“It’s really interesting,” Jim McElwain said the Monday before Florida was set to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. “You put yourself in position by winning ballgames to play in bigger ballgames.”
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium had been on a two-year hiatus from a venue that hosted big ballgames. The first came against Tennessee and a win over the Volunteers created an even bigger environment the next week when then top-5 rated Ole Miss came to town.
With each consecutive win, the Gators’ next game has received even more attention, more magnitude. A loss at LSU didn’t derail that either, thanks to a critical SEC East matchup against Georgia looming on the schedule.
Florida’s dismantling of Georgia creates, once again, another huge game for Florida. A win on Saturday over Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3 SEC) would make Florida the SEC East Champions and punch their ticket to Atlanta, a ticket they haven’t possessed since 2009.
“Let’s call it the way it is, we’ve got an opportunity to go win a ballgame and solidify us being in Atlanta,” McElwain said on Monday. “That’s the way it should be. That’s why you come to the University of Florida.”
Every season Florida enters there is only one goal. At this point in each of the last five seasons, that goal hasn’t been a reality. The fact that Florida is back in position and only one game away from realizing their goal brings new challenges. How does the team handle those new expectations? Can they manage the extra attention, remain focused and continue playing the kind of football that has led them to this point?
“We can accomplish something each week and it really doesn’t matter who you are playing,” senior tight end Jake McGee said. “We as a team have really from the beginning wanted to show people what we are made of and what we can do. I think regardless of the opponent that needs to be our focus and our goal.”
In true catch-22 fashion, all of the things surrounding the team may actually prove less of a distraction and only serve to continue to keep Florida focused. The team has taken on the mentality and personality of their head coach. All year McElwain has talked about how “cool” it is to go to new SEC venues and to see the tradition at every stop; he’s really soaked everything in his first season as the head coach of the Florida Gators.
“There’s too much fun stuff going on around here right now to really want to look ahead. I mean, every game has been a blast. There’s been electric stadiums, fan support has been great,” said McGee. “It’s something that I don’t see why you would want to look a month ahead when there’s a lot of fun and a lot of football left to be played.”
The proof is in the pudding. Florida has everything they want sitting right in front of them. The true test to see just how far this team has come, how much they have grown up since McElwain took over at Florida will come on Saturday at high noon.