There were a few moments Saturday when you could mentally pencil the Florida-Missouri game into the CBS 3:30 p.m. slot this week. Florida had just taken the lead on Georgia and Mizzou was handling Kentucky.
Alas, things did not go well from that point on and here we are, stuck in the dreaded slot a half hour later.
As a result, Florida will be playing a game without hype, without fanfare and without a whole lot of viewers. The noon time slot may be less appealing to fans and hungover media, but it draws more eyeballs.
The 4 p.m. game? Really, other than fans of both teams and degenerate gamblers, who is going to watch? All SEC eyes will be on Lexington, Kentucky and a lot of national viewers will bounce around between West Virginia at Texas and Penn State at Michigan. The Florida game will be in the corner at most sports bars on the TV you have to crane your neck to see and constantly move out of the way to let a waitress get to the bar.
That’s the national atmosphere of this game. What the in-stadium atmosphere is like depends on how amped up the Gator Nation gets for only the second home game in 49 days.
You could tell early this week when Dan Mullen spoke to the media that he is concerned about the bounce-back factor. Last week was SEC Nation and GameDay and the World’s Largest Outdoor Keg Party.
This week is different.
But in a way, it’s typical of this season for these Gators.
Because it’s another gut-check.
It feels like most of this season has been one after another.
How would this team respond in Week 2 against a really good Kentucky team? Was it ready? After that game, we questioned the toughness of Florida’s players.
Then it was on to a team that already had a win over an SEC team. Florida responded to handle Colorado State.
Next up, the first road game with this group of players and coaches in front of a hostile crowd. That gut was checked early in Knoxville.
Could the Gators be tough enough the following week to win in Cowbell Country? Check. Big game the following week and Florida responded with flying colors against LSU, the signature win of this season.
And then down 21-3 on the road, the toughest of all gut-checks.
And we know how big it was last week.
This week is not anywhere near as big. But it’s still really important, even if it feels kind of like playing the triangle in the symphony of the big brass band that is Saturday’s ginormous games.
Those two biggest games will decide in a CBS doubleheader Saturday which two teams will be in Atlanta. Florida is playing for pride, bowl position and the chance to still have a really nice season. The chance to have a great season has passed.
That’s the ultimate gut-check, how do you play when your dreams have been dashed?
I take you back to the preseason, when we didn’t know what to expect from this team. Would you have taken 6-2? After Kentucky, would you have been thrilled with only one loss in the next six games?
In a way, Florida has still overachieved, especially with the injuries that have weakened a once-sturdy secondary.
But nobody is happy after a loss to a rival. Nobody should be.
Still, it’s a long season even when it flies by you like a vacation family on its way home on I-75.
What happened in Jacksonville is history. What happens Saturday is the only thing that matters now.
There are a lot of bigger games in college football, especially now that the first College Football Playoff rankings are out.
But there is only one big game in Gainesville.
Missouri has yet to win a game in conference play, but nobody is taking it for granted, not only because of the way the Tigers put a beatdown on the Gators last year, but because Florida is a flawed team with problems that haven’t gone away.
And it’s college football, where there are few guarantees.
The one thing that Florida fans have been able to count on is that their team will play hard. What they can’t be sure about is that their team will play efficiently.
That’s what makes them nervous about facing a team that is 0-4 in SEC play. They should be.
Nervous energy is part of every gut-check. On Saturday, we find out about the energy this team still has in reserve. We find out if the fan base can be a boost these Gators need to get a much-needed win.
It’s still a big game, no matter how many people watch or how much it is talked about by the talking heads.
Florida needs a win for a lot of reasons. Because while this can no longer be a great season, it can still be really good.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.