Column: No. 2 BCS ranking means Florida football back in spotlight

By Adam Pincus

Column: No. 2 BCS ranking means Florida football back in spotlight

This season has been one of tests for Florida. UF visited Texas A&M and the 12th Man, traveled to Knoxville to face pass-happy Tennessee and hosted a top-five team that dominated them just a year ago in LSU.

So far, the Gators have passed.

It doesn’t get any easier for Florida when No. 9 South Carolina and freakish defensive end Jadeveon Clowney come to Gainesville.

The Gators are facing more challenges than those on the field.

How the team responds after reaching its highest ranking since Tim Tebow was quarterback will go a long way in proving Florida’s worth among the nation’s elite.

Will Muschamp refused to acknowledge the significance of rising to No. 2 in the first BCS rankings.

He said on Monday that nothing matters besides playing South Carolina this Saturday in The Swamp. Muschamp has a point: Championships aren’t won in the middle of October. But for a team that spent the last two years trapped in mediocrity, being No. 2 in the nation means something.

It means the second-year coach has changed the team’s identity to the physical, no-excuses approach.

It means the Gators are firmly in the national championship discussion after two years of futility.

It means Florida football is back.

In 12 of the 14 years that the BCS ranking system has been in place, at least one of the teams in the top two of the initial poll made an appearance in the BCS Championship Game.

With Alabama in the top spot and Florida right behind, the Gators are on track to reach their third BCS title game in seven years.

Florida hosts South Carolina in a game that will be won in the trenches, as UF’s victory against LSU was.

Both Florida and South Carolina have elite running backs that carry the football close to 20 times per game.

Both teams have athletic quarterbacks that can win games with their feet if need be.

The UF community is abuzz about a football game that the Gators, on paper, should win.

“You walk through the campus and there’s people telling you good job and keep it up,” fullback Hunter Joyer said. “Saying they’re really excited for this weekend, so it’s a pretty good vibe.”

Joyer said he received the same treatment before last season’s matchup against Alabama, but unfortunately for Florida, the good vibes were limited for the remainder of 2011.

The Gators couldn’t generate a consistent running or passing attack, they couldn’t defend late in games, and they couldn’t field a healthy team. Basically, they stunk.

Fans have seen the transformation from a barely bowl-eligible team to an SEC heavyweight.

“It helps a lot,” senior safety Josh Evans said about home-field advantage. “That little bit of edge and motivation you hear from our fans cheering us on, the good luck that they’re giving us, it definitely helps us a lot.”

Redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said he had not played in a Ben Hill Griffin Stadium atmosphere like the one he experienced against LSU on Oct. 6 for a long time.

“Having the stadium packed, especially the LSU game, it got pretty loud,” Hammond said. “It definitely brought back memories of my freshman and sophomore year here, so it’s getting back. But, like I said, we’ve got to take it a game at a time and just move forward from there.”

Hammond isn’t the only player not looking at the rankings.

The entire team has scoffed at the notion that being No. 2 holds any significance.

Sure, championships aren’t won in October. But they can be lost in this month.

Florida found that out the hard way last season.

On Saturday, the Gators play their first game as a BCS top-five team in three seasons. To say that doesn’t mean anything is selling the program short.

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