It may not be explicitly stated in Jim McElwain’s contract but it is understood that part of his job description is to get the Florida Gators out of the shadows and back on the national landscape of college football.
The Gators haven’t been in many big games the last four years, a byproduct of losing. When you lose games you shouldn’t games that would have been big turn into noon kickoffs and another loss in a lost season. This Saturday, McElwain will have his first opportunity to take a step in the right direction when the Tennessee Volunteers visit Gainesville.
“It’s really interesting,” McElwain said on Monday. “You put yourself in position by winning ballgames to play in bigger ballgames. And yet, this is the biggest game of the season because it’s the next game.”
This isn’t just the “next game on the schedule” and, if the Gators come out victorious on Saturday McElwain will sing a different tune in his post game press conference, this is Tennessee-Florida, a heated rivalry with no love lost between the two. It is the biggest game of McElwain’s head coaching career and a game that Florida needs to win.
A former Gator who won his fair share of big games was back on campus on Friday. Tim Tebow, working for the SEC Network now, was apart of two National Championships at Florida and played in some of the biggest games that the school has ever been featured in. McElwain and Tebow haven’t had the time to really get to know each other but Tebow recalls playing against him when McElwain coached at Alabama and likes how passionate McElwain is about the game and his players.
“Yeah, I think he’s someone who’s really passionate. I haven’t been able to get super close with him yet or really get to know him too well, but I think he’s someone that has a track record for getting a lot of success,” Tebow said Friday. “I think he’s done a pretty good job with his play-calling. I’m really excited to see what kind of happens in some of these big games coming up.”
That first big game is upon Gator Nation. The Florida Gators are in year one of a rebuilding process. There haven’t been any so far, but they will take some lumps as McElwain rebuilds from the ground up. Tennessee is in year three of their rebuilding process, one that Butch Jones said would be done, “brick by brick.”
Two years have gone by. Tennessee has done an excellent job recruiting, getting talented in-state players to stay at home and have also had success nationally. They haven’t, however, beaten Florida — a fact not lost on their fan base.
“I think it’s the University of Tennessee,” Tebow responded when asked who he believed needed a win on Saturday more. “This is three years into a rebuilding process and it’s three games for the University of Florida.”
It may only be three games in for Florida but this is a game the Gators need to win. No, McElwain’s job is not on the line, the season won’t be called if the Gators come up short on Saturday either, but for the mental state of the fan base and a young team, the Gators need to win on Saturday.
This is the first big game McElwain is leading the Gators in to. If he wins, that’s a line that will be typed again next week when Ole Miss comes to town.
“It starts tomorrow. That would be a big win. And guess what, it’s an even bigger game if you win,” said Tebow. “It’s crazy, but when you win the games get even bigger, and then when you get a chance to be in those big games and you win, guess what? Everybody in the country is talking about you. Then the Swamp is what it was. The excitement is what it was. The recruits … it changes.”