GAINESVILLE - As a fifth-year senior, Travis Harris is one of the few Florida players who has any idea where Starkville, Miss., is located.
And among even fewer who have played at Davis Wade Stadium.
Here's the best advice Harris has: The Bulldogs might be 1-5, but that means absolutely nothing. His message to the young players is that the Bulldogs aren't a team you want to overlook at home.
"They've got some good athletes up there, and they are pretty tough guys," Harris said. "I'm sure this is a whole other team, but I remember just their philosophy: They are real tough, they are kind of nasty and you've got to get nasty with them. And those fans are even nastier."
Florida has defeated Mississippi State in seven of the past nine meetings, but the two losses have come in Starkville. In 1992, the Bulldogs beat the Gators 30-6, their second-worst road loss under Steve Spurrier. Florida had seven turnovers, including five interceptions. Ron Zook was defensive coordinator.
His trip got worse after the game.
"We were going out recruiting because we had an open date after that, and I just remember getting lost," Zook said. "It was about 2 in the morning and I had no idea where I was. I ended up finally finding a place to lay my head, and it had mirrors on the ceiling; it was not a lot of fun. The next day I got up and hit the junior colleges I needed to hit. I ended up in Memphis and came back to Gainesville from Memphis. But I couldn't find that hotel if my life depended on it. I'm not even sure if it was in Mississippi."
In 2000, the Bulldogs posted a 47-35 win over then-No.3 Florida when Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker combined for 351 yards rushing.
Harris was a freshman making his first start. He didn't play much, but his memory of the game is vivid.
"I just remember the fans were real nasty," he said. "I was a freshman, I had never been there before and it was real nasty. They threw stuff, cursed you, talked about your mama, the whole nine yards."
Oh, and they constantly played the then-hit song Who Let the Dogs Out?
"Man, yeah they did," Harris said, shaking his head and smiling at the memory. "I remember that like it was yesterday."
With two conference losses midway through the season (4-2, 2-2 SEC), the No. 20 Gators can't afford any letdowns. They know it. And Mississippi State's miserable season won't lull them into a sense of security.
"We can't (overlook them) and I don't think we will," Harris said. "I just don't see that in our team to overlook anybody."
THE HEAT CONTINUES: Last week it was confirmed Zook had gotten into a heated confrontation at a fraternity house after being called there last month because his players had been involved in a fight. Now the controversy continues. Rumors of Zook's imminent firing are all over Internet fan chat sites, and national sports writers continue to weigh in.
In Wednesday's edition, USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno suggested Zook should be fired for his behavior. And SI.com's Kelley King lists Zook as her top pick for "next coach on the chopping block." King writes: "Losses to Georgia and Florida State on top of the frat house debacle could send a demanding Gator nation over the edge."
Meanwhile, the players continue to defend their beleaguered coach. Asked if they are essentially playing for Zook's job, senior safety Cory Bailey said: "I've been playing for Coach Zook since (he) walked in the door. I won't be here next year, but I'm playing for him right now so hopefully (he'll go on)."
RUNNING AND RANKED: The Florida men's cross-country team has received its first national ranking since 1994. The Gators are No. 20 in the coaches poll released Tuesday.
Florida finished ahead of five ranked teams Saturday in the Pre-NCAA Invitational.
FINAL WORD: Clearwater's Stephanie Freeman leads SEC women's soccer in goals (13), points (28) and winning goals (five). She scored twice in the Oct. 15 win over Mississippi State, her third multigoal match of the season. ... Junior Jane Collymore was named the SEC player of the week in volleyball after averaging 5.86 kills and hitting .349 in matches against LSU and Arkansas. She has the most 20-plus kill matches (five) since Aury Cruz had seven in 2002.
Times staff writer Antonya English covers Florida. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or firstname.lastname@example.org