The victories might not have been as spectacular as last season’s national title run, but Florida survived a rugged SEC campaign with a rare perfect record.
To keep their BCS title hopes alive before a highly anticipated showdown in the conference championship, the top-ranked Gators just need to get past their final two opponents, beginning with Saturday’s game against visiting Florida International.
With last week’s 24-14 win at South Carolina, Florida finished unbeaten in the SEC for the fifth time in program history and first time since 1996.
Once again, the Gators (10-0) had to sweat through another drama-filled game. The Gamecocks closed within 17-14 just before halftime and faced that same deficit as they had the ball at Florida’s 22-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
On the next play, Florida defensive end Justin Trattou intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 53 yards to set up the game’s final touchdown, Tim Tebow’s 1-yard run.
“Every week, someone has to step up. It’s usually someone different every week,” said Trattou, a junior playing with a torn left biceps.
After beating their first two nonconference opponents by a combined 109 points, the Gators won their SEC games by an average of 14.4 points, and enter Saturday’s game searching for their 21st consecutive victory overall.
“We did not play perfect. I’m not sure we’ve played perfect in a while,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Last season the Gators were nearly flawless in their first 11 victories, winning by an average of 38.3 points. After suffering its only loss in 2008 to Mississippi, Florida routed each of its next seven opponents by at least 28 points—three by at least 50.
But unlike that title-winning season, the Gators are still on track for their second unbeaten season in school history and first since finishing 5-0-1 in 1911.
Florida still has its rivalry game against Florida State at home in two weeks and likely have to defeat No. 2 Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5 to defend its BCS championship.
To earn that coveted perfect record, the Gators’ first task is not to slip up against a Golden Panthers’ team enduring another difficult season.
Florida International (3-7) has never finished with a winning record since starting up its program in 2002, but the Golden Panthers have shown signs of improvement with two comeback wins in their past three games.
FIU rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit last week for a 35-28 win over visiting North Texas.
Peter Riley started the comeback by returning an interception 26 yards in the third quarter. In a 3:49 span in the final period, T.Y. Hilton caught a 3-yard pass from Paul McCall, and Wayne Younger scored on a 23-yard run.
“It was a pretty wild football game,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “A tale of two halves, for sure.”
The Golden Panthers have been outscored 212-36 in their five games against FBS top 25 opponents, including a 40-14 loss to Alabama on Sept. 12.
Tebow needs one more touchdown to become the SEC’s all-time leader after tying former LSU running back Kevin Faulk with his 53rd in last week’s victory.
This is the first meeting between the schools.