Leaving downtown Jacksonville Saturday night, there was a sense of accomplishment for the Gators and their fans. As a fan, it suddenly felt like the negativity and self loathing following the team was washed off in the dirty waters of the St. Johns.
Florida is not the dominant team of last season and beating a team ranked 68th in total defense is not that big of a deal. For those who still want to see the Fun n' Gun, UF is 90th in passing offense. Beating Georgia did little to boost those numbers (165 yards passing) but it was effective (15-21 passing, six players had catches). That's not a trend though, and the next few weeks will determine how much the Georgia win really meant.
Vanderbilt: They've lost their last five games and have not defeated the Gators since 1988. They also have the 8th ranked pass defense nationally. Stats can lie and Vandy has not played great passing teams (Georgia, Georgia Tech, Army, Mississippi State), but being the top-10 in anything nationally is significant. Vandy cannot score with UF, but their defense will be enough to frustrate UF at times. That frustration, but Gator wins, has been a theme of the series in this decade (single digit wins in 2002 and 2006, UF's overtime win in 2005).
South Carolina: They crapped the bed against Tennessee, but South Carolina's defense will not lay down against UF. The Gamecocks go to Arkansas this week, which should inflate their rank of 16th nationally in total defense and 3rd in passing defense. And as long as Steve Spurrier is at South Carolina, there will be a segment of fans who hate playing this game. Stephen Garcia might be the worst
senior redshirt sophomore quarterback in SEC history. Even Jonathan Crompton has a good game once a month.
Florida International: Essentially a bye week and a victory lap for the seniors before FSU. My little sister is going to this game (her first Tebow game), so if someone gets injured, she will be forbidden to go to any future games.
Florida State: Tim Tebow's first Hate Game was against FSU in 2007, when he destroyed the Seminoles and played with a broken hand after FSU talked trash for a week.. Last year, it was Evil Tebow murdering people after FSU's fans cheered Percy Harvin's leg injury. This year? Tebow gets to hear about how Christian Ponder is so much better than him. That's right, the FSU quarterback who is 4-4 this season and has only one home win against a Division 1-A opponent. Ponder has pretty statistics, but nothing to show for it. If win-loss was determined by who has a perfect throwing motion and more yards, Ponder wins. But as warped as college awards voting can be (FSU fans are pissed Ponder is not on the Davey O'Brien list), winning actually means something. Ponder is not a winner.
The thing I worry about in the final games is that this has been a strange season. Florida losing at South Carolina suddenly does not seem impossible when USC loses two Pac-10 games and Iowa is a top-4 team. In a year when FSU can't do anything right (they sue to get the NCAA report in the open; it says FSU players read at a 2nd grade level), beating Florida can salvage their season. We've already seen Tebow injured and each week is a new running back injury. The Gators are maturing each week, which helps with pressures that are out of their control. If they control themselves and remained focused, they will be upright and healthy for the SEC Championship.