Entering the second quarter against Vanderbilt, it sure looked like the Gators had talked themselves into the trap game. They had heard so much about it that they genuinely believed it and manifested it on the field. The defense was struggling, the offense had no life and guys were limping off the field. Eventually of course, the Gators superior talent took over and Vandy couldn’t keep up.
NEWSFLASH – That kind of start, the same start the Gators have had for every game this season, will not cut it the next couple of weeks. Florida will need to come out with fire and energy as they try to finish off what has a chance to be a magical season. The Gators are 6-0 for the 8th time in school history. In those 7 previous seasons, they went 76-8-1 for an average finish of about 11-1. The worst they’ve finished after a 6-0 start was 9-2.
So remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about lowered expectations? Just enjoying the season and not burdening yourself with grandiose thoughts? Well the play of this team has tossed all that out the window. The Gators, as evidenced by their #2 BCS ranking, are in the mix for both the SEC title and the national title. (Take a moment, try to put put yourself back into your summer mindset when Will Muschamp was a 7-6 coach of a team with a ton of question marks. Now think about where we are today. Savor it. OK, let’s move on.)
The Gators rocket-like rise is really unprecedented in school history. Some people are comparing this team to the 2006 team but that’s ridiculous. That 2006 team was ranked 7th in the preseason, had senior leaders all over the field, including a four-year starter at quarterback. And it had a freshman class like few others. Yes, the 2006 Gators won in a similar fashion to this year’s squad – stiffling defense, ball control offense and dynamic special teams. But that was a veteran team that was expected to contend at minimum for the SEC title. This year’s squad was everyone’s third or fourth best in the SEC East before the season began. The most comparable squad in terms of a meteoric rise in season is probably Steve Spurrier’s first Gators team in 1990 that was unranked in the preseason and ended up 9-2 and first in the SEC.
And that brings us full circle to Spurrier and this week. The Godfather of Florida football is becoming the Godfather of South Carolina football. Both the Gators and the Cocks were perennial underachievers before Spurrier. You know the stories out of the Gators bible – Florida had never won the SEC title until Spurrier arrived and claimed the crown in six of his 12 seasons (seven actually if you count that 1990 team that was ineligible) and won their first national title in 1996. The story is similar in Columbia, just not on the same level of success… yet. South Carolina won its first SEC East title in 2010 and had its first 11-win season last year.
Many of us would like to forget the last time Spurrier and South Carolina visited Florida Field in 2010. Behind 212 yards rushing from Marcus Lattimore, the Head Ball Coach guided the Cocks to their first-ever win in Gainesville and the SEC East crown. Who will ever forget Spurrier’s first season back on the collegiate sidelines in 2005 and the Cocks beating us in Columbia, clinching the win on a late illegal participation penalty on the Gators. Add last year’s ugly win and it feels like Spurrier has our number. In actuality, Florida is 4-3 against Spurrier, the only program that has played him every year since his arrival in Columbia that has a winning record against him. Don’t forget the fact that he was on the sidelines in 2006 made that miracle win all the more special.
So seven years later, how do we feel about Spurrier in red and black? He’ll always be the Head Ball Coach and one of the greatest Gators ever but has some of his luster faded with so much time in Columbia? And what will happen if he coaches at least another six years there and ends up with more time at Williams-Brice than at the Swamp? To me, it is still as bizarre and awkward as it was back in 2005.
I don’t have a feel one way or another for this week’s game. The Cocks have won two straight in the series, despite only six wins in 30 tries all-time. They are coming off a tough loss at LSU but played what looked like a much different Tigers team than Florida faced. The Gators, meanwhile, have shown their toughness and physicality will wear down opponents in the second half. Although many claim they are overrated (and I’d tend to agree), they have earned respect with their play. The mid-week reports that Lattimore might not play do not make me feel anymore confident. We’ve seen it a million times when a star player goes down and the team rallies around his absence and someone else steps up. Don’t let your guard down just because Lattimore will be hobbled or out altogether. The same recipe the Gators have used all season will be needed on Saturday. If Florida protects the football and avoids too many penalties, they will have a chance to win another close one in the fourth quarter. But I think the only way they win is if Brent Pease and Will Muschamp trust Driskel and open up the offense and let him make plays. They are not going to beat the Cocks with an ultra conservative, run-heavy offensive gameplan.
On to this week’s rankings:
4. Kansas State
5. Notre Dame
7. Oregon State
8. South Carolina
9. Mississippi State
11. Ohio State
13. Southern Cal
15. Florida State
17. Texas A&M
18. Texas Tech
19. West Virginia
24. Boise State