Less than one week ago, with what appeared to be three easy games remaining in their conference schedule, experts penciled in a then undefeated Penn State team into the national championship game. After all, how could the mighty Nittany Lions lose to either Iowa, Indiana or Michigan State.
Well, they did. To Iowa. And that’s why they play the games.
With that poll-rattling upset, the Florida Gators, despite not being ranked number one, are now the consensus favorite to reach the BCS title game. In fact, many have already crowned the Gators your national champion, which has many undefeated Alabama fans, among others, in a tizzy.
In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friends. The Gators still have several, challenging and ranked opponents left on their schedule they must not overlook.
South Carolina (Nov. 15): This weekend, Florida welcomes their former coach and Heisman trophy winner, Steve Spurrier, into the unfriendly confines of the Swamp. While Florida is a substantial, 23-point favorite, the last time Spurrier brought his gang to Gainesville, it took a Jarvis Moss blocked field goal as time expired to ensure a Gator victory… by a single point. South Carolina is currently ranked 25th in the BCS and has beaten Ole Miss on the road, a team which Florida failed to beat at home. While the kinder, gentler Spurrier always roots for his former school as long as they aren’t playing his own, a victory over Florida would remind Meyer once and for all who is Florida’s more legendary coach.
Florida State (Nov. 29): After what should be a scrimmage and stats-padder against Citadel on November 22, Florida travels to Bowdenville to take on the Florida State Seminoles, who have been playing excellent football of late and are tied with Wake Forest atop the ACC. While Florida has won four straight against their in-state rival, this is the best Florida State team Urban Meyer has faced and this is one losing streak FSU is looking to end. Bobby Bowden has spoiled many a Gator party in the past and in what could conceivably be his last game as ‘Nole head coach, a win over a potential national champion would definitely be going out with a bang.
SEC Championship Game (Dec. 6): Then came Atlanta and the Nick-tator’s #1 ranked Crimson Tide. Nick Saban has done an incredible job at Alabama, bringing that program back to national title contention in only his second year as head coach. While ‘Bama’s victories over mutual opponents haven’t been quite as impressive as Florida’s, they are still unblemished. Florida and Alabama have faced six common opponents this year: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU. Florida beat these opponents by a combined score of 261-80, going 5-1. Alabama beat those same opponents 187-108, while not losing a game.
Assuming victories already in hand, many pundits have claimed that the SEC winner will automatically be placed in the championship game. This is not necessarily the case. If Florida loses to either South Carolina or Florida State, then defeats ‘Bama at a neutral site, that would likely open the door for a one-loss USC team to play for the title. Even with a conference championship in hand, with other qualified schools waiting in the wings, it is unlikely a two-loss team will play for a title this year. Neither Florida nor Alabama can afford to slip up.
So Gator faithful, count not ye chickens before they’re hatched. Milton wrote long is the way and hard that out of darkness leads up to light. While he probably did not have college football on his mind when he wrote this, the message is still apropos. The Gators are far from a shoo-in to the championship game, despite being the favorite. It is in their sights and Urban Meyer appears to have his team incredibly focused on the task at hand. Rather than choosing to ignore the national championship chatter, Meyer addressed it briefly with his team, then told them any further mention would result in endless wind sprints.
This group of Gators, Urban Meyer’s first full class in his fourth year at Florida, may arguably be the most well-rounded in the nation. The Gators have outscored their opponents 104-7 in the first quarter this season. With his recent performances, Tim Tebow has thrust himself back into the Heisman race. In his last four games, two of which were against LSU and Georgia, he threw nine touchdown passes and rushed for eight more. The Gator offense with Demps, Rainey and Harvin is nothing short of scintillating and their defense has improved leaps and bounds over last year. While the offense has scored 243 points in their last five games, equally as impressive is the fact that their defense has only allowed 57 points in that same span. Brandon Spikes is fourth in the conference in tackles and seems to be involved in every play. And Urban Meyer’s special teams showcases not only run backs from Brandon James but now repeated blocked punts and field goals.
This Gator team is complete. This may be Urban Meyer’s best coaching job ever. His team is focused and Meyer and his staff have successfully harnessed their talent to bring forth one of the greatest seasons in school history.
But it will only be that with five more victories.