Published August 30, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 10 Florida ought to be on upset alert.
Toledo has played in three consecutive bowl games and has seven wins against ranked teams, including one against then-No. 21 Cincinnati last season.
Arguably more important is how the Gators have fared against teams outside the six power conferences the last two years.
That recent history shows the Rockets, a 23 1/2-point underdog heading into Saturday's season opener, have a chance in the Swamp.
Florida trailed lower-division Furman 22-7 in the second quarter before rallying in 2011. Coach Will Muschamp's team wasn't a whole lot better last year. The Gators were tied with Bowling Green at 14 in the third quarter to open the season before scoring 13 unanswered points.
Florida endured an even closer call against Louisiana last November. Tied at 20 in the final minute, Loucheiz Purifoy blocked a punt and teammate Jelani Jenkins returned it 36 yards for a touchdown with 2 seconds remaining to pull out a victory.
"There's definitely no easy game," Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "You can't just roll your helmet out and win. When you do play at a place like Florida, teams are going to throw different stuff at you. ... Everybody that plays us is going to play their best. They're going to take some gambles on offense and defense.
"We had a couple close ones and we're hoping not to have that again."
Toledo, which was picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference's West Division, is 1-6 against teams ranked in the top 10. The lone win came against Pittsburgh in 2003.
The Rockets finished last season with an offense that ranked 32nd in the nation, 71 spots higher than Florida.
"(They are) a lot better than we want them to be," Gators linebacker Ronald Powell said.
Toledo isn't lacking confidence, either.
"When you go into an atmosphere like that, it's you and your brothers, and your backs are against the wall," senior running back David Fluellen said. "We're just trying to prove the Rockets are for real and we can compete with any team in the country."
Here are five things to know about Saturday's game:
DRISKEL'S HEALTH: The Gators can't afford to lose Driskel. The team has no experienced quarterbacks behind him, making his health priority No. 1 this season. And with Driskel being a mobile QB — he ranked second on the team in rushing last season and set a single-game record with 177 yards on the ground against Vanderbilt — he needs to be more cautious. Coaches have asked him to slide to avoid hits and to get out of bounds every chance he gets.
TOLEDO'S TALENT: The Rockets have five all-MAC selections returning on offense, including Fluellen, quarterback Terrance Owens and receiver Bernard Reedy. Fluellen ran for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Owens threw 14 TD passes and ran for five more. Reedy ranked sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards, catching 88 passes for 1,113 yards and six touchdowns, returning 19 punts for 210 yards and a score and returning 32 kickoffs for 885 yards and three TDs.
MISSING GATORS: Florida will be without three starters — one because of a virus, one because of injury and one because of a suspension. Running back Matt Jones will miss the opener while he recovers from a viral infection. Jones has been cleared to practice and is expected to return next week at Miami. Right guard Jon Halapio has a partially torn pectoral muscle and will miss at least the first two games. And middle linebacker Antonio Morrison, arrested twice during a 5-week span this summer, is suspended one game.
PIKE'S PATH: There are always good story lines entering the season, but one of Toledo's is about a player no longer with the team. Defensive end Ben Pike decided to forgo his senior season to support his wife, former Rockets basketball player Ashlee Barrett, who is battling leukemia. The team raised nearly $14,000 for the couple in April.
FRESHMAN PHENOM? Florida desperately needs offensive playmakers, and they may have found one with receiver Demarcus Robinson. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Fort Valley, Ga., has been the talk of camp. He's got the size, speed, hands and route-running ability to make an impact right away. That hasn't happen very often at Florida, where of the 61 freshmen receivers who have played since 1990, only four — Reidel Anthony (1994), Ike Hilliard (1994), Andre Caldwell (2003) and Percy Harvin (2006) — have caught more than seven passes in their first year.