When I think of college football this fall, and specifically of the insistence by so many college football programs that a fifth of its stadium capacity be taken up by fans during a pandemic, as will roughly be the case when Florida meets South Carolina in The Swamp this Saturday (noon, ESPN or WatchESPN), I cannot help but think of religious fervor and the practice of revivals.
I’ve never been a believer, not really — except in my teams. And so I see the utility of games with thousands of fans thronging and packed together in one spirit and one voice like I imagine preachers see congregations of the willing that help convince non-believers to accept new principles in their lives. The ideas that are shouted or screamed or the images that sear themselves into the consciousness when every person in attendance is sharing in them become more powerful by being amplified and reflected from person to person.
Put another way: How could a non-affiliated fan have watched Lamical Perine’s run against Auburn in The Swamp last year and not come away a Gator?
Put more crudely, a sports marketing professor once taught me that life insurance companies love to advertise via college sports because they — like the college sports industry itself — loves to capture a customer in early adulthood and keep her for the rest of her natural life.
This Saturday is the first in which The Swamp will roar since two days after Thanksgiving last November, with a pandemic that shows few signs of abating in the United States scrubbing a spring game and postponing the start of this fall season. That’s the longest that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has gone between home games since World War II, when Florida not fielding a team in 1943 caused a nearly two-year span between home games.
But whatever we hear still won’t be a real roar, because 17,000 fans can’t approximate 85,000 fans, even with whatever false crowd noise is piped in to help. This is not a true college football season, but an approximation of it; this gathering is not a revival, but a charlatan’s idea of one.
This is at once no one’s fault — no single Florida fan caused this pandemic — and everyone’s, as anyone acquiescing to this as normal is willfully misreading reality. It is at once a shame, as this isn’t what anyone wanted, and a sign of hope, as it’s still an achievement of some note to carve out a simulacrum of normalcy this fall.
It is a sign of how much we have lost, how much we have to gain, and how much we still could lose. And even if Florida looks great and smithereens South Carolina, I don’t know that what happens on the field will be my takeaway from this game.
Here are 25 predictions for Florida’s home opener against South Carolina.
- Florida will score first.
- At least two passing touchdowns will be scored in the first quarter.
- Kyle Trask will complete a pass to Kyle Pitts in the first quarter.
- Trask will not complete a pass for more than 60 yards.
- Trask will throw for fewer than 300 yards.
- Florida will have at least one receiver make six or more catches.
- Malik Davis will lead Florida running backs in touches.
- Kadarius Toney will have at least five touches.
- Florida will score at least one rushing touchdown.
- Emory Jones will take fewer than 10 snaps before garbage time.
- Florida’s offense will commit fewer than three turnovers.
- Florida’s defense will force a three-and-out in the first quarter.
- Florida will give up points in the first half.
- Ventrell Miller will lead Florida in tackles.
- Florida will record at least three sacks.
- Florida will allow at least one pass play of more than 40 yards.
- A Florida defensive back will record an interception.
- A Florida safety will record at least seven tackles.
- Florida will force more than one turnover.
- Florida will have a positive turnover margin.
- Florida will not have a return of 25 yards.
- Florida will score at least 35 points.
- Florida will allow at least 20 points.
- Florida will not trail.
- Florida will defeat South Carolina, 45-24, and begin its 2020 season 2-0.