I am still trying to grasp the reality that this Florida Gators team swept the SEC East schedule this season. Talk about overachieving. Yes, the Vandy game was ugly. Yes, South Carolina managed to give the Gator Nation quite a scare in the fourth quarter. And yes, even the most ardent Gator fans are skeptical of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. None of that matters.
Head Coach Jim McElwain has the team BELIEVING they are going to win. Last season, this team (mostly the same players) would have likely caved in the South Carolina game when things went badly in the fourth quarter. Oh wait, this team DID cave in the South Carolina game last season when things went badly in the fourth quarter. I was in the stands for that gut-wrenching event. It was that fourth quarter that sealed Will Muschamp’s fate. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts Gamecocks. Clearly, this is no longer a team that waits for something to go wrong in a game, they now make plays to assure that it doesn’t end badly. And folks, that truly is the difference between champions and also-rans. As Mac has said, this is a championship run.
For three quarters Saturday the Gator defense was absolutely smothering. Yes, they gave up fourteen late points but I really believe that it was more a case of thinking the game was in hand and letting up a little. The fact that the team, especially the offense, was able to wake up, renew their intensity and put the game away is a testament to just how much coach McElwain has changed the mentality of these players. One thing that has concerned some Gator fans is that the Florida defense seems to be susceptible to the trick play. It just is not a big deal. Trick plays are almost always designed to take advantage of an aggressive defense. Florida is ultra-aggressive on defense and that does make them vulnerable to the occasional trick play. But, it’s that same aggression that make the defense so dominant the rest of the time. I’ll take it.
The unfortunate part of the two late scores by South Carolina was that a shutout would have helped the Gators with the infamous “eye test” that the playoff committee supposedly uses. It shouldn’t matter and Florida has way too much difficult football ahead to be worried about such things at this point. It is true that beating Alabama will be a huge challenge, but being in the game means you have a chance to win the game. Florida is in the game. Even if the Gators do not win the game in Atlanta, wins over Florida Atlantic and FSU should put them in the Sugar Bowl and that ain’t too shabby.
While anything is possible, Saturday should see the Gators reaching the ten win mark on this season. That is still amazing to me. I thought 10-2 was a remote possibility if everything went Florida’s way, but it really hasn’t. The Gators have lost their starting quarterback for half of the season. It was thought that the offensive line would have to be nearly injury free. There have been multiple injuries and missed games along both lines. Yet, ten wins are almost guaranteed and I believe Florida will be favored in both of their remaining games making eleven regular season wins realistic. Again, to me, that is just amazing. I think Jim McElwain should be awarded coach of the year right now, not just for the SEC but nationally. No other coach has had as big of an impact on their team.
The Gators find themselves eighth in the latest playoff committee poll. With three weeks of football left, that is a great place to be. There is almost no way for Florida to be left out of the playoff if they find a way to win these next three games. Unlike some, I am not willing to say that it is impossible for the Gators to be left out but I do think it is highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine a scenario where a one loss SEC Champion gets passed up. The only concern I would have is the mostly unfounded love for Notre Dame. Which brings me back to “are you freaking kidding me”, we are really discussing whether or not Florida will get into the playoff in 2015?
This season has been such a wonderful ride that I really hate the fact that it’s more than two thirds over. How did it go by so fast? The last two seasons seemed to last forever. Before we know it we will be stuck in the barren wasteland between the conference championship games and the first meaningful bowl games. So, even though it is a little tougher to get excited about a cupcake game this late in the season, I will watch the Florida Atlantic game and (hopefully) enjoy seeing the team have a little fun and get some snaps for a few guys who have worked hard all year for their moment in the limelight. Some banged up starters will get some much needed rest and healing to be ready for the two game sprint at the end of the month. And, the offense should get a chance to find a little rhythm. Saturday should be that last deep breath before the plunge. Enjoy it Gator fans for the stress returns on Sunday.