September 29, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) No. 23 Florida has a history of sleepwalking through early games.

Noon kicks were a near-costly issue for coach Jim McElwain last season, continuing a trend that caused similar problems for former coaches Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp in Gainesville.

So McElwain has the Gators (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) on high alert heading into Saturday's early riser (11 a.m. CDT) at Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-1).

''There really isn't an excuse,'' McElwain said. ''I think it's a responsibility to get yourself up and ready to go.''

Maybe so, but Florida floundered in games that began around lunchtime last season. Although the Gators won all three early starts, there was nothing pretty about the victories. They often looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon than an SEC contender.

Florida trailed the Commodores 7-6 through much of the fourth quarter, until Austin Hardin bailed the Gators out with a 43-yard field goal with 2:22 remaining.

The Gators weren't much better the following week. They led South Carolina, one of the league's worst teams, 14-0 at halftime and ended up winning by 10. They had an even closer call a week later, when they failed to score in the first half and needed overtime to put away Florida Atlantic.

''Early morning,'' safety Marcus Maye said, shaking his head. ''It's like you roll out of bed and you got to get ready to play. You got to have the mindset of `we got to start early, start fast.' I'm pretty sure we'll have to wake up early all week just to get used to it. Noon games, you just got to start fast, wake up and get ready to go.''

McElwain is getting his players up earlier than usual this week - starting them with meetings, lifts and maybe even coffee - in hopes of having them better prepared for Nashville.

Florida has another noon EDT start next week against LSU, and McElwain said it's the spot they're in partly because they've lost four of their last seven games and squandered a chance to move up the league's television pecking order.

''We put ourselves in position to play at noon,'' McElwain said. ''How's that? So we better get used to it.''

The Gators have been trying and struggling for years to get acclimated to early starts. Since 2005, they are 29-8 in regular season games that started between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. But that record doesn't truly illustrate the scope of Florida's early game offerings.

During Florida's national title run in 2006, the Gators escaped Nashville with a 25-19 victory. Two years later - during another championship season - they were stunned at home by Mississippi.

More recently, teams like Miami (Ohio), Furman, Missouri, Louisiana, Jacksonville State and Toledo gave Florida fits in the daytime.

''One of the things you do is you learn from the past, you learn from history and realize that what you do now actually is going to be a precursor to the future,'' McElwain said. ''When you look at our track record, I don't know what it is with noon starts a year ago. ... None of those results were very good. So let's talk about the obvious.''

The obvious is the Gators need to be better, especially coming off a 38-28 loss to the Volunteers in which Tennessee scored 38 straight points in the second half.

''I've heard of some of the struggles maybe last year playing at noon,'' said Austin Appleby, a former Purdue quarterback who will make his second straight start in place of injured Luke Del Rio. ''We haven't had the best of luck getting up and getting going. But I'm sure Coach Mac will have something up his sleeve to create some adversity and make it uncomfortable this week, getting us up early for a lift or whatever, some meetings, just to get guys going.

''That'll be the point of emphasis, I would imagine, this week. And we'll be ready to go. If we're the team that I think we are, we'll start and we'll be ready to go at noon.''

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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