I haven't blogged much about the Florida Gators here, mainly because I'm unsure who would bother to read my thoughts on my alma mater's college football team when I know that most people reading this blog follow me for music-related reasons. But after this weekend, I got the itch to write about an angle that isn't necessarily specific to Florida or its fanbase, but that Florida and its fanbase helped identify yesterday and today.
Florida, ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 heading into the weekend, beat No. 3 Ole Miss at home pretty thoroughly, with a final score of 38-10. This was immediately followed by a slew of sportswriters heaping praise on the Gators, proclaiming them favorites in the SEC East (or the entire SEC), and debating whether the team will be present in the College Football Playoff come holiday time.
This reaction by the media is expected: They also overreacted to then-No. 15 Ole Miss beating then-No. 2 Alabama in Alabama by a score of 43-37. That game wasn't even a blowout like Florida's victory was, and Ole Miss needed five turnovers by the Crimson Tide plus a
miracle bullshit touchdown catch to do it. Still, they were vaunted to a Top 5 ranking and immediately inserted into everyone's weekly Playoff picks.
To me, the more surprising reaction came from the Florida fanbase. I didn't conduct any type of survey, formal or informal, nor did I engage in any type of research further than reading through Twitter and message boards to come to this conclusion, but it sure seems like at least a faction of Florida fans are upset about the Gators' shiny, new No. 11 AP ranking ahead of a Saturday night game at Missouri, a team that beat Florida senseless on their own field just a year ago.
Florida went 4-8 in 2013 and followed that up with a 7-5 season last year, which was the last for former head coach Will Muschamp. Ever since week 2 or 3 of that disastrous 2013 season, the AP Top 25 has been a non-factor in the minds of Florida fans; it's been some sort of distant mirage that was only meaningful near the end of the year when we were curious about how the dominoes would fall in regards to end-of-season bowls and Playoff matchups.
So now that Florida jumped into the Top 25 after a squeaker against Tennessee and unexpectedly blew out Ole Miss, why are fans complaining about a one-loss Alabama being ranked ahead of the Gators or debating whether they deserve to be ranked above Florida State? Just six weeks ago, most Florida fans would have said they'd be happy with reaching a bowl game in Jim McElwain's first season; many, like myself, had their sights set on an 8-win season or so; and only the most optimistic were expecting an SEC East title. Winning the conference and reaching the Playoff was not on the menu of available entrées for Year 1 under McElwain. But because the Gators got ranked, and because rankings are used by the 'round-the-clock sports experts as fodder for weekday columns, that number starts to get in your head. Simply having the ranking endowed upon the team makes a formerly rational fan -- the person who was rooting for an 8-win season and maybe a surprise win over a hated rival like Georgia or FSU -- feel entitled for an even better ranking, when they weren't thinking about or expecting any such thing in the pre-season.
I'm not saying that those things aren't on the table now; Florida's showing against Ole Miss puts them in a nice spot if they keep up their momentum at Mizzou then survive the remainder of an October slate that includes a game at LSU and the yearly cocktail party with Georgia. But we all know where an undefeated or one-loss SEC champion will be on December 31, so why bother worrying about that now?
I'd contend that jockeying for poll positioning should be the furthest thing from a Florida fan's mind right now. It's not a particularly fun thing to think about in general -- as Gators fans know from a stressful BCS standings reveal in early December 2006, a soaring scramble to the top in 2008 and the least fun 12-0 season ever in 2009. What is fun is competing in big games, having hope and faith for your team in those games, and winning those games. Florida hasn't been winning -- or really even competing in -- those types of contests in at least a couple of years, so Gators fans should savor every moment of this season, whether Florida makes it to the SEC championship game or not. It legitimizes the hope and faith we put into a new coach and makes for a fun ride in Year 1.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, anyway.