UF football

Gators seek SEC Championship Game, knowing help from Auburn is needed


UF is still hopeful of reaching the SEC Championship Game, but it needs Auburn to upset Georgia.

Special to The Miami Herald

The Gators have accomplished plenty this season.

They matched their win total from a year ago after just seven games.

They debuted in October at No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, returning to the national-championship discussion for the first time since Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer left Gainesville.

And after beating Missouri on Saturday, they became the 12th team in Florida history to finish 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference.

But coach Will Muschamp has said repeatedly that any season that does not end with a trip to Atlanta is a disappointment. Florida (8-1 overall) needs Georgia to lose to Auburn this Saturday in order to make it to the SEC Championship Game, and the feeling of not being in control has been difficult to stymie.

“It is tough,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to put what’s in the past in the past and worry about what you can do. And what we can do is play well this week.”

Following Florida’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Driskel said the team will get together to watch Georgia’s game, just as it did last week. But he wouldn’t go as far as to say the Gators are adapting the Tigers’ rallying cry of “War Eagle.”

Cornerback Jaylen Watkins said he has never been in the position of needing another team to lose in order for his team to reach its goal.

“I’ve never really experienced it,” he said. “If it happens, it happens, but we still have a lot to play for. The BCS, maybe. We’re just going to keep pushing forward like we still have everything to play for.”

Although Florida’s chances of reaching the SEC Championship Game appear slim, as Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC) has not looked like a team capable of posing a threat against any team in conference, the team still has a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl berth in Muschamp’s second season.

And, however unlikely, a scenario also exists for the Gators to make to the BCS Championship Game in Miami should teams No. 2 through No. 5 in the BCS standings all lose a game.

But Muschamp has not let those thoughts cloud his players’ heads. Instead, he has drilled into them that each of their remaining three games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State and No. 8 Florida State matter as much as the nine before them.

“Right now, it’s a three-game playoff,” defensive end Lerentee McCray said. “We got to win these three games to get where we want to go and hopefully have a BCS national championship shot.”

And if that wasn’t enough motivation, the memory of an embarrassing first-half performance against Furman last year still lingers. After completing the conference slate with a loss to South Carolina, Florida sleepwalked into the game against Furman and got shell-shocked as the Paladins jumped out to a 22-7 lead in the first quarter.

“Looking at the Furman game last year, it kind of reminds me a little bit of them,” McCray said. “We definitely can’t overlook them. … But I don’t think we’re looking past them. I think we’re ready to come out and play and defend The Swamp and be only the third team to be undefeated in The Swamp.”

And although the next two games shape up favorably for the Gators to reach that goal, Driskel said that doesn’t mean a letdown isn’t possible.

“There’s always a chance,” Driskel said. “You’ve got to play the game. You can’t go in and just throw your hat out there and win.

“We’re going to prepare, and we’re going to practice hard and we’re going to have a good week, so that doesn’t happen.”

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