How can the No. 8 team in the nation be considered disrespected? When it plays in the Southeastern Conference and had its lone loss of the year come via a fake field goal touchdown on the road in one of the toughest environments in college football.
The Florida Gators checked in at No. 11 in last week’s College Football Playoff Rankings, one spot down from where they started. They were the sixth-ranked one-loss team, nine spots behind Alabama despite the fact that each team beat the opponent that defeated the other this season. Also ahead of UF was Notre Dame (lost to the top team in the nation), Stanford (given a “body clock” excuse for its season-opening loss to Northwestern), LSU (fell to Alabama) and Utah (lost to unranked USC). It’s not that some of those teams were ranked a couple spots ahead of Florida that makes this a legitimate point … it’s that all were ranked ahead of the Gators with the Crimson Tide so far in front due to perceived “better wins” for Alabama.
Well, Stanford and LSU and Utah lost Saturday. Florida will move up because the CFP Selection Committee has no other choice. But do not be surprised when Oklahoma (previously No. 12, beat No. 6 Baylor) and possibly even Michigan State (previously No. 13) jump the Gators. OU will get tons of credit for its win over previously unbeaten and untested No. 6 Baylor that UF no longer receives for its victory over then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
Here’s the simple truth: Committee members do not believe in Florida yet. And while the Gators should have probably been ranked a few spots higher last week, things should look up for them on Tuesday. Another truth: None if it really matters in the long run because a one-loss Florida would never be shut out of the playoff, not if it wins out against Florida Atlantic, Florida State and Alabama.
“We’ve won a few ballgames now. We should be excited about this – we really should. We should probably celebrate this day,” said head coach Jim McElwain after Saturday’s victory. “I mean, it’s kind of exciting, right?”
A Gators team that went 4-8 two years ago and 7-5 last season is currently 9-1 in the first year under a new coach, who just so happens to be the first in Florida football history to win seven SEC games in his first year on the job. Former Gators coach Steve Spurrier has even singled out McElwain as his national coach of the year, a fact that made McElwain blush and got him fired up at the same time.
“That’s flattering. It’s very humbling that someone would even put you in that category because there’s a bunch of better coaches than me out there, alright?” he began. “It speaks to the organization; it speaks to those players, the coaches, all the people that have kind of figured out that the difficulty lies not in the new ideas but in escaping the old ones. We got a whole organization that’s moving in a new direction. We’re not sitting still. We’re continuing to build and create and not just sit there and say, ‘We’re Florida, and you’re not.’ That’s what I love about it. We’ve energized a whole organization to move forward, and it starts with those players.”
That organization has swept the SEC East, too, with the Gators winning three of those six games by five points or fewer.
As McElwain said Saturday, Florida’s “got a lot more to do” with its season “far from being over.” The only question that remains is whether the Gators will be satisfied with their lot to this point or prepared to fight for that lacking respect and a top four spot in the playoff come the second Sunday in December.
“We got a bunch of winners. We got guys that have it figured out. You can beat them up. You can beat us up. You can do all that. We’re in a position now that it’s about keep working on ourselves, number one. Number two, we just got to keep getting a little bit better,” McElwain explained.
“The art of winning hard, guys. It is hard. … [Everyone] understands how hard winning is and figuring out how to win. That’s really what I like about our guys: There’s never any panic. They play in the moment, they play in the now and they figured out a way to sweep the East. Ain’t a bad gig, man. So, let’s get excited about it a little bit. …
“That’s a happy locker room that’s figured out how to win. Something special about that because wins are hard to come by, and I’m just really proud of them. And I’m proud for all the Gators out there who didn’t think much of this season probably, for them to have something to get excited about. We’ve got a very good football team. We’ll continue doing what we’re doing, and we’ll come back to work and figure out how to get this FAU outfit.”