Todd McCullough: This Is A Huge Game

Everyone wants to call Saturday night's matchup in The Swamp with Tennessee a statement game for the Florida Gators. Fans want to believe that this is the game that will give the Gators a chance to win back the mystique that has been gone from The Swamp the last three years or so. No one wants to bring the swagger back to The Swamp more than Todd McCullough who admits something isn't the same anymore.

This is not what McCullough envisioned when he signed with the Gators out of Jacksonville Bolles in 2001. He came to Florida expecting domination in The Swamp and at least a couple of championships. He's a senior now and he's seen his share of home field losses and he has yet to win a championship of any kind.

"Not up to my expectations," he said. "To be blatantly honest with you… (we were) not very good. It kills me growing up watching these games in The Swamp and knowing how much it means to the fans to have a dominant home field advantage. We have everything here for that to happen. We have the fans. We have the support, great facilities. It is very disheartening how we have played in The Swamp since I've been here. It is one thing this senior class wants to leave on is to protect The Swamp. You can talk about it all you want, but the bottom line is going out and winning football games.

"When I was a kid and came to the Florida game, it wasn't a matter of winning the game it was how bad we will win the game. Those are the expectations that should be here. The talent we have here and the coaches we have, there is no reason we shouldn't win."

Losing has been hard on McCullough, who remembers all too well the empty feeling of walking off the field after a big loss in a critical game. Establishing the home field dominance of the nineties is a priority for this senior class.

"It's not life or death, but it's damn near close," McCullough said. "You invest so much into this program and winning, to have a loss in your home stadium in front of family and friends, it hurts. If you are going to be a dominant SEC team, you have to win at home. Obviously the huge losses in the past … I was here when we got routed by LSU, Miami, and those games. We've learned from them and this is now. It's a new coaching staff and a new team. We are going to be ready to play.

"We seniors have expressed to these guys on the team how important it is to leave this program on a higher level now than it has been in the last few years. It is important to do that. To talk about it without the wins, that's just talk. I think this senior class is more about production. If you look at this senior class, and everyone wrote the class off as the least talented class … most of the guys have been pretty productive over our career. This class is about results and not talking and Saturday we want to show that."

Tennessee comes into Saturday's game ranked fourth nationally and the owner of a two game winning streak in The Swamp. In 2001 the Vols walked away with a victory in The Swamp and it was one of the most painful losses in Gator history. McCullough was there and remembers what a rough year it was all around.

"So many things happened that year," he said. "I definitely remember September 11th and putting everything in perspective. That year we had such a talented team. We were the favorite team and Tennessee came out and took it to us. I remember (Travis) Stephens running all over us that day … we couldn't stop him. With the expectations we had that year and seeing the looks on the faces of Andra Davis, Marquand Manuel, and those guys, I felt terrible. I felt bad for those guys and how hard they worked and Tennessee took that away.

"I remember as everyone walked into the locker room after the game I stood on the edge of the tunnel watching and tears were almost falling from my eyes. I felt so bad, it ate me up … it was like a knot in my stomach and I will never forget that. This is something that is so important to this team and so important to the seniors."

Not only does Saturday's game mean a lot to the seniors, it has importance to every player on the team. This is a chance for the sixth-ranked Gators to win big against a ranked team on national television. A win will start the Gators on the road to recovery of lost respect.

"There are huge expectations this year … it's not the entire season but it's a huge game," McCullough said. "It's Florida-Tennessee … how can you not think this is important?

"In the football sense of my life, this is it. This is something that as your career is winding down; you know how important this game is. You can bet that all the seniors out there are going to do everything they can to try and win this game. We've been there before we know how to prepare for it. The coaches are going to do a good job with us. This game is something you mark down every year."

As usual, Tennessee comes into this game with a roster that is probably as talented and athletic as any in the entire country. Florida will combat Tennessee with a talented roster of its own, but what could be the difference-maker for the Gators is the team-building that Coach Urban Meyer has been doing since the day he arrived in Gainesville.

"Tennessee has athletes all over the field," McCullough said. "I know they are talented, but with the athletes and confidence I have in our secondary … I have all the faith in our guys and I know our guys are going to lock down and cover them. I don't doubt that at all. It's about trust in that guy next to you. It's something Coach Meyer has brought to this team. It is something that has been missing the last few years. Not being concerned with what is going to happen if I don't make this play. You trust in Marcus Thomas being in the A-Gap, you trust in Ray (McDonald) keeping containment. You trust in those things. You don't doubt those things, it's not like I have to do my job and someone else's. You trust in everyone doing their job."

In addition to trust, the new Florida coaching staff has instilled attitude back into the team. They don't think they can win, they truly believe that they will. That's a real reflection of the confidence that you see at the top in Coach Meyer.

"Coach Meyer and the rest of the staff's confidence level … he is an awesome motivator," McCullough said. "He brings the confidence to the team in the way that he is. We expect to win every time we step on the field, there is no hesitation."

The unmatched intensity of this rivalry is a bit unnoticed on the head coach. According to McCullough, he is the same this week as he has been since his arrival in December. For Meyer and what he wants his team to understand, they should want to win at everything they do.

"Coach Meyer is always an intense coach and demanding perfection," he said. "I don't really expect anything different from him. He wants to win as bad as any coach I have been around."

Todd McCullough has been through a lot on his four plus years as a Gator football player. He's seen some good times but far too many bad times. However, when he sees the future these days, he sees only good times ahead and that means getting back to dominating in The Swamp and winning championships.

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