The unfriendly confines of Jordan-Hare

AUBURN, Ala. -- Pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together, which is why the Florida football team finds itself ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the USA Today/Gallup Poll this week going into Saturday night's game against Auburn.

Clearly these 2006 Gators can become something special, but to get there they must beat the team that was No. 2 the week before they were, and do it in a place that has never been Gator-friendly.

The Gators are perhaps on their way to a banner season, but one misfire on Saturday night in Auburn, a virtual graveyard of Florida teams past, and the building blocks start falling.

The last time Florida won in Jordan-Hare Stadium was 1999, although the Gators haven't played there since 2001 before the SEC West rotation changed. The Tigers lead the series 40-38-2 and have dominated at home, 8-24-1. In fact, it wasn't until Doug Dickey's 1973 team beat Shug Jordan's outfit, 12-8, that the Gators had ever won there.

In the last nine outings, however, Florida is 8-1.

Florida is 6-0 for the first time since 1996 and Auburn is 5-1 after an upset loss to Arkansas, 27-10. The gambling line is dead even, since handicappers aren't all that attuned to history. The House of Auburn used to be a House of Horror.

Old-time Gator fans remember the Halloween meltdown of Steve Spurrier, the player, along with the nightmarish nine-interception day of quarterback John Reaves in 1969. What will be in store this time?

* * *

There's a new aura about Florida football.

It's not just the way the players play, but, in fact, that is the byproduct of why the Gators are 6-0.

Remember when Urban Meyer responded to the question about his respect for Florida football during the Spurrier regime?

"I loved the way they walked, they way they talked, the way they took the field, the way they came off the field," Meyer said in his very first press conference of Spurrier's teams at Florida.

Since that day we've heard a lot about the pride Meyer is attempting to instill daily in his players; what it means to be a Gator; how to earn the trappings that come with being a champion; why it's critical to "live right" and be accountable for one's actions.

Maybe it wasn't just coaching rhetoric after all. It seems to have developed into a brand. One must admire the astute coaching job by Meyer and his staff and the way he has lock-stepped his young players in unison, keeping them focused on the next play and not the next game.

Meyer's team is showing the "it" factor.

We see "it" in the poise of a team that has come from behind in every SEC game to win.

We see "it" in the unselfish way quarterback Chris Leak quietly goes about his job, even when the accolades so often fall at the feet of his backup, Tim Tebow.

We see "it" in the way wide receiver Dallas Baker waits patiently for his turn to catch balls and, once the ball has been caught, he fights, scratches and claws for every inch as if it were his territorial imperative.

We see "it" in the way that receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell are money every time downfield on their patterns; the steady, determined blocks of fullback Billy Latsko; how linebacker Brandon Siler sits and waits for the right time to pounce on the ball at his 1-yard line when LSU is threatening to blow the game open; how center Steve Rissler keeps his wagons circled in the offensive line.

We see "it" when punter Eric Wilbur fires off a one-step, 52-yard kick with LSU Tigers breathing down on him and his heel nearly touching the end zone backline.

The younger players have seen "it" in these older teammates and are modeling them.

Well all see "it" in the remarkable energy and emergence of Tebow and his puppy-dog like joy that the fans love so much; of a newcomer like Louis Murphy jumping out of the anonymity of the depth chart to catch his first career pass for a touchdown.

We see "it" in the suddenly spectacular play of the secondary, with countless interceptions by college-graduated Ryan Smith and the All-American-like play of safety Reggie Nelson, whom Meyer has dubbed "The Eraser."

It's a coaching cliché, but the truth is that these Gators are putting team over self with a common goal in mind that has now become reachable.

Not all cylinders are firing all the time, but on a good team, that can be overcome by what is known as "picking up" the other guy. That, too, has been a staple of this team. These are just some of the ways that this new aura has manifested itself in six games.

How long it will last is anybody's guess.

The fact that this Meyer-coached team has attained its own style and panache is to be commended. What they do with it will determine whether they will become champions or just another one-hit wonder.

There is also the factor of a once very good Auburn team looking for revenge – and what team better to get it from that the one that took the Tigers' perch?

"The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation"
By Buddy Martin

Buddy's new book offers new stories from every living Florida coach and other keen insights to the so-called "Modern Era." Find out how to obtain your autographed copy at, or pick up one at most book stores. Buddy and Scot Brantley co-host "The Tail-Gator Show" four hours before kickoff of every game in the state on ESPN Radio, Ocala/Gainesville.

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