Instant Analysis: Florida 17, USC 16.

Florida fans began the day thinking about style points. They ended the day thanking the football gods for one point on the scoreboard, and the points on Jarvis Moss’ very large fingertips.

The Head Ball Coach has been slain, and Urban Meyer has the albatross off his back. That it was typically ugly and fortuitous doesn’t matter one bit. In fact, the losing Gamecocks should have been expected to play the Gators close, for South Carolina has been competitive in virtually every SEC game this season. Steve Spurrier’s team lost by hairline margins against Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas because of collections of errors that were just barely greater than any accumulation of successes. Spurrier’s team, to use a familiar phrase, “played just well enough to lose,” and that’s been a recurring theme of the 2006 season in Columbia.

For Florida, it’s been the exact opposite, and Saturday’s wrenching, pulse-pounding, lip-biting, health-destroying, hair-pulling, white-knuckling squeaker over the Gamecocks was yet another illustration of a season that’s been bathed in sunshine, even without those style points that only serve as a distracting demon that wipes away proper mental focus and on-field concentration. History shows that when you want to kill the opposition–especially one coached by a wise pigskin sage named Steve Spurrier–your thirst for blood is so great that you fail to do the little things. At the end, you simply want to win. It’s the kind of mindset that, had it prevailed for 60 minutes, might have enabled you to score a blowout in the first place.

Such was the trajectory of another messy, mind-bending affair in which the Gators once again left a truckload of points on the field. Hopes of a style point-laden victory quickly evaporated, and anxiety levels were skyrocketing in the Swamp come the final moments of regulation. In the end, however, the Gators–once again–prevailed. This had to qualify as their luckiest Houdini yet, but at the end of the day, these escape jobs aren’t tabulated as losses. South Carolina has still never won in the Swamp, and Urban Meyer has still never lost at home. After a “living bye week” against Western Carolina, the Gators, for all their manifest flaws, will be 10-1 entering Tallahassee. At the end of the day, only the Ohio State-Michigan winner will have a better record than the Gators will come Nov. 25.

Everyone knows that Florida’s football games, week by week, are becoming an all-too-familiar broken record. The key, however, is that the song on the record player is almost always a happy one. Yes, the record starts out with scratchy, patchy stretches: show some promise early, fritter away opportunities, litter the field with mistakes, continue to battle, withstand high drama, and buckle up for a thrill ride. But just when you think the latest ditty is going to be sad tale of tears, the crooner uses creative lyrics and sings of a seemingly lost lover who has returned to a joyful pair of waiting arms. These joyful arms were seen raised throughout the Gator Nation because Jarvis Moss has laid down the long arms of the law. Florida might have one of the worst field goal kickers in the country, but when it comes to denying opponents’ field goals, the Gators stand in good stead.

And as a man named Steve Spurrier said about field goals when he wore the Blue and Orange, “I don’t like kicking those things.”

How fitting, then, that on an emotional evening unlike anything the Swamp has seen since he christened it as such a decade and a half ago, Steve Spurrier would lose on a field goal and watch as his alma mater reveled in the joy of another victory without any style points… the style points he used to bring to Gainesville.

Urban Meyer and his team don’t have to apologize for a single thing. This is a hormone-drenched sport played by 20-year-old kids under intense pressure before massive, yelling throngs. Mental toughness is even more important than physical skill, and if you’re one play better than your opposition, you’re better. Period.

Florida hasn’t demolished opponents, and the Gators won’t bring a big, bad hammer to the Seminoles or the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Know something else? They don’t have to.

If the Gators beat FSU 10-9 and beat the Hogs 7-6… and other pretty-looking teams have the proverbial “one bad game”… Florida will find itself in Glendale anyway.

You don’t have to be the most attractive girl in the dance in college football. If you’re one point better, the broken record will still play a happy song, and you’ll get the cute boy you thought you’d never win. That’s life as a Gator right now. Urban Meyer’s team had yet another marriage with victory on Saturday, and the continuous renewals of these wedding vows won’t get old anytime soon… not if the record player plays the same happy love song.