GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After a solid win over rival Georgia on Saturday, Florida coach Jim McElwain used his postgame news conference to deliver a message to all those who have been picking the team apart — about the offensive line or offense in general or what not — throughout this season.
He reminded the reporters present that his Florida Gators are a good team and, most importantly, a good enough team to achieve their goals.
Well, the national perception mostly aligns with that evaluation.
Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) jumped four spots to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 poll this week.
No. 8 Wisconsin — with losses to fellow top-10 teams Michigan and Ohio State — is the only two-loss team ahead of the Gators, and among the fellow one-loss teams it’s hard to quibble with No. 5 Louisville and Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson, No. 6 Ohio State (which beat Wisconsin), No. 7 Texas A&M (which has only lost to Alabama) or No. 9 Nebraska (which lost to Wisconsin after a 7-0 start).
Still, there seems to be a feeling within the team that the Gators are lacking respect in some way.
Or, maybe, that’s what McElwain wants them feeling as a motivational tactic heading into a tough final stretch of the schedule.
When asked about this perceived lack of national respect on Monday, McElwain had this to say:
“Well, I think that’s natural because I don’t think going into it anybody really thought much of us anyway. And as I told our guys it’s just a matter of going out and proving it each week. You know, if you take care of business on Saturdays people are going to take notice, and that’s really what we have to do.”
McElwain does have a point that his Gators were underestimated at the start of the season, being picked to finish behind Tennessee in the division in the SEC preseason poll and opening the season ranked No. 25 nationally.
Florida was the lowest-ranked defending SEC East champion since the conference created a championship game in 1992.
Preseason polls are what they are, though. As the Gators put that second-half collapse at Tennessee in Week 4 behind them and found some momentum, they’ve steadily climbed up the national rankings.
Still, players love to feed off the notion of disrespect in any form. That’s not a Florida thing; that’s college athletes in general, season after season across the country.
And so …
“Let the haters hate,” center Cam Dillard said Monday. “Let everybody doubt. You know what? We’ll go out there on Saturday and do what we need to do to take care of the job.”
“Personally, me, I feel like everybody loves to hate the Florida Gators, so there’s going to be haters, you know, no matter what,” defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. “So we just have to continue to keep a tight ship and do what we do. …
“People love to hate the Gators, they don’t ever want to give us our respect or props, so we have to kind of go and take it ourselves. We’re still a very hungry team. This top 10 or whatever doesn’t mean anything to us. We feel like we should be up there higher. So we have to continue to push and work every day at it.”
There’s nothing wrong with feeding off whatever source of motivation inspires an individual, and if the Gators’ defense keeps playing like one of the best units in the country and the offense finds some more consistency, then the national respect — in whatever form the Gators are seeking — will come.
Quarterback Luke Del Rio looked at it that way.
“I don’t know. I don’t really care. We’re No. 10 in the nation. If they don’t respect us, I don’t really care,” he said. “… I mean, I personally believe you earn your respect with how you play. We learned the hard way you can’t talk yourself up to be a great team. So we’ve kind of shut up and let our play do the talking.”
He didn’t elaborate, but one could assume he was talking about that loss to Tennessee. The Gators set social media abuzz with quotes leading up to that game and proceeded to squander a 21-point lead en route to a 38-28 loss.
Since then, they’ve been climbing.
And, they hope, the best is still yet to come.
“I think just people don’t realize what we’re capable of. I think we’re capable of many things. I don’t think people realize that yet,” Dillard said.
They’ll get their chance on the field during a tough closing stretch that continues this week at Arkansas before returning home against South Carolina and finishing on the road at LSU and then Florida State.
As for cracking the top 10 in the AP Poll for the first time since the final week of the regular season last year, for all the talk about how people should appreciate what a good team Florida is, McElwain seemed generally uninterested in the ranking.
“Great. I mean, I guess,” he said. “Somebody did point out to me, though, this is kind of interesting. I’m not sure historically … with Louisville and us being both in the Top 10, you’ve got two guys from the state of Montana (McElwain and Bobby Petrino) as head coaches that are in the Top 10. Pretty cool.”