GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Getting to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship game is the goal for every team in the Southeastern Conference.
Florida has accomplished it more often than anyone else.
Maybe that’s why the third-ranked Gators are taking such a ho-hum approach to Saturday’s all-important game against No. 12 Georgia. A more likely scenario, though, is that it’s early, and players and coaches are saving all the hype and hoopla for the weekend.
“Nothing’s changed for us,” coach Will Muschamp said Monday. “We’re not working any longer, harder. Practice, it’s all the same. We don’t approach things differently based on the situation because next week’s important, too.”
Not quite like this one, though.
The Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) can clinch a spot in the conference title game with a victory against rival Georgia (7-1, 5-1).
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, need to beat Florida and probably win remaining games against Mississippi and Auburn to get to Atlanta.
“It’s good for us,” Gators linebacker Jon Bostic said. “That’s one of our goals from the beginning of the year. We certainly want to get to Atlanta, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
It’s another SEC game we want to win.”
Florida has represented the Eastern Division 10 times since the inception of the title game in 1992. The Gators also have more wins (7) than anyone else.
But few outsiders expected Muschamp’s team to contend for the division in his second season. Not after last year’s 7-6 record that included the coach calling his players soft. Not with a sophomore quarterback. Not with a new offensive coordinator.
The Gators, though, have surprised just about everyone.
They came from behind to win at Texas A&M and Tennessee. They were more physical than LSU and South Carolina. They have been most impressive with halftime adjustments, second-half stamina and special teams play.
Now, all that stands in the way of another trip to Atlanta is Georgia.
“It’s another big game,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “It’s an SEC East game, and it’s the Florida-Georgia game. You couldn’t really ask for more. You come to Florida to play in games like this. We’re excited to start preparing and we’re ready for another big week. ... We know what’s at stake, but we’re going to prepare like we have been all year and just be ready when it comes Saturday.”
The Gators have plenty of motivation, too.
Not only is the SEC East at stake, but Florida lost to Georgia last year. And those late-season losses seem to be propelling the Gators this season.
They admitted as much after beating LSU on Oct. 6 and drubbing South Carolina on Saturday, saying they wanted to avenge setbacks from last year’s disappointing season.
“We just get another chance,” Driskel said. “Like coach said, you don’t get too many second chances in life and we have yet another one this week. We’re going to make this one (count). I don’t want to say revenge. We’re just going to go out there and play hard and practice hard, you know, work hard this week.”
Muschamp spoke to his team last week about possible distractions stemming from the program’s lofty ranking and a No. 2 spot the first Bowl Championship Series standings. Might he do it again this week, with the SEC East on the line?
“When there are obvious possible distractions for your football team, you can stick your head in the sand and pretend everything’s OK or you can address it with them,” Muschamp said. “And that’s what I choose to do. So I address things and say, ‘All right, if we need to talk about it, let’s talk about it.’ And we’ll all agree that we don’t need to.”
Just another ho-hum week in Gainesville, right?
“There are some games where there will be a little more adrenaline flowing, certainly,” Muschamp said. “And there will be in this one. But as a competitor, you prepare yourself the right way each week, regardless of the opponent or the situation. And certainly, when there’s a little bit more at stake, you may get a little bit more excited.”