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Florida Gators relishing every moment of turnaround season

GAINESVILLE — The Florida Gators are 7-0 and head into Saturday's annual interstate football rivalry game against Georgia with a chance to clinch the SEC Eastern Division title with a win — their first championship since 2009.

Go ahead, be honest. You didn't see this coming.

But talk to the players, they'll tell you this in a sincere manner: Though they couldn't have known the team would be undefeated at this point, they believed in their hearts there would be no repeat of last season's 0-for-October. And though they remain businesslike, they are relishing every moment of the turnaround season.

"It feels good," DT Sharrif Floyd said. "We understand now, and I think that's the biggest (difference). We understand what our coaches want from us. We understand what we want from each other, what we expect from each other. We hold each other to that standard and we don't let no one go below it. And that's just a part of being a team, a family, a unit."

The Gators say it was the critical self-evaluation of every player at the end of last season that is a big part of this year's success.

"It truly registered when we sat down as a team after the entire season was done," junior C Jonotthan Harrison said. "We looked back at our record, looked back at the mistakes that were made and we said, 'That's really not Florida and we can't accept that because we know it's not Florida.' So we came into this season with a chip on our shoulder, determined to get back where we were supposed to be.

"There was so much determination on the team, there was so much focus, so much hard work in the offseason. We knew that we had all the tools, all the keys to be a successful team, and now it's showing."

The Gators say they will proceed this week in the manner they have all along.

"Nothing's changed for us," coach Will Muschamp said. "We're not working any longer, harder, practice, it's all the same. We don't approach things differently based on the situation. Because next week's important, too."

EMPTY, SAYS WHO? After hearing so much last season about how former coach Urban Meyer had left the cupboard bare for Muschamp, it should be noted that of the 22 regular starters, 19 were recruited by Meyer's staff. Muschamp said Monday he never made that claim.

"I've said we were a very young team with over 70 percent of our roster being freshmen and sophomores," he said. "… I felt like we inherited a young, talented team. We just needed some growing up, some maturing and more experience playing the game.

"We had a lot of guys playing for the first time last year in a lot of situations. We didn't have depth. We've recruited well to add to that and we've recruited well on the offensive line and defensive line. I think that the depth has certainly helped."

CHRISTY HONORED: Sophomore P Kyle Christy was named SEC special teams player of the week. Christy set a Gator single-game record, averaging 54.3 yards on seven punts. Six of his punts were for more than 50 yards, including a season-long 62-yarder. Christy leads the nation with a 47.49 punting average. Tampa Plant alum and Georgia starting QB Aaron Murray was named SEC offensive player of the week, and is among 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, presented annually to the nation's best quarterback. Murray passed for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns Saturday in a win at Kentucky. LSU LB Kevin Minter was named defensive player of the week.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Florida Gators relishing every moment of turnaround season 10/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 8:45pm]
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