David Cloninger

Gators becoming accustomed to being overlooked

The ballots were distributed Tuesday afternoon, and the results won’t be revealed until Friday, after SEC Media Days has concluded. So perhaps there’s a surprise coming.

But the early projections have Georgia being picked to win the SEC East. Not Florida, which has won the past two East championships.

“Business as usual. Kind of the way it is,” Florida coach Jim McElwain shrugged. “We’ve come to expect it. That’s OK.”

The Bulldogs have a lot going for them, with quarterback Jacob Eason boasting one of the country’s strongest arms and a two-headed lightning running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. In yet another year where the East is there for the taking, Georgia is getting a lot of the preseason hype.

The Gators say don’t cancel those reservations in Atlanta just yet.

“We have that problem every year,” said Florida defensive back Duke Dawson, ironically wearing a red and black bowtie. “That’s something we’ve got to come prove, and as you can see the past two years, we’ve proven it.”

Georgia and Tennessee were picked to win the East the past two years. Florida topped both, giving McElwain a championship in his first season in Gainesville and then a repeat in 2016.

Florida has its issues – while its defense finished second in the league last year, the offense was 14th. It seems absurd that the Gators, who have had three Heisman Trophy quarterbacks, can’t find a steady QB, but they once again have an unanswered question under center.

Malik Zaire transferred from Notre Dame, and Feleipe Franks had a terrific offseason, according to McElwain. Freshman Jake Allen comes in from prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. There’s a decision that has to be made, but tailback Jordan Scarlett and receiver Antonio Callaway are around to take the heat off the QB.

It’s not a dominant team, but there is no dominant team in the East. Honestly, there’s a question if it’s even worth winning the East, since the prize is a trip to Atlanta to get crushed by Alabama.

But the Gators are used to being there, under McElwain and in their history. They aim to be there again in December, no matter what the predictions are.

“We take it as motivation,” offensive lineman Martez Ivey said. “We’ve been the underdog for the last two years that I’ve been at Florida, and I really don’t expect nothing less from people saying we don’t do this or we can’t do that.”

Of course, the Gators will play Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., this season, and the teams seem to have similar, navigable schedules. Florida has LSU and Texas A&M, but each at home, while Georgia hosts Mississippi State and travels to Auburn.

It’s there to be taken, again. The Gators plan on taking it.

Again.

“What do we think about it? We hear that every year,” defensive back Marcell Harris said. “That’s something that everybody says, and we come out and prove everybody wrong, once again.”

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