With a lethargic and ugly 9-7 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Florida Gators clinched a birth in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta by claiming the SEC East crown. The style of the win means nothing to the Gators, as they have taken one giant step back to college football relevance. The fan base has something to look forward to as they will make the trip to Atlanta for the first time since the Tim Tebow days in 2009.
The rebuild is not complete yet by any means. They need to get that offense back to an offense full of elite talent. When the Gators were clicking, they had pros all over the offensive unit. They have some nice pieces now, but they have to recruit and develop more playmakers and depth.
The need was certainly on display on Saturday in the game against Vandy as Florida struggled to move the ball and quarterback Treon Harris looked inept at times. The eventual return of suspended Will Grier will certainly help the QB spot.
Defensively, the Gators continue to be a perennial power on that side of the ball. The defenses have certainly not been the reason for the few down years in Gainesville.
It certainly has not been pretty this year for Florida. They played a lot of close games and some ugly ones, but they have found their way to 8-1, and that is quite an achievement for a team that was predicted to finish fifth in SEC East. The dominant win against Ole Miss certainly sticks out, as does the tight loss to current No. 2 team LSU. Close wins like this weekend’s and a 14-9 win over Kentucky also stick out as some of the “ugly” wins of the year that have people doubting the Gators.
First-year head coach Jim McElwain has seemed to restore a sense of pride and will in the program. They don’t give up and they keep fighting to the end, as they’ve shown in several games this season. He has a great personality and seems a bit more likable than Will Muschamp was, which could entice more high-level recruits to head to The Swamp. Perhaps the Gators have found their next great head coach.
When it comes to the title game, there certainly are some teams the Gators and fans would rather face. Ole Miss, who as of this writing, still controls their destiny and can reach Atlanta if they win out (and, even if they lose today, they still have a chance to reach Atlanta). That could be a comfortable opponent for Florida since they beat them handily earlier.
LSU could be a decent opponent, too, since they only lost 35-28 earlier this year. The team you don’t want to face is obviously Alabama. If they reach the title game, that means ‘Bama got hot and is playing their best football; and when they play their best football, look out.
However, beggars can’t be choosers. The Gators won the SEC East and still have a shot at a playoff berth, and it’s November; nobody saw this coming. McElwain has them ahead of schedule and on the way to a return to greatness. There seem to be happy times ahead in The Swamp.