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Let The Tide Roll In: UF clinches spot in SEC title game against Alabama

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Posted: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:00 am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There was no extravagant celebration Saturday night.

Sure, UF's players sang with the band, Tim Tebow did his usual victory lap and the Gators were smiling as they ran off the field at Vanderbilt Stadium.

But an ignorant bystander would have had no idea UF just clinched a spot in the Southeastern Conference Championship with its 42-14 blowout of Vanderbilt.

The biggest on-field celebration, in fact, came from Shelley Meyer, who Gator Chomped along with fans.

Meet the 2008 Gators, a team that says it's just beginning to reach its goals.

UF will make its ninth appearance in the SEC title game on Dec. 6 against current No. 1 Alabama. The Gators are 6-2 in their previous games, but both losses ('92 and '99) came against the Crimson Tide.

"There was a little celebration, but we expected to win, and we came out and got it done," said linebacker Brandon Spikes, who led a UF defense that held Vanderbilt to 93 first-half yards.

That was the lingering theme Saturday night.

The path has just begun, and since UF slipped up against Mississippi in September, it wants to make sure it doesn't happen again over the next few weeks.

The Gators' 28-point victory margin Saturday night kept them from being just the second team in SEC history to win five straight conference games by 30 or more points.

The only team to do it? UF in 1996.

Now, the talk in Gainesville and elsewhere will be all about the Gators and their attempt to get to a second national title game in three years.

The road got a little easier Saturday night when then-No. 3 Penn State lost 24-23 on a last-second field goal at unranked Iowa.

The game finished just before kickoff in Nashville, and the Gators were well aware of the Nittany Lions' gift.

UF, which was No. 5 in the BCS rankings last week, is now up to No. 4 with Penn State's loss. The Gators still trail No. 3 Texas.

Spikes said UF is playing the best football in America and sees fewer and fewer obstacles in the way of a trip to Miami, site of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.

"I think we're in the driver's seat," he said. "We just take care of business week in and week out, and we'll be OK."

UF coach Urban Meyer plans to sit his team down and talk about the possible ramifications of the newest BCS standings.

"I learned this back at Utah," Meyer said. "We're going to have a state of the union meeting on Sunday, and I'll go through that with them. They're going to hear it, and instead of Uncle Jim or someone like that, they're going to hear exactly what's going on with the BCS. For us to just avoid that, I learned that's not the right way to do it. They're going to be talking about it, so let's talk about it."

UF's ability to play complete games is the key to its recent success. The Gators jumped on the Commodores early, forcing a three-and-out before defensive end Carlos Dunlap blocked Vanderbilt's punt.

Then, Tebow and the offense proceeded to score on its first four possessions, with the quarterback accounting for all four scores, two on the ground and two through the air on passes to Louis Murphy and Riley Cooper. The third drive was set up by an Ahmad Black interception at the Vanderbilt 26-yard line.

And the Gators would have made it five straight drives with a score if not for a controversial fumble by Percy Harvin at the goal line. Television replays seemed to show that Harvin was down before the ball squirted out, but the officiating crew upheld the call after review.

UF would still tack on another 7 points before halftime with a 41-yard pass from Tebow to David Nelson with 8 seconds left in the second quarter.

With that, the rout was on, most of the black-and-gold-clad Vanderbilt fans had left and UF fans braved the cold temperatures to celebrate UF's second appearance in the conference title game in the last three years.

You probably won't see too much partying from the Gators just yet.

"It's not like it's going to be easy going into Atlanta," Tebow said. "We got to focus on (South Carolina and Florida State) if we want to be in the biggest game of all."

Welcome to the discussion.