GAINESVILLE — Seven weeks ago, Florida opened the season with a lackluster performance in a win over Bowling Green and still was undecided on a starting quarterback. It didn't appear a banner season was on the horizon.
Sunday night, the undefeated Gators landed in the No. 2 spot in the first Bowl Championship Series standings. Florida is among four SEC teams in the Top 10. Top-seeded and defending national champion Alabama is No. 1, LSU is No. 6, and South Carolina is No. 7.
Florida's ranking surprised many. The Gators are No. 3 in the polls that help form the standings but No. 1 in the computer rankings, which gave them a slight edge over Oregon (No. 3) and Kansas State (No. 4).
Florida hosts South Carolina on Saturday afternoon in a pivotal SEC East game, then plays Georgia on Oct. 27 at Jacksonville. The Gators finish the regular season at Florida State, ranked 14th in the BCS standings, and have a potential matchup with Alabama in the SEC title game.
The Gators understand the road gets tougher, and how they handle the spotlight will be a key to how they finish the season, coach Will Muschamp said.
"You're to that point of the season where some of my stuff falls on deaf ears, so your players have to run the locker room," Muschamp said. "And that's where we're a different organization as opposed to a year ago. I feel very comfortable about how our locker room is going to be handled right now. I didn't feel that way last year. So I think the further you go on, the further the message is delivered and you start to understand what it's going to take to be successful.
"And I'm not just talking about the seniors. I'm talking about the junior class. There's a bunch of ballplayers in that class, and they understand what it takes to be successful."
Oregon State is the lowest-rated unbeaten team in the standings, at No. 8. One-loss teams South Carolina, No. 6 LSU, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Southern Cal can contend for a spot in the BCS title game if they win out. If Alabama wins out, the Tide will play for a second straight national title.
Oregon could close the gap if it keeps winning against strong opponents. The Ducks play Arizona State on Thursday and later face Southern California and Oregon State. The Pac-12 title game also is a strong possibility.
This is the first time Alabama has been first in the initial standings and the 11th consecutive week an SEC team is No. 1, one shy of the longest streak in BCS history. It is the 32nd time an SEC team is No. 1 in the BCS, the most from any conference.
Seven times since the BCS was implemented in 1998, the team that was first in the initial standings has played in the title game. Seven times the team that started second played for the title. Only twice has neither team in the top two spots in the first standings reached the title game.
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/gators. Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.