Winning games has put the No. 10 Florida Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) into the national spotlight. Coming along with that has been a bevy of games in prime time with six kickoffs coming at 7 or 7:30 pm and two CBS Game of the Week 3:30 starts.
Playing under the lights, coupled with a team that is fun to watch and winning football games, has made the Swamp a feared venue once again. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has been sold out and it has been loud. Given time to wake up, relax and get to the stadium for a late kickoff has allowed fans to show up early and create a home field advantage for Florida even before the opening kickoff.
That will change this week when the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-5, 1-3 SEC) this week in a game that will kickoff at noon on ESPN.
“That’ll be a new experience for us. We did scrimmage in the spring and in the fall at noon,” Jim McElwain said. “We tried to do practices and scrimmage simulations at all the different start or kick times that we would be in based on the SEC. It is something we have done, and yet, guys we’ve played a bunch of later games and a couple 3:30 or late afternoon games. This will be new.”
The team has prepared for it. They practiced at early times, they’ve eaten meals early to simulate what waking up early will be like on Saturday, so while McElwain is challenging his team to handle a new situation this week, his players aren’t the only ones he’s challenging.
“I’m going to challenge the crowd now,” McElwain said on Monday. “The Swamp has been electric, and it’s been awesome, but let’s make sure we stumble on into that stadium and be ready for when we’re hustling out of the tunnel. We need all the support we can.”
The players have all talked about the environment that they have enjoyed at home, a place where the Gators haven’t played since October 3, when they hosted Ole Miss. 35 days will have passed since the Gators have been able to run out of the tunnel in front of their home fans and everyone on the team is hoping that a noon kickoff won’t mean a late arriving crowd for Florida’s homecoming.