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Gators seek a new focus

A drop from on top is sudden and painful, as the Florida Gators are realizing.

Forget the dreams of another national championship, which were dashed Saturday with a 37-17 loss to Georgia in Jacksonville. The Southeastern Conference race is all but finished for UF, too.

This is unfamiliar territory for the Gators, who have had the best record in the SEC or played for the league championship in each of Steve Spurrier's previous seven seasons at the school.

Instead of a trip to Atlanta in December for the SEC Championship Game, which determines a bowl alliance berth, the Gators are looking at a trip to Orlando's Citrus Bowl or Tampa's Outback Bowl.

"We hope our senior leaders will step forward. We still have some goals we can hit this season," Spurrier said Sunday. "It looks like it's the first non-championship year in the eight years we've been here at Florida.

"That was a big disappointing loss last night. There is no getting around it."

The Gators, who were ranked No. 1 for several weeks before losing at LSU on Oct. 11, fell to 13th in both polls, snapping their streak of 81 straight times being ranked in the Associated Press' Top 10. That was the longest streak in the nation.

The defeat denied the Gators an opportunity at several goals, one of which was defending their national championship. Florida is 6-2, and no team has won the mythical national title with two defeats.

The Gators also fell to 4-2 in the SEC East, which means they would need at least one Tennessee defeat and two Georgia losses to win the division and return to Atlanta for the SEC title game.

Florida has played in every SEC title game since the league divided into two divisions in 1992 and has won the past four. In fact, the Gators have won five of the past six SEC titles and had the best record in the SEC in 1990 _ Spurrier's first season _ when they were ineligible for the league title.

"It's going to be a little different," said Spurrier, whose team has two defeats in a season for the first time since going 9-4 in 1992. "I hope it's not going to be difficult.

"But certainly, the pressure is off of championships and hopefully we can try to play our best and try to win as many ballgames as we possibly can. Hopefully all of them. We want to win a bowl game. We want to beat FSU. We've got some goals out there.

"We'll try to be a Top 10 team. We have a chance for a year a lot of teams would love to have. We're not in dire straits here. We're just out of the championship race."

Both divisions of the SEC are scrambled, because West Division leader Auburn also lost Saturday.

In the East, Georgia is in first with a 5-1 record, but Tennessee at 4-1 holds a tiebreaker advantage because of its earlier victory over the Bulldogs.

With victories over Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Tennessee would win the East. The Bulldogs need a Vols loss and victories over Auburn and Mississippi.

In the West, Auburn still can win the division with victories over Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. But a loss would give Mississippi State and LSU a chance.

"We're not mathematically, completely out of it," Spurrier said. "But realistically, there have to be a lot of upsets. We had control in our hands and we've lost two ballgames. So it's pretty much out of our hands."