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Gators focus on glory of present, not past
Steve Spurrier's return doesn't overshadow talk of a national title.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published November 11, 2006
Last season, Spurrier cost Florida the SEC East title and a trip to the league title game with a 30-22 upset.
GAINESVILLE - For 12 years, Florida and Steve Spurrier were synonymous with championships.
Now he's standing in the way of the Gators' championship dreams.
The legend returns to Gainesville today, leading South Carolina in his first trip back as an opposing coach, and the Gators desperately need to end his winning reign at Florida Field.
Last season in Columbia, Spurrier cost Florida the SEC East title and a trip to the league title game with a 30-22 upset.
A loss today would knock Florida out of the national title hunt.
"It's bigger than just Spurrier coming back because we've got to take care of a lot of business to get where we need to go," senior linebacker Earl Everett said. "Everybody on this team understands there's a chance that we could play for the national title, but we've got to take care of business and prepare. (Spurrier is) another thing in the way of that."
Florida coach Ur-ban Meyer has acknowledged all week that Spurrier's presence is everywhere.
However, he insists today's matchup is not about the school's former coach.
"We've got a very big obligation, and that's to play our best football this week and make it real clear, this is about beating South Carolina," Meyer said. "Beat South Carolina. That's what it's all about."
Well, it also is about clearing the path for Meyer to make his own way at Florida. And it's about redemption.
The loss last year hurt but was palatable because it was a road game in Meyer's first season. And the Gators did defeat Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State. But a loss today, with a more-talented team, at home and so much on the line, might be inexcusable.
"We just want to beat him," offensive lineman Phil Trautwein said. "Last year, he beat us. They weren't that good last year. We should have beaten them last year. We didn't, and he pulled it through. This year, we need to go out and beat them. He's just a great coach. He always pulls out wins, and he always has tricks.
"We want to beat him. We'd love to beat him."
Only a handful of the current Gators were recruited by Spurrier, Florida's first Heisman Trophy winner and the coach of its only national title team. Most say they've never met the man.
But his presence is constantly felt, his success evident everywhere as a player and coach. Even Spurrier's new players are aware of it.
"I think it'll be weird," tailback Mike Davis said of returning to the Swamp. "It'll be something to see, going to his old stadium, playing his alma mater."
Spurrier has been back to Gainesville twice this season, to honor the 1996 national championship team and be inducted into the new Ring of Honor.
He spent the early part of this week preparing his players for what to expect, from the crowd noise to seeing his name and face all around the stadium, all the while insisting it's just another game.
"The only prospect that would excite us all is that South Carolina has never won down there," he said. "So I think that's something new, something different.
"If we got a whole bunch of breaks and Florida fumbles a bunch and doesn't play very well, then that would give us a chance to hopefully win one down there for the first time."
South Carolina has lost four games to ranked opponents, three by a touchdown or less. But all four were at home.
To keep itself in the BCS race, just beating Spurrier might not be enough for Florida.
It might need to win big.
"Florida has a very unique opportunity to play for a national championship," CBS analyst Gary Danielson said. "They reached their goal of playing in the SEC Championship Game. They need to play for some style points now. They have to show the country that they are worthy of being voted to play in the national championship.
"Whether we like it or not, it is a voting process. A win is a win. But if you are going to go into a beauty contest, which this is going to be, and if they want to play for the national championship, which is in their grasp, they have to think about winning these games decisively."