No. 3 Mississippi, 25th-ranked Florida try to stay unbeaten

Published 9:00 am Friday, October 2, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida defensive end Alex McCalister sensed it across campus all week.

A smile here, a nod there. A handshake one second, a high-five the next. A brief conversation with a stranger, a lengthy exchange with a friend.

It was decidedly different, something the 25th-ranked Gators haven’t felt in years.

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“We’re getting a little bit more love,” McCalister said. “It’s supposed to be like this.”

McCalister would like to see what an even bigger victory would do for the Gators (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference). He gets a chance Saturday night when third-ranked Mississippi (4-0, 2-0) visits Florida Field for the first time in seven years.

A win would put Florida at the forefront of the conference conversation and back in the national picture. It’s no easy task, especially considering the Rebels are playing as well as anyone in the SEC and looking for a victory to squash talk about their win at Alabama two weeks ago being a fluke.

“These games test you and your team,” Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. “The environment tests you. When you have a quality opponent that is very well coached and very confident right now, a team that is ranked in the Top 25 right now, it is going to test you.”

Mississippi appears ready for the challenge. The Rebels beat Vanderbilt 27-16 last week, avoiding a potential letdown after knocking off the Crimson Tide for the second consecutive season.

Chad Kelly has been efficiently effective, throwing for 1,219 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games. Laquon Treadwell has been as good as advertised, catching 22 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown. And the defense, led by potential top-five draft pick Robert Nkemdiche, has been stingy and stout.

So it’s no surprise the Rebels opened as 6 1/2-point favorites on the road.

Florida, meanwhile, held on to beat East Carolina, eked out a win at Kentucky and then rallied from a 13-point deficit with less than 5 minutes remaining to defeat Tennessee for the 11th consecutive year. Still, that was enough to get Florida back in the polls for the first time in nearly two years and with the program’s first Top 25 matchup in three seasons.

“It gets us excited. You can feel it in the air,” Gators receiver Valdez Showers said. “We’ve been sick of not being ranked and not playing Top 25 opponents and stuff like that, so we’re not taking this lightly.

“When you start winning games and get on a four-game win streak, that gives us momentum going into the fifth game and gives us a lot of confidence. You feel like you can definitely take these guys, too.”

By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer