“I’m back to livin’ Floridays, blue skies and ultra-violet rays, lookin’ for better days…” (Jimmy Buffett)
In closing out my favorite piece I’ve written thus far on Gamedayr, I borrow lyrics from my favorite musical artist, singing one of my favorite songs, about my favorite state. Gator fans, it doesn’t get much worse than it did last year (save for no wins at all), but things have already progressed in both the attitudes of the players and morale of the program. A new identity is being forged, and I love what I’ve seen so far. Bottom line: what this team needs is to get back to living, owning, and being Florida football.
This program, for all its faults, is a proud and rich program. Sure, there were lean years (1979 was far worse than 2013, folks), and there most certainly will be disappointing seasons again. But think back to other schools: LSU was a non-factor for most of the 1990s; Vanderbilt was the SEC doormat for as many years as anyone could remember; and need I mention the Auburn or Missouri turnarounds in 2013?
One losing season does not (and certainly in a talent-rich state like Florida, should not) indicate a decline of a program – a la the Tennessee Volunteers of the past ten years. And don’t let any opposing fan tell you differently. There’s no reason why last year’s injuries shouldn’t be taken into account as a mitigating factor in the final record.
There’s also no reason not to offer a hat tip to Coach Will Muschamp for expeditiously finding an offensive coordinator who has bred success everywhere he’s been – even at former ACC doormat Duke. Muschamp is opposed to a pro-tempo style offense because it keeps his defense on the field more, but swallowed his pride and did what was right by and for the program. To me, that’s a very commendable thing to do as a coach. Remember, Gator fans, we could be stuck with Lane Kiffin- and please do yourself a favor and watch this indescribably awesome video. Instead, we have a coach worth at least a few more games of consideration.
At the end of the day, Florida football is a respected (and in many circles hated) brand for a simple reason: continued success. Success breeds both pride and enemies. Florida isn’t going to catch up to Alabama this season; they just won’t. And no, that’s not being a “Debbie Downer” at all, it’s just being realistic with expectations. The Gators can and should be in a late December or New Year’s Day bowl game this year, and should field a competent offense to augment one of the best defensive units in college football (lest we forget this memorable hit against FSU in 2012).
As we all know, the Gator Nation has come to know and embrace offense. Think back to the Fun ‘n Gun, Tebow jump passes, and Harvin and Cooper days of lighting up scoreboards. This is what every Florida Gator fan who sits in The Swamp remembers and wants to see on crisp fall Saturdays. Jeff Driskel won’t win the Heisman Trophy in 2014, but if he can lead his offense to score 25-30 points per game, the Gators stand a chance at a huge rebound.
If the defense does its job and stays together, we can expect excellence on that side of the ball. If the special teams unit can contribute some points on kickoffs (I’m looking at you, Andre Debose) and score some manageable field goals, this could be a season to remember.
To close with what I know your question is, (and what I’ve been asked by a lot of people) regarding for my prediction for 2014. The short answer is: I’ll be damned if I know. There are too many “what-if’s,” possibilities, potential perils, and unknowns.
The Gators could storm into Bryant-Denny Stadium and/or Doak Campbell Stadium and shock the world against Alabama and/or FSU. Or Florida could fall apart against Missouri as they did last year up in Columbia. They could break a three game losing streak to Georgia, or fall to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina at home for the first time since 2010. The fact is, this team could rebound mightily to 10-2, could manage a respectable season at 8-4, could settle at 7-5 or could crumble and stumble to another 4-8 debacle.
My gut and my hunch is that these men take the bad taste in their mouths from last season, and use their shockingly awful experiences to turn things around – most likely to the tune of playing in a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day bowl game. Those crushing defeats at Miami, South Carolina and LSU will, I believe, motivate this year’s team. They will put it together, save face and restore pride to a dinged up program.
Is that enough to save Will Muschamp’s job? Is it enough to win the SEC East? Is it enough to give these seniors one win against Georgia? Is it enough to score some elite recruits in 2015 on both sides of the ball? I need to see some more football to have any chance at answering those questions. But I will soon be there, in the flesh, for every single SEC contest.
Why spend the time, effort, and money to attend so many games after the 2013 implosion? Because the Florida Gators will be this writer’s team win or lose - and they should be yours too. Remember: “In all kinds of weather, we’ll all stick together, for F-L-O-R-I-D-A!” I’m so ready, and I hope you are as well. Stay tuned, my friends.