Florida-Florida State: How the Gators climbed back into the College Football Playoff picture – Tampabay.com
GAINESVILLE — In a hollow room somewhere underneath the stadium at Arkansas, it seemed as if the toll from Florida’s three-touchdown loss would linger for weeks.
Standout linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone were injured. Jim McElwain’s worst SEC loss left the Gators’ reputation damaged, their championship hopes dented.
“Obviously,” dejected defensive tackle Caleb Brantley said then, “we’re out of the playoffs.”
Except three weeks later, they’re not. As the Gators head to Tallahassee tonight, they have a daunting but conceivable path to the College Football Playoff.
“If we keep winning,” quarterback Austin Appleby said, “I don’t think you can keep us out.”
Getting there seems like a long shot, given the challenges the No. 13 Gators face at No. 15 Florida State and against No. 1 Alabama in next Saturday’s SEC title game. But the fact that UF is in this position is an achievement, considering the 31-10 loss Nov. 5 at Arkansas that was painful in every sense of the word.
The transformation started in the locker room in Fayetteville, not far from where Brantley wrote off his team’s final-four hopes. Defensive end CeCe Jefferson reminded his team that the season was not over; UF was 6-2, not 2-6.
“You learn from failure,” McElwain said. “All of us do.”
UF has learned from September’s second-half collapse at Tennessee, when McElwain said players were trying to win the game by themselves rather than trusting teammates. Receiver Antonio Callaway fielding two punts inside the 5 — and muffing one — was the most obvious example.
Contrast that to last Saturday’s selfless showing at Tiger Stadium, where Callaway, Tyrie Cleveland and Brandon Powell asked coaches to let them keep blocking while running back Jordan Scarlett was plowing through LSU’s defense.
“I haven’t seen it