GAINESVILLE — Two years ago Florida defensive back Josh Evans and his teammates stood and watched as South Carolina players doused coach Steve Spurrier with Gatorade, then carried him to midfield as the Gamecocks celebrated their first SEC East championship.
In the Swamp. At Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
No. 9 South Carolina returns to Gainesville today for a showdown with the No. 3 Gators — teams with undefeated SEC East records trying to retain control of their destiny to the title.
With the memory of 2010 still fresh for some.
"It's definitely revenge, man," said Evans, now a senior. "You also want to go out there and just get this win. It would mean a lot to this team, and the roll we're on this year, we're trying to stay undefeated."
There are multiple story lines today: avenging the 2010 loss and ending a two-game losing streak to the Gamecocks; the return of Spurrier, a Gator legend who Florida coach Will Muschamp grew up admiring and once hoped to play for; the resurgence of Florida's program and its effort to prove a 6-0 start is no fluke.
But ultimately, it comes down to this: two wins to an East title and a berth in the SEC championship game.
"At the end of the day, we're about winning championships here at Florida," Muschamp said. "And it's another step to Atlanta. That's the way I look at it."
The winner will have the upper hand in the East with two conference games remaining. For Spurrier, the man who won a Heisman Trophy as a Gator quarterback, then led them to six SEC championships and their first national title in 1996, this is no time to be nostalgic. He is here to beat the Gators — it's just that simple.
"We realize it's an extremely important game down there in the Swamp," Spurrier said. "Hopefully our guys will be ready to play their best one of the year. Florida obviously is playing very well, got a lot of momentum going. It's a huge game for both teams. If we're going to win the division, we'll still have to beat Florida to have a shot to do it. … I certainly hope the Gators finish second in the East this year, that would be a good finish for them. And hopefully we finish first, certainly."
For the majority of last season and the early part of this year, the Gator players have stuck to the "nameless/faceless" mantra preached by Muschamp. It's the theory that every game is the same, its only importance being the next. But the Gators recognize they are, for the first time since 2009, in a title hunt. And for some older players who know what that's like, it's a welcome feeling.
"I mean, having the stadium packed, especially the (Oct. 6) LSU game it got pretty loud," senior receiver Frankie Hammond, said. "It definitely brought back memories of my freshman and sophomore year here. It's getting back, but we've got to take it a game at a time and just more forward from there. Us being at home and having our fans, that's where we want to be. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage. They've helped us a lot this season as far as crowd noise, disrupting things."
"Campus seems a little bit fired up right now with South Carolina and Coach Spurrier coming back, you know, and with GameDay (broadcasting from Gainesville)," senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "I don't think we've had GameDay here in a long time. It's definitely a different feel going around campus."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]