The Florida Gators were picked to finish fifth in the SEC East this season, so last week after wrapping up a division title, Jim McElwain asked for a show of hands.
UF’s first-year coach wanted to know how many of his players truly thought they could get to Atlanta or complete for a spot in the College Football Playoffs?
“Not too many guys showed their hands,” defensive end Jordan Sherit said.
The Gators believe in their potential now, though.
Despite low expectations, No. 8 Florida (9-1, 7-1) swept its division, will play for the SEC Championship, and is primed for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Suddenly, the national narrative is the Gators are “back.”
Well, not so fast.
“You never arrive,” McElwain said, acknowledging his team’s success but noting the journey never ends.
“As soon as you think you arrive, there’s someone out there to beat your tail.”
FAU ON TAP
Florida hosts struggling Florida Atlantic (2-8) on Saturday (noon, SEC Network), so it would be easy for the Gators to look ahead to archrival Florida State or Atlanta.
But they aren’t.
Although the Gators have enjoyed their achievements, they’re not resting on their laurels.
“We know that every game is a playoff game from here on out,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “We know what we’ve got to do to reach our goals. We’ve got our heads on straight.”
McElwain said Florida is still in the discovery phase, seeking perfection while understanding the impossibility of the task.
“I sure like where we’re at, and we’ve got a few wins under our belt that mean absolutely nothing when you go into the next event,” he said.
“Every day, we should strive to perfect our craft, yet we never will perfect anything. That’s the hard thing because once you think you’ve perfected it, you quit getting any better.”
WORK IN PROGRESS
Complacency isn’t an issue for the Gators because they’re still a team with so many areas for improvement. The defense remains unrelenting, but sophomore quarterback Treon Harris (Miami Booker T. Washington) is still too inconsistent, the running game is oftentimes nonexistent and its special teams has been a mixed bag all year.
“This is a team of guys that are still discovering a lot about not only themselves, but about how you go about to continue being successful,” McElwain said.
“And it’s got to be a constant evaluation of the what and the understanding of the why. And it’s like the whole organization, once you think you’ve arrived and you just sit there and don’t continually strive to get better and discover, that’s when things kind of start to fall apart.
“We’ve got to do that not only as a football team, we’ve got to continue to do that as an organization and continually evaluate and understand we don’t have all the answers and you can’t just sit where you’re at. You’ve got to constantly move forward.”