With their epic 14-6 upset over LSU last Saturday, the Florida Gators are back in the national title discussion after a three-year hiatus.
Welcome back. College football is better with the Gators in the picture.
Oddly enough, Florida is winning in a way that most SEC fans mock on a routine basis. They are winning the Jim Tressel way.
The Gators are eerily similar to the Ohio State team that won the championship in 2002. They are conservative, cool under pressure, make big plays when needed and are winning tight games.
Living on the edge may make the fans a bit uneasy, but just like the Buckeyes, the close wins are making the Gators battle-tested. The confidence should continue to pay dividends throughout the season.
Here is a breakdown of why Florida will play for the BCS Championship this year.
It should be no surprise that the Gators defense is excelling in all facets of play. Head coach Will Muschamp is a coaching descendant of Nick Saban.
Like his former boss, Muschamp has one of the most creative defensive minds in the game, and his firebrand personality is now permanently embedded into the Gators' program. They are playing with passion and intensity.
A side note to any athletic director seeking job security: Hire Kirby Smart.
The Gators are achieving the Holy Grail of defensive necessities. They are stopping the run, locking down the passing game and allowing just 11 points per game. If that continues, they’ll be playing on January 7.
This is definitely not your typical Florida offense. They don’t score a lot of points, and they don’t pass the ball with any measure of success. It may not matter, though.
What they do well is run the ball, control the clock and not commit costly turnovers. When executed properly like it was against LSU, this formula is actually more defensive because it keeps opposing offenses off the field.
The Tigers offense failed to establish any rhythm in the second half because the Gators' rushing attack was on fire and eating up the clock. Normally composed in big games, LSU was brought to its knees.
The Gators offense is led by senior running back Mike Gillislee. Pretty much a career backup until this season, Gillislee has exploded for 548 yards and seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel’s production is mediocre by most standards, but he manages the game with efficiency, which is exactly what is needed to navigate the demanding SEC schedule.
At some point, the Gators will need Driskel to take over a game. Until then, he needs to continue being seen but not heard.
Kyle Christy is one of the leading punters in the nation. Averaging 46 yards per kick, Christy routinely gives Florida’s defense excellent field position, making him a valuable weapon in Florida’s arsenal.
In the kicking game, Caleb Sturgis is once again proving to be steady and reliable. The offense is clicking better than last year, so his services probably won’t be needed as much, but there will be a few times when a clutch kick is needed to ice a game. He should deliver.
Muschamp is living up to his promise, but the best thing to happen to Florida was Charlie Weis taking the job at Kansas at the end of last season. He is one of the most overrated offensive coaches in the game, and his ego would have continued to hurt the Gators this year.
Weis’ departure paved the way for Muschamp to lure Brent Pease away from Boise State. Pease’s genius will be realized in the offensive scheme as the season progresses, especially with Driskel.
Florida has the pieces in place to make a run at the title. Standing in the way are Muschamp’s key mentor, Saban, and Florida’s own Steve Spurrier. Beating both of them along the way will make the ride a lot sweeter for Gator Nation.
Tressel took a lot of heat for not being able to slay the SEC’s best. If the Gators can win the SEC and the BCS Championship this year, there might just be some vindication for his style of play. Just don't expect any diehard SEC fan to admit it.
If the Gators fail to make it this year, maybe the ultimate clash could happen next year with Florida’s Tressel ball going against Meyer’s option run-based spread in the title game. That would be interesting.