For the third year in a row, the Florida Gators find themselves in the same situation, sitting behind a division rival as the SEC preseason predictions are set to come out. The official results will not be released until SEC Media Days concludes on Friday, but most can take a pretty good guess at how things are going to shake out.
Georgia should take home the preseason SEC East title on Friday, but Florida plans on having something to say about that during the actual season, again.
“What do we think about it? We hear that every year,” said senior defensive back Marcell Harris. “That’s something that everybody says and we come out and prove everybody wrong, once again.”
Nearly the exact same message was echoed from fellow senior defensive back Duke Dawson.
“We have that problem every year,” he said. “We have to come out and prove to everyone. As you can tell, that is just what we have proved the past few years. Getting that taste of nine wins, we now want to get more than that.”
After paving their way to Atlanta as the underdog each of the last two years, the Gators have still not earned much respect around the SEC and the rest of the country. It’s like living the same year over and over again, but still, Florida is not viewed as the team to beat in the SEC East. Head coach Jim McElwain has found a way to do more with less talent (and luck) at Florida while others in the conference continue to do less with more.
Junior offensive lineman Martez Ivey did not hold back at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, saying he is pissed off by the lack of recognition his team is given from year to year for its accomplishments.
“As a team we take it as motivation,” Ivey said. “I mean, we have been the underdog for the last two years that I have been at Florida. I really don’t expect anything less from the people putting us under and saying we can’t do this or that. We set our own limits for ourselves and we don’t let anyone else set them for us.”
While having a sense of motivation as a team is great, McElwain doesn’t look as much into it, holding to the point that motivation can only take a team so far. He still had to throw in a little displeasure at the disrespect though, in the sarcastic way that only he can.
“How much truly does motivation get you through the hard times? I’m not sure, right? It’s the preparation and the attention to detail that you’ve put into it going into whatever event it is that’s going to help you be successful. So, I don’t know. Will somebody at least say we exist? That would be nice, I guess, right?”
While the Gators aren’t feeling the love from the early predictions, no East team is going to earn much notoriety until someone takes down the West, aka Alabama, in the SEC Championship game. A team from the West has won the last eight conference championships, going all the way back to Florida’s last national championship run in 2008.
Florida has compiled a 13-3 conference record over the last two seasons, but still could not compete with the Crimson Tide in the championship game, falling 29-15 in 2015 and then in the 54-16 massacre of 2016. Alabama is the monster every team in the SEC is trying to take down, and not much else matters until that happens.
“They’ve just done an outstanding job,” McElwain said of Alabama. “I think closing the gap, as I go back to I guess the understanding here, each year is its own and certain things happen that you don’t have control over. And yet, what you hope happens is you’ve taken care of a lot of the details along the way, that when something comes up, you can still be successful. That’s the great thing they’ve done in that program. And I don’t know the gap itself. You know, I do understand this. They’re right now at the top, and, you know, it’s up to the rest of us to go get them.”
The Gators are looking to be the team to close that gap this season. Aside from the motivation of preseason doubters, Florida is on a mission to not only make it to the SEC Championship Game this season, but to actually compete to win it. Dawson admitted the team as a whole felt a little too happy just to be in Atlanta the last two years, but that mindset is long gone.
“We talk about that even outside of workouts,” said Dawson. “Everyone gets together and even has workouts against each other, which we have to take to the next level to be better. We have to be more consistent and more at a higher level. That’s what we need to continue to do.”