GAINESVILLE — Urban Meyer has won two national championships at Florida in the past five years, but listen to him over the past 48 hours and you'd think Saturday's home showdown with South Carolina was the biggest game of his career.
But considering the tumultuous season the Gators have been through — including three consecutive losses midway through the season — it's no surprise game week has taken on a life of its own. In a winner-take-all SEC East title game, Meyer is pulling out all the stops.
And he's asking Florida fans to do the same.
"I'd like to make this one go down in the books," Meyer said. "Obviously the football team has got to do its part, which is the most important one, but I'd like to see that stadium absolutely out of control. We have the best homefield advantage in America; let's use it to the maximum. Unless people have got something else to do, I'd love to see a couple hundred thousand people that are packed outside, inside, wherever it is. Let's have a lot of fun with this one because our guys are going to play really hard. Really hard."
During the losing streak, Meyer said, the leadership of his veterans kept the team steady. He's counting on that this week.
Senior C Mike Pouncey called this a season-defining game.
"It was a tough season," he said. "We stumbled around a lot. But I feel like we're back on track. Obviously we're going to play a great team with a great coach, and we've got to go in and play our best game of the year."
Even the players that have been part of national championship teams are struck by the excitement surrounding this game.
"I'm excited to see how the atmosphere is Saturday night," senior S Ahmad Black said. "The Gator Walk, the whole experience. I hope a lot of Gator fans come out and support us."
PATCHAN'S SEASON ENDS: The saga of OL Matt Patchan's broken wrist apparently won't end well this year. "Patchan is seeing a specialist, and it doesn't look like it's going to be fixed," Meyer said. "His career will be fine, but for the remainder of the year, that's up in the air.'' Patchan, from Armwood High, was injured during preseason drills and has not played all season.
SPURRIER'S TAKE: Florida and South Carolina have identical records (6-3, 4-3 SEC), but during his weekly conference call this week, Spurrier did his best Lou Holtz impersonation, making it seem as if the Gators are the No. 1 team in the nation and the Gamecocks have no chance. Spurrier called the Gators "scary to watch on film" because of the talent they have.
"I realize we'll be huge underdogs, and the way we've played lately to the way they've played lately it should make us a huge underdog," he said. "But somehow or another we've got to do something this week to give our players some confidence that we go down there and be competitive with them."
Cross country champs: The Florida women's cross country team won its second straight SEC title, topping Arkansas (61) by one point. It was the program's fifth title and second time the Gators won back to back.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.