Florida has roared to a 7-0 record and the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings with an unorthodox brew of defense, special teams, and offensive ingenuity that seems tailored to field position battles and efficiency. And the Gators have a sterling 6-0 SEC record, one that allows them to clinch the SEC East with a win over Georgia on Saturday.
So Will Muschamp admitted something coaches tend not to admit on Saturday: Florida's game against Georgia amounts to a "one-game season."
The Independent Florida Alligator columnist Greg Luca's skepticism about the Gators has riled up plenty of fans this year (I have an ongoing text conversation about Luca's columns that has lasted months), but he drops a gem in the middle of his latest one:
On Sept. 8 in College Station, Texas, Muschamp went on a tirade while speaking to a group of 30 reporters crammed into a room about the size of the average dorm. Sure, he was happy UF had just come from behind to beat Texas A&M 20-17, but there was something he had to get off of his chest. The media had given him a lashing after Florida apparently struggled to beat Bowling Green, and he was tired of hearing about it. He had called a run-based attack with an eye on the big picture, even if that led to an ugly victory in Week 1.
"It’s a long season, and when they start having one-game seasons, then we’ll start doing everything we can do," Muschamp said. "We’ll put everything we can into one game, so we can win one game and all be really, really happy at the end. But I like to look at it as a 12-week season, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to improve our football team."
But, when asked on Saturday about a possible trip to the SEC Championship Game, Muschamp had a different tune to sing.
Before the reporter could even finish asking his question: "We play in Jacksonville next week. We’ve got one game, a one-game season."
And you know what? Muschamp is right.
If Florida's players expected to be 7-0 and in position to make a run at SEC and national titles, few Gators fans were apprised of them before the season. In my heart of hearts, I expected Florida to be coming into this Georgia game with two losses — I just didn't think the offensive line was going to be able to handle LSU or South Carolina — and I was one of the more optimistic people I knew.
Now, after running the table on a treacherous stretch of seven games that included business trips to College Station, Knoxville, and Nashville in between reclaiming The Swamp twice against purported titans, Florida can still have whatever expectations it wants to have, and fans have started considering the possibility of double-digit wins and trips to Atlanta and a BCS bowl game.
Would a loss to Georgia be disappointing? Yes, because Florida can punch a ticket to Atlanta with the win, and because Georgia seems like the highest hurdle between the Gators and 11-0. Yes, because the rivalry is especially heated in the rare years that follow Gators losses in Jacksonville. Yes, because Florida just seems like the better team.
And yes, because Florida loses a lot of the things it's been working for if it loses on Saturday. This is a one-game season because a win can make this season a truly great one, but also because a loss shatters dreams we didn't even realize we could have.
Muschamp knows the pressure that comes with this rivalry, and I'm sure some part of him is stung by having never prevailed in it. He knows exactly what's at stake, and knows he's taking a risk by telling media members, essentially, "Here's what you judge me on."
But, most importantly: He knows he can call this game a "one-game season" and have his players respond, too, because they've been playing all-out in every game of the year so far. It's hard to expect Florida to break character after being unbreakable for the better part of two months.