GAINESVILLE — As they filed out of EverBank Field in Jacksonville early Saturday evening, the reality of Florida's 24-20 loss to Georgia — and the three losses that preceded that one — began to set in for UF fans.
Conversation turned to what might once have been unthinkable.
"Could we possibly lose to Vanderbilt next week?" a man decked in orange and blue said. His friend's reply? "A better question is will we ever win again this season?"
And so it is with the Gators now — concern and uncertainty.
At 4-4, Florida faces potentially its worst football season in at least two decades. The Gators host a vastly improved Vanderbilt team Saturday afternoon with the realization that the biggest thing on the line is their pride and salvaging a bowl bid.
"It's about pride now," senior running back Jeff Demps said. "Each and every player, coach, the training staff, I know they've got a lot of pride in this program and in themselves and each other. So it's definitely a pride thing. We're still a family.
"All the offseason work that we did, the good times and the bad times, you've just got to stick together, pull through and just finish strong."
A strong finish isn't just a wish, it's mandatory if the Gators are to become bowl eligible with six wins. After Vanderbilt, Florida plays at South Carolina then hosts Furman and Florida State.
"The only thing that we can do is just keep the team motivated and keep pushing," senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. "The season's not over. We can go out and win and get a good bowl game. That's what we're playing for right now."
Vanderbilt also needs wins, and expects the Gators are as eager as they are for a victory.
"I would think that they would be (more motivated)," Vanderbilt sophomore offensive tackle Wesley Johnson said. "I bet they are trying to get the win just as much as we're trying to get the win."
Florida coach Will Muschamp said nobody on the team or staff is throwing in the towel.
"I told them we're going to saddle up and continue to work and continue to press forward and being technical in our approach about the things we did well, the things we didn't do well," he said. "And understand and learn from the film and continue to move forward. … We've got an experienced staff, a staff that's been through tough times before that understands that part of it. It's our job to bring a young team through this, and that's what we're doing. Stay upbeat and be technical about the situation in what you're doing wrong, what you're not doing wrong."
Vanderbilt enters fresh off a 31-28 loss to Arkansas, in which Arkansas rallied from down 14. The Commodores have averaged 427 yards and 33.3 points in their past three games. Florida has averaged 211 yards and 12.3 respectively.
Gator players insist there is still time to rally, but does Florida have the ability? CBS lead analyst Gary Danielson, who has worked several Florida games this season, said the Gators just don't have the talent to compete in the SEC.
"I believe Will Muschamp is doing about as good as he can," Danielson said Tuesday. "To me, I really think Will Muschamp has a butter knife, basically a dull butter knife of talent in a league that everybody else has steak. And you need a steak knife to win in this league. He has no chance. He does not have a team put together to compete at the highest level at this league, especially with an injured quarterback."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.