Six games in and six wins later, the Florida Gators football program has become the surprise team across the nation. The majority of prognosticators probably pegged the Gators to have two or three loses at this point. Over the past month, that national media has predicted two double-digit streaks to end, a Rebel romp and Missouri let down. Fortunately enough, the Gators have disproved many of the predictions with defensive dominance and last second heroics.
At this point last year Florida was coming off of a disappointing loss to LSU. The tables have truly turned as the Gators enter this week’s battle with 6th ranked LSU ranked 8th in the AP Top 25. Florida has a strong grip on the SEC East crown with four conference games to play. The Gators could easily bathe in the current success it has, but this team does not seem to be satisfied. The rallying cry has been to ‘Restore the Order’ and most would say this restoration project is way ahead of schedule.
Jim McElwain deserves a lot of credit for the Gators success; from the moment he has stepped on campus he has fought to put Florida back on the pedestal with the elites of college football. The effort started on the recruiting trail landing current true freshman contributors, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Antonio Callaway and Jordan Cronkrite. He has been adamant about the facility upgrades and making sure these players receive the best experience during their time at the University of Florida. McElwain has always portrayed a confidence in himself that we are seeing on the field. Any man that says “I believe I can win with my dog Claribelle,” should be someone we pay attention to.
And speaking of quarterbacks, Florida may have found their quarterback of the future in Will Grier. There has been a lot said about the quarterback position since 2010. Fans have complained about the recruiting, the development and handling of the position overall. The quarterback position has been poor at best, but credit Jim McElwain, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and especially credit Will Grier and Treon Harris for handling the battle as true competitors. This was a position that needed stability seeing over the past five years have been full of frustration. The inexcusable play under center has been a microcosmic view of the program overall. If the position is a sign of things to come, we have a reason to be optimistic.
This start has not come without some bumps and potentially season altering moments. The moment that many thought was an embarrassing and unacceptable moment may have changed the course of a team. The famous throat slash from Kelvin Taylor became a national story but for Florida it was more about the attitude change that McElwain has been preaching since day one. Since that moment Taylor has received 86% of the carries by running backs, many thought and myself included that one of the true freshman would have supplanted Taylor at this point. Taylor has stepped up to take command of the running back position to become a dependable every down back. This is another one of many changes that the Florida program needed to undergo.
Coming into this season we Florida would put one of the better defenses on the field and not much change would be needed. Credit to the previous staff for putting together a talent rich defensive roster that has dominated as expected, but there has been a different fire in the Gator defense this year. The attack has been fierce and relentless making opposing offenses look abysmal at times. The scary part is they are seemingly picking up steam, and it is great time to do so as they are preparing to collide with a freight train in Leonard Fournette. Last year we saw the defense holding on for dear life hoping to get an ounce of help out the offense, this year that has not been that case and it is benefiting the defense as they are playing fresh and with high energy for four quarters.
Florida is half way through its regular season schedule and is already bowl eligible. We haven’t reached mid-October and Florida is 1 of 6 teams in the country that can make that claim. That may not seem like a big deal, but for a program that missed a bowl game in 2013 and needed a win in late November over Eastern Kentucky to become bowl eligible is something that should be noted. In three weeks the narrative about Florida has gone from being picked to finish fifth in the SEC East, to being the SEC East favorite. There are some believing they could be the cream of the crop down south.
Each week the belief grows and it has us wanting more. This team is not a one hit wonder and they did not get complacent having their bellies rub. They showed Saturday night in a business like effort that they are a more than just a flash in the pan, Florida is here to stay. A win next week and it might be time to entertain a comment made by McElwain prior to the season.
“There isn’t a game, there isn’t an event, and there isn’t a thing that we go into expecting a participation ribbon. We have 15 opportunities. Let’s take advantage and make 15 a reality.”