Florida ranked No. 25, relevant again under coach McElwain
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) This is how things are supposed to be at Florida:
Reveling in big wins. Ranked in the polls. Relevant in the Southeastern Conference.
So don't expect the 25th-ranked Gators to spend much time patting themselves on the back this week, especially not with No. 3 Mississippi up next.
Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) returned to The Associated Press college football poll for the first time in nearly two years Sunday, a day after rallying to beat rival Tennessee for the 11th consecutive year. It was the program's longest unranked stretch since a 32-week hiatus that ended in 1980.
''There are two things that go into it: How do you handle adversity and how do you handle success?'' Gators coach Jim McElwain said Monday. ''This will be interesting. It's always a learning experience. ... I want them to feel good and yet, `OK we've won four games.' That's where we should be. That's got to be the thought and not get caught up. It will be interesting to see how we prepare.''
The biggest challenge might be getting the team healthy.
At least nine players were expected to miss practice Monday because of flu-like symptoms. Some started feeling ill Sunday and got intravenous fluids, and others showed up sick Monday.
''It hurts in preparation, but that's OK,'' McElwain said. ''Something we got to deal with.''
The Gators are sure to deal with a little more attention this week, too.
Overcoming a 13-point deficit in the final 5 minutes to beat Tennessee has Florida feeling good again, and rightfully so. The Gators had lost six of their last 11 home games and didn't have any success overcoming double-digit leads under former coach Will Muschamp.
Now, McElwain and his team have what's widely considered one of the best home wins in school history on their resume. The 28-27 nail-biter ranks right up there with a 17-16 win against South Carolina in 2006, a 32-29 victory over Florida State in 1997, a 14-9 win against the Seminoles in 1991, an 18-17 win against Auburn in 1986, a 30-27 victory over Auburn in 1966 and an 18-17 win against Georgia Tech in 1960.
''We're happy to finally be ranked again, but we're going to keep moving up in the rankings one week at a time,'' cornerback Quincy Wilson said. ''We're supposed to be here. We're the Gators.''
They're also the underdogs this week, with the Rebels (4-0, 2-0) opening as 6 1/2 road favorites.
Nonetheless, it will be the first top-25 matchup at Florida Field since the Gators beat South Carolina 44-11 on Oct. 20, 2012.
''This is what really gets us going,'' Wilson said. ''It's going to be a great matchup, and we're looking to upset them.''
Without Harris, redshirt freshman Will Grier played the entire game against Tennessee and finished strong. He completed 11 of his final 18 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was a big turnaround from earlier in the game, when Grier rushed throws and showed little pocket presence.
Still, Grier didn't do enough to earn the starting job.
''We'll see how it goes this week in practice,'' McElwain said. ''I thought Will did some real good things in the game, but there's some things he's got to get better at, too. Those two drives at the end are what he's supposed to do. That's what you do when you play the position. We practice it that way, and he executed it.
''There were a lot of drives there that weren't executed, so we've got a long ways to go.''
Grier finished 23 of 42 for 283 yards, with an interception and the two scores. He also was sacked three times.
His best throw was his last one, a deep curl to freshman Antonio Callaway on a fourth-and-14 play that resulted in a 63-yard touchdown, gave the Gators the lead for good and moved them back into the rankings for the first time since losing at Missouri on Oct. 19, 2013.
''We're the Florida Gators,'' receiver Brandon Powell said. ''That's what we're supposed to be.''