Gator Nation was energized on Sunday night when it was officially announced on ESPN that the Florida Gators, one year removed from a 6-6 regular season that appeared to leave little hope for the program in the near future, were ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings released for the 2012 season.
Florida, which was ranked No. 1 by the computers and edged Oregon for the No. 2 overall spot, was immediately the hot topic of conversation by broadcasters.
Did the Gators deserve to be the No. 2-ranked team?
Most believe the answer to that question is yes considering Florida has racked up a 5-0 record in the Southeastern Confernece with three come-from-behind second-half victories (two on the road), two wins over ranked opponents (one that was a top-five team) and another over a team that is currently ranked in the top 25.
Can Florida maintain its high ranking?
That is where the debate raged and will continue until the end of the regular season.
If you ask the Gators about being just one spot behind defending national champion Alabama in the latest BCS, you will not hear much debate or celebration for that matter.
“I guess it’s something that came out [Sunday],” senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic said dismissively on Monday. “It’s only halfway through the season. We still got a long way to go. We still have some more SEC opponents on our schedule ahead of us. Everything is not said and done yet.”
“It’s whatever,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Omar Hunter added. “That’s not going to get you to Atlanta or to the national championship. [We] still got a lot more games to play and it’s whatever right now.”
In fact, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was the only player who even mentioned Florida being deserving of some praise even if it is an empty honor at this point.
“We don’t get too caught up in the rankings, but we’re undefeated and we had a tough schedule,” he said. “The rankings don’t matter until the end of the season, but we’re 6-0 and that’s what we look at. We can’t be any better than we are now.”
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What Hunter did admit to was feeling an increased energy on campus at Florida. The Gators will be hosting their second top-10 opponent in three weeks as well as ESPN’s College GameDay program for the first time since Nov. 2009.
“Campus seems a little bit fired up right now with South Carolina and Coach [Steve] Spurrier coming back,” he said. “It being GameDay, I don’t think we’ve had a GameDay here in a long time. With all that coming back, there definitely is a different feel going around campus.”
Head coach Will Muschamp said the No. 2 ranking “has absolutely nothing to do with anything in our season right now,” pointing this week’s focus to South Carolina and noting that defeating the Gamecocks was the only goal in his mind. Driskel concurred.
“The whole team just has to take it one game at a time, and you can’t get caught up in the hype,” he said. “It’s another SEC game, and we’re going to have to play well to win. And we’re going to have to practice well to win.”
Muschamp remains confident in UF and again noted on Monday how impressed he is with the team’s improved maturity and depth. He also said that the Gators are playing significantly better than a year ago because the players are doing it as a collective.
“I think we’re playing very good team football right now. I don’t think it’s any one component of our football team that’s playing a superior to the others. I think we complement each other very well,” he said.
“I think our players have bought into the team concept and understand they’re playing for what’s on that helmet rather than what’s on the back of their pads. That’s what’s been the difference in this football team. There’s a huge buy-in to be unselfish and play for your football team and your university and your teammate. That, to me, has been the key to our season.”
That mindset will do Florida well on Saturday as an opponent in South Carolina comes to town looking to prove that the Gators’ first top-two BCS ranking since Nov. 29, 2009 is just a temporary badge of honor. The Gamecocks will also try to make up for their untimely loss at the hands of LSU last week and get a head-to-head advantage on UF in the race for the SEC East division title.