Ridaught: New coach, new era of Gator football

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It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been attending Gator football games for over 40 years.

Excluding interim coaches, new University of Florida football coach Billy Napier will be the 10th Gator coach on the sidelines since I’ve been a fan.

I began attending Gator home football games when Doug Dickey was the head coach in the late 70s.

As a kid, I remember being wowed watching All-American wide receiver Wes Chandler run for yardage in a tear away jersey and getting Cris Collinsworth’s wrist band after a game when I waited outside the locker room with other fans.

I was enamored with coach Charley Pell, who took over for Dickey in 1979. I loved his passion.

I’ve often said that no one could ever argue my allegiance as I became a true fan that year despite the fact that the Orange & Blue went 0-10-1. They tied Georgia Tech at Florida Field, 7-7, in the home opener that year, but that’s as close as the Gators would come to winning all season.

Perhaps the best UF football season opener I’ve ever attended was in 1984, when Florida’s Kerwin Bell threw a touchdown pass with 41 seconds to play to give the Gators a 20-19 lead against defending national champion Miami.

However, UM quarterback Bernie Kosar led the ‘Canes back and threw the game-winning touchdown with seven seconds to play to stun the Gators.

But that game was in Tampa.

In 2017, Michigan handed Florida its first season-opening loss since 1989. However, that game was played in Arlington, Texas.

In 1989, Florida lost at home, 24-19, to Ole Miss. Other than 2017, that’s the last time Florida lost its first game of the season.

However, it should be noted that Florida tied LSU, 21-21, in the home opener in 1984.

Typically, the home opener is reserved for someone like Florida Atlantic (last year and 2011), San Jose State, Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green, Tennessee-Martin, etc.

Those are the types of ‘home’ openers I’ve been accustomed to as a life-long Gator fan.

Visiting schools get a nice paycheck and Florida gets a win in the home opener.

But this isn’t your typical home opener on Saturday night (7 p.m.) in The Swamp.

Utah is ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

This is just the fourth time in program history that Florida is opening the season at home against a ranked opponent (1982, 1969 and 1953 that ended in a tie — Florida 0, No. 3 Georgia Tech 0).

Since 1978, UF has never been an underdog in a home opener. 

But they are under the lights and in front of an ESPN audience in The Swamp tomorrow night.

The last time Florida was an underdog in a season opener at Florida Field was on Sept. 20, 1969 vs. No. 7 Houston.

Unranked Florida won that game in convincing fashion, 59-34, and went on to finish 9-1-1 with a Gator Bowl victory over SEC Champion Tennessee.

On Saturday, the Gators are a 2.5 point underdog against the defending Pac-12 champions.

Florida was 3-10 against the spread in 2021. That was the fifth worst in the FBS.

Napier is looking to become the first UF head coach to beat a ranked team in his first game as head coach.

Sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson will make his first career home start on Saturday.

There are certainly lots of storylines in this one.

It comes down to defending The Swamp, where only Gators get out alive.

Florida holds the second-highest home winning percentage in the nation since 1990 with a 169-32 (.841) record.

We’ve been waiting over nine months to see the Gators play in The Swamp again. 

As bad as Gator football was last season, Florida has won four in a row at home and finished 5-1 last year in The Swamp with the only loss coming by two points to No. 1 Alabama.

It’s a new era, with a new coach, and a hometown QB.

Florida football is back and there’s a sold-out crowd of 90,000 screaming fans awaiting.

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