After a decade of intrastate rivals Miami and Florida State hogging the klieg lights and the national championships, the Gators appear ready to make their move. Never have they been in a better position to assert themselves within the state and maybe even the nation. Early indications are that they intend to acknowledge the hour in much the same way that Miami and Florida State have in the past. "With our heads high," says junior wideout Jack Jackson. "With our chests out. With some 'tude."
Florida has little to prove within its conference, having claimed two of the last three SEC titles, but in coach Steve Spurrier's four autumns in Gainesville, the Gators have never finished higher in the final rankings than both the Hurricanes and the Seminoles. "It's an important barrier to overcome," says senior quarterback Terry Dean.
Florida begins the fall on a roll. The much-maligned defense vindicated itself in a 28-13 win over Alabama in the SEC title game and in a 41-7 victory over West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. During those final two games Dean, after an often miserable regular season, asserted himself as the team's clear No. 1 quarterback over Danny Wuerffel, then a freshman.
Quarterback, however, has never been the problem for Spurrier-coached teams; defense has. This defense still has much to prove—a point that was underscored in the off-season when Spurrier either sacked or reassigned all five defensive coaches. The offense, which averaged 477 yards and 39 points in '93, needs patching too. In particular, at tailback, where three freshmen are vying to replace Errict Rhett, the school's alltime leading ground-gainer. Then there is the schedule, which, despite seven home games, includes trips to Florida State and Tennessee. In Spurrier's tenure the Gators are 0-4 and have been out-scored 166-71 against those teams on the road.
"Don't you worry," says Jackson. "This is our year. We'll walk the walk." They'll certainly talk the talk.
Under Dean (12), when push comes to shove, Florida will shine.