Toledo travels to Missouri to face former coach Gary Pinkel, who went 73-37-3 from 1991-2000 at Toledo.

  • The Rockets are 7-12 all-time against teams in the top 25, and 1-6 against opponents ranked in the top 10.

  • Rockets head coach Matt Campbell is 33, the second-youngest head coach at a FBS school behind Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, 32.

  • Campbell is a friend of Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Both grew up in northeastern Ohio and crossed paths climbing the coaching ranks. "He’s probably one of the best young football coaches in college football," Campbell said. "He’s a tremendous leader.

  • Toledo kicker Jeremiah Detmer, an All-MAC pick last year, has made 17 consecutive field goals.

 

The Bottom Line

The Gators want to make a strong opening statement in the season opener. Their last game was that forgettable performance against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl and several players mentioned this week how that loss served as a motivating factor over the summer.

They finally get a chance to take out some of that pent-up frustration against Toledo. However, don't expect the Rockets to roll over and play the role of sacrificial lamb. This is a talented Toledo team that will test the Gators' defense with its up-tempo offense.

 

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