Ridaught: Kentucky is bigger

University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin stadium football fans

There is a saying in the SEC.

It just means more.

The win against Utah, which was ranked top 10 in the country, was big. In fact, the win against the Utes tied for UF’s highest-ranked victory in a season opener in program history.

The 29-26 win marked the first time since 1978 that Florida was an underdog in a home opener.

Plus, it was new head coach Billy Napier’s first game. He became the first Gators head football coach to defeat a ranked opponent in his
first game.

It also kept the Gators’ streak alive.

Florida (1-0) extended its nation-leading home opener winning streak to 33 consecutive victories. Its last loss was to Ole Miss in 1989. 

The fact that UF went from not ranked in Week 1 to No. 12 in Week 2, which was the largest jump in school history in the current AP Top-25 format and the Gators’ fourth-biggest ever, shows how big of a win it was.

But tomorrow’s game in The Swamp (7 p.m. on ESPN) is bigger.

It’s the conference opener against a nationally ranked team and just the second time in the last 70 years in which both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25.

Let’s not forget that Florida lost at Kentucky, 20-13, last year, snapping a 35-game road winning streak (since 1986) against the Wildcats.

In 2018, UK snapped a 31-year drought against UF in the Swamp (the Cats had not won in Gainesville since 1979).

This is not your typical Kentucky team, although it seems like the Wildcats always play the Gators tough.

Their 34 wins since the start of 2018 ranks 12th among Power Five programs.

The No. 20 Wildcats (1-0) also have a school-record four consecutive bowl wins.

Kentucky, which opened the season with a 37-13 win over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday, is just one year removed from recording its second 10-win campaign in the past four seasons (2018, 2021).

Head coach Mark Stoops tied Paul “Bear” Bryant as the winningest head coach in program history (60 wins).

The two teams have split the last four meetings.

Six of the past eight meetings have been in doubt in the fourth quarter.

If the game comes down to a game-winning kick, Kentucky’s Matt Ruffolo has made eight straight field goals.

The Swamp will once again be lit. It’s another sold-out crowd.

Last week’s attendance of 90,799 was the 10th-largest in program history and UF’s largest crowd for a home opener. I believe it made a difference.

Last week I reflected on the 40-plus years that I’ve been going to Gator football games.

Oddly enough, the last time the Gators beat two ranked opponents in the first two games of the season was 40 years ago (1982).

The Gators defeated No. 15 Miami, 17-14, when running back James Jones made a leaping, one-handed catch from quarterback Wayne Peace.

Florida coach Charley Pell called it “one of the greatest, most rewarding wins we’ve had in the history of Florida football.”

Well, that changed the following week.

The Gators knocked off No. 10 USC, 17-9, in Week 2.

Both games were at home. I was there to witness both.

I’ll never forget the catch by Jones. 

The two things I remember most about the win against the Trojans was UF linebacker Wilber Marshall, who was all over the field that day and finished the game with 14 tackles and four sacks, and the victory lap.

That’s right, Pell led the Gators on a victory lap around Florida Field after the game.

For most Gators, Kentucky has always been the biggest game on the schedule. But that’s during basketball season.

UK is no longer just a basketball school.

Stoops has put Kentucky football on the map.

Some voters have his team finishing second in the SEC East behind defending national champion Georgia.

Both teams have Georgia on the schedule so an early season loss would make it difficult, but not impossible, to win the Eastern division.

It’s not the biggest game of the year, but it’s definitely bigger than last week.

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