12 best season openers in Gators history

12 best season openers in Gators history

As opening day approaches, we know one thing about the first Florida football game of Billy Napier’s first season as a Gator.

This will appear.

In fact, I can make the argument that this might be the most electric first-game atmosphere we’ve ever seen for this program.

There are a lot of reasons. One is that Napier begins what Florida fans hope is not a fourth consecutive short tenure for head coaches at UF. But more than that, Gator Nation wants to see what they’ve got, and the test will be as damn tough as you can make it.

Utah will likely be ranked in the top 10 when the first Associated Press poll comes out. If the Utes do crack the top 10, it will be just the fourth time Florida has opened the season against a top 10 team.

One of them didn’t make this version of the latest Dooley’s Dozen: Houston in 1969.

I approach the noise that goes into the game, not the noise that comes from it. And the stands were far from full for this Houston game because expectations weren’t high.

Remember, fans started showing up at halftime to buy tickets after hearing Otis Boggs on the radio.

So let’s see how you feel about these 12, Dooley’s Dozen of the most electric atmospheres heading into kickoff.

12

Rice Owls (1953)

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Okay, I wasn’t alive for it and I really don’t know if there was any buzz in Houston about it, but this is the first time Florida has played an opener with both ranked teams. Florida was 15th, Rice was 12th and the Owls won the game 20-16.

11

Duke Blue Devils (1970)

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Maybe it was more hype than real hype, but it was Doug Dickey’s first game as head coach and not everyone was happy with the selection. Still, we all wanted to see what this coach who slid into Ray Graves’ place could do. (Carlos Alvarez saved the day).

10

Illinois Illini (1967)

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Steve Spurrier put Florida football on the national map with his Heisman win. Now we’ll find out if Florida can hang in there with a local, Gainesville High’s Jackie Ekdahl. If Utah is as hot as Illinois was that day, the Utes are in trouble. Ekdahl scored in the 14-0 win, but did not score again this season.

9

Kentucky Wildcats (1992)

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Not that Kentucky was anything special, but it was a rarity – an SEC opener. And for the first time, Florida took the field as the defending SEC champions. There was also this. Florida lobbied for Kentucky to be moved earlier in the season and come in out of the cold, and that’s what the SEC did.

8

Ole Miss Rebels (2020)

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Well, in terms of atmosphere maybe it wasn’t the best due to the limited attendance. But the buzz around it was there because it was scheduled over the summer when the SEC decided to play during the pandemic. And that was Lane Kiffin back in the SEC.

7

Miami Hurricanes (1985)

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There was a stretch when it was a tradition, starting with Miami, and it was a collection of some of the greatest players on the same field in front of a sellout (yes, sellout) crowd in the Orange Bowl. Florida won. Miami didn’t lose again until the bowl game. The environment was epic.

6

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1997)

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Like Ekdahl before him, Doug Johnson was tasked with being a local product after a Heisman winner. And that team was also defending UF’s first national title. I remember Gainesville being alive the night before the game. Sadly, what I remember most about that night was the death of Princess Diana.

5

Michigan Wolverines (2017)

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The crowd for that game at Jerry World was almost like the crowd in Florida and Georgia. Expectations for both teams—Florida was 17th and Michigan 11th—were high, and Florida fans were ready to get back at the Wolverines for the bowl loss two years ago. It did not work out.

4

Miami Hurricanes (2019)

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I’ll be honest. It was a scary environment. It was loud and hot and loud, and did I mention loud? When Miami ran onto the field, it was as if the “U” was back. GameDay was there for this one and previewed it for about nine hours. It was beyond intense.

3

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2007)

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I can’t name a single player on that Hilltoppers team. I remember they were still an FCS team. But that wasn’t the point. It was Tim Tebow’s first start. It’s like Elvis was starting at quarterback. More than 90,000 were there and — little did we know — it would be the start of Heisman season.

2

1990 Oklahoma State

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Neither team entered this match ranked. Okie State was actually dealing with probation. But it was almost as if UF fans were there to say, “Okay, this is it. If Steve Spurrier can’t do it here, maybe it can’t be done.”They stood on their heads early in this game. Oh, and he did.

1

Miami Hurricanes (1984)

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