Barring an unforeseen mangling of the College Football Playoff rankings, Florida enters Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game solely focused on the 60 minutes of play and not on any championship possibilities, giving UF a chance to play spoiler of the Crimson Tide’s postseason dreams.
No. 2 Alabama (11-1), a surefire competitor in the CFP if it hauls in the SEC Championship, enters Saturday’s game favored by more than two touchdowns.
And with quarterback Treon Harris struggling to rein in a faltering offense, Florida coach Jim McElwain said he’s satisfied with entering the game as the underdog.
That has been the story of UF’s season: surpassing expectations and making doubters look foolish.
"The Florida Gators and being a Gator carries a little extra. Because…it should never matter what you’re up against," McElwain said.
"There is a certain (kind) of, it’s not cocky, it’s calm and it’s a belief, and it’s something our guys are kind of starting to learn through what has been put to them from the past."
McElwain has been more than reluctant to establish Alabama’s advantage from a talent standpoint. There are numerous playmakers — Antonio Callaway, Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson carrying a chip on his shoulder — that can test Alabama’s defense, which has allowed the second-least amount of yards to opposing teams this season.
And the No. 18 Gators (10-2) can’t be afraid of going all-in on running back Derrick Henry, who leads the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns.
"We know what they can do on the offensive side of the ball," safety Marcus Maye said. "We put in the game plan and we feel like our defense is one of the best in the nation."
McElwain said that one of the messages he’s tried to get across to the team this week is believing they’re able to beat Alabama without it being an upset.
After all, entering a conference championship with a level playing field but believing your team is inferior to the opponent is not the winning mindset McElwain brought to Gainesville.
"They’re going against the best program in the country," McElwain stressed, "and yet, they’ve got to realize at some point in their life that all you can do is go out and play your tail off, pay attention to detail and focus on one play at a time.
"I think they’ve just scratched the surface as far as where we’re headed as an organization, from the support and commitment to all the things that go into being successful."
Win or lose, McElwain wants the focus to remain on how special UF’s season was this year. Picked to finish fifth in the SEC East in what was almost unanimously dubbed a rebuilding year by people outside the program, McElwain and his staff ignored the doubts from outside and kept believing in the game plan.
Now, the Gators and their Montana man for a coach hope Saturday’s game is the epitome of this season’s development rather than an upset over Alabama.
"Understanding what they’re about to embark on…is part of the discovery. That’s playing in the SEC Championship Game," McElwain said.
"They’re Florida Gators. Let’s go do it."
Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311
UF football players run out of the tunnel prior to Florida's 27-2 loss to Florida State on Nov. 28, 2015, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.