GAINESVILLE — It took Florida 13 games to earn seven victories last season, and five games into the 2012 season the Gators already have five wins. Now comes the hard part.
Now that No. 4 Florida has transformed into a better team, it is in the enviable position of learning how to deal with all that comes with being back in the national spotlight. The freshmen and sophomores have no idea what that kind of prosperity is like.
With a win Saturday night at Vanderbilt, Florida would return home with a 5-0 SEC record to host nemesis South Carolina on Oct. 20.
How will the Gators handle the sudden success?
"We'll find out Saturday night," coach Will Muschamp said. "Our guys have worked hard. I don't see a whole lot of difference in how they approached each day, each game all year. But it's a long season."
The last time the Gators were ranked this high, sophomore QB Jeff Driskel was at Hagerty High in Oviedo. His confidence in this team is unwavering.
"I think we'll be fine," he said. "Like we've been saying all along, we have a more mature team this year. We're not going to be satisfied. We know that there's corrections to be made and improvements to be made. We're going to handle this week like any other week."
NO PUSHOVER: For the record, the Gators remember that last year's game against Vandy (2-3, 1-2) was decided by just five points. And they know the Commodores opened this season with a close 17-13 loss to South Carolina. Vandy is coming off a win at Missouri with a chance to knock off a top-five opponent, and coach James Franklin said his team can use what it learned from last year's 26-21 loss to the Gators.
"Last year against Florida, I didn't think we played with the confidence we usually do in the first half, but we were able to come back in the second half and (we) played well," he said. "We want to build on what we've done this year and our second half from last year."
JENKINS probable: After fighting back from a broken thumb sustained in the second game, junior LB Jelani Jenkins is listed as probable. Jenkins, who played Saturday for the first time since Sept. 15, injured his hamstring late in the first half.
FORMER STARS CALLING: Among the many congratulatory texts and calls Driskel has received as the Gators' success grows are those from former Gators who have been in his shoes.
Former Heisman Trophy QB Danny Wuerffel, part of the 1996 national title team, has reached out to Driskel, as has 2006 national championship winner Chris Leak.
"I've talked to a few of them and they've just said to keep it going," Driskel said. "It's just general stuff, just keep the team rolling and don't look back. You've got to focus on the teams ahead."
WAITING GAME: CBS Sports will use its six-day option for its broadcast of the Oct. 20 SEC game, so it will be early next week before the Florida-South Carolina start time is announced. The network has rights to an SEC game at 3:30 p.m., and will choose from South Carolina at Florida, Alabama at Tennessee or LSU at Texas A&M following this week's games. ESPN will televise the two games not selected by CBS Sports at noon and in its primetime slot between 7 and 7:45 p.m. Undefeated No. 3 South Carolina will play Saturday at No. 9 LSU.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]