Florida-UMass preview

BY foxsports • August 30, 2016

The 25th-ranked Florida Gators aren't expected to learn too much about themselves Saturday in their season opener at home against Massachusetts.

They are heavy favorites against the Minutemen (SEC Network, 7:30 p.m. ET), who made the move from the FCS to FBS five years ago and are 6-18 over their last two seasons.

But with UF's SEC opener slated for the following week against Kentucky, head coach Jim McElwain still expects the Gators to play with a sense of urgency.

"What you don't want to do is ever worry about the opponent, but worry about yourself," McElwain said. "When situations come up, how you handle them both offensively and defensively and special teams? To me, there's just so much learning that can go on in that opening game. That's why you have to make sure that you're sound in everything you're doing."

The two teams do have some similarities. Both are young with only 13 seniors and graduate students on their rosters (tied for fourth fewest in the country), and both are breaking in new starters at quarterback.

For the Minutemen, the call goes to sophomore Ross Comis, who completed 15 of 21 passes in six appearances in backing up starter Blake Frohnapfel last year. He was 6 of 8 in a brief appearance against Notre Dame.

The Gators also named a redshirt sophomore, Luke Del Rio, the starter a week ago. Del Rio beat out Purdue transfer Austin Appleby based on his experience within the offense after playing for the scout team with the Gators as a redshirt last season.

A transfer from Oregon State, Del Rio will be making his first career college start. Del Rio expects his father, Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, to make the game, but is trying not to get too caught up in the emotions of running out of the tunnel for the first time in a Gator uniform or playing in front of 90,000 people at The Swamp.

"There's bigger things to worry about, such as the game plan," Del Rio said. "UMass has a very talented defense. The coach uses a multiple scheme and they do a really good job with their players. I'm more focused on executing the game plan than anything."

There should be emotion before the game with the renaming of the field for former legendary Florida coach and Heisman winner quarterback Steve Spurrier. Five weeks ago, Florida hired Spurrier as an ambassador to the UF football coach and he has been attending fall practices. Spurrier led the Gators to six SEC titles and their first national title in school history from 1990-2002.

"That's something special, and obviously, for him I think what a fitting tribute," McElwain said. "And to have him back and be a part of that is something that's pretty neat."

UMass has a depth chart loaded with underclassmen, which contributes to the 37-point opening line.

The Minutemen went 3-9 for the second consecutive season in 2015 and transition from the Mid-American Conference to independence this season.

Even if an upset at The Swamp doesn't happen for UMass, Comis wants to make the most of a learning experience and keep the Minutemen marching forward.

"I'm still learning," he said. "... but I feel like I'm in a great spot with this offense and we've got some playmakers. Now I'm going to just try to get them the ball."

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