Two familiar names returned to the AP Top 25 this week.
These historic programs are responsible for some of the greatest names and games in college football, but they've hit hard times recently only to show signs of revival under brand new head coaches.
The undefeated Florida Gators debuted at No. 25, and Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines popped in at 22.
Since the start of the very young Jim Harbaugh era, Michigan fans expected immediate greatness. However, Harbaugh proved to be human in his first outing as the Wolverines’ head man when Big Blue fell to Utah 24-17.
But that was Week 1.
UM’s home opener saw the Wolverines blast Oregon State 35-7, giving Michigan fans renewed hope and had people thinking Harbaugh could still be special. In week three, Michigan’s offense stayed hot, and their defense stayed stout on the way to a 28-7 victory over UNLV. And, Harbaugh’s mystique continued to return to the college football psyche.
Yet, the Wolverines still weren’t truly tested, the college football world still didn’t know what Michigan could do and No. 22 BYU, the recipient of two magical late game upsets, was coming to Ann Arbor, looking for revenge following a primetime loss to UCLA.
If there were nervous jitters in the home locker room of the Big House on Saturday, they didn’t make it to the field.
The Cougars looked worse against the unranked Wolverines than the 10th-ranked Bruins the week before. The Big Blue defense didn’t let much get past them, shutting down Tanner Mangum’s magic and stopping BYU from putting a single point on the board. Meanwhile, the Michigan offense put up 448 yards and 31 points to embarrass college football’s newly crowned Cinderella.
With Harbaugh-mania restored to full power, the Wolverines hopped into the AP Top 25 stealing the spot previously owned by the team they just pummeled, effectively putting Michigan back into the place they had been comfortably seated for more than a century: the spotlight.
Meanwhile in Gainesville, Jim McElwain prepared to restart another historic program who had fallen on hard times recently. Since Urban Meyer’s departure, the Florida Gators went from national title contenders and the marquee program of the SEC East to a struggling team who had to fight for bowl eligibility.
McElwain had an uphill battle, to say it nicely. It's not easy to revitalize a program in a conference containing No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Auburn and No. 14 LSU; especially, with the 9th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, back-to-back division champions Missouri, and a reborn Tennessee program jockeying for East supremacy.
But, two weeks later, despite a struggle to top East Carolina, the Gators found themselves undefeated with the SEC slate beginning the following Saturday.
Florida’s conference schedule began with a tilt versus the surging Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. UK came into the game confident and looking for their first victory over the Gators since 1986, but McElwain’s Gators came up with a tough 14-9 victory to keep the streak alive and stay undefeated.
Sure, they were 3-0 with an SEC victory under their belt, but no one was saying Florida was back. After all, it was just Kentucky. The real test would come in week four; Butch Jones and the preseason East favorite Volunteers were coming to the Swamp.
UT was angry, too, after giving up a 17-point lead over No. 19 Oklahoma to lose a 31-24 overtime decision the week before.
But, as McElwain said in a post-game interview with ESPN this week, these Gators are special, and they showed their exceptionalism late in the Tennessee game.
The Vols were up 20-7 early in the third quarter, but Florida wouldn’t give up. The Gators found the endzone late in the third to keep the game close and scored two more touchdowns in the fourth to dash Tennessee’s hopes of defeating UF for the first time in a decade.
Maybe, fingers crossed, Florida is back.
But, Harbaugh and McElwain haven’t seen anywhere near the toughest competition they will face this season. Michigan has to take on No. 2 Michigan State and No. 1 Ohio State late in the season, and Florida has 3rd-ranked Ole Miss coming to visit next week.
So, maybe they’re not the titans they once were, but, perhaps, Michigan and Florida are on their way back.