The grieving process after a loss is the same for all college football fans. What is left of that Saturday passes under a cloud of depression. Sunday offers up a full day of NFL games to distract us. Monday and Tuesday are the hardest, as we spend all day trying to figure out what went wrong. After two days of TV and radio hosts beating things into the ground we’ve finally come to accept our fate. We devote Wednesday to dissecting our team’s new ceiling. On Thursday we turn our collective gaze upon the upcoming game’s matchups. By Friday we’ve regained our swagger, picked our team to win, and reassured ourselves that what transpired six days ago was only an aberration.
This holds true for all games but one. In-state rivalries aren’t washed away as easily. They offer up daily reminders of our team’s inadequacy. Even worse is when these rivals suspend play. There is no “we’ll get ‘em next year.”
Here’s where Florida fans are right now. Saturday’s loss to Miami is potentially larger than any future loss this season. It damages an SEC brand already reeling after Clemson’s defeat of UGA. It hurts in-state recruiting, especially when you consider the abundance of talent in South Florida. Any loss to FSU, UGA, or UT can be avenged next year. Outside of potential bowl matchups, no one knows the next time UF will get a crack at Miami. Miami and its fans can brag about a program on the upswing, and all Gator Nation can say is “yup, we saw it first-hand.”
Coupled with the legend of Jameis Winston beginning to write itself in Tallahassee, this loss to the Hurricanes has seismic ramifications. Any objective Gators fan will tell you that Florida played over its head last year. They won, but almost always won ugly. The team’s loss to Louisville was the type of beat down fans dreaded after a season of unsteady play. The loss to Georgia now appears the type of defeat UF fans can expect whenever their team is on the wrong side of the score. Much like Saturday’s defeat, it was an ugly contest. It wasn’t a case of the best team winning, as much as it was the less bad team not imploding. Win ugly, lose even uglier.
I’m not one to jump into panic mode, and I still believe the Gators can have a nice season. Just as I believe Will Muschamp can be an extremely successful coach for Florida. However, there are some major issues that need to be cleared up.
While the defense may be best in the country, Florida’s offense is anemic. Florida hasn’t had a high-powered offense since Percy Harvin entered the NFL. Right now Jeff Driskel looks like John Brantley 2.0 and I can’t even remember the last wide receiver recruit to pan out. This is tough to stomach for a generation of Florida fans raised on Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
On-field discipline also appears to be a problem. The Gators commit far too many penalties. Watching guys jump around on defense just before the snap is great until they jump offsides, hit a player late, or register a targeting penalty. There’s a fine line between honed intensity and playing out of control. The Gators too often cross that line.
Will Muschamp has passed through the honeymoon period. For better or worse, Florida fans are some of the most fickle in the country. It’s difficult enough to stomach losses to conference foes. Losing to rivals is even tougher. But any perceived slippage of power within the state is near unforgivable. Florida needs to tighten the reins, as both FSU and Miami are poised to take a run at the Gators. Forget owning the SEC East, he first needs to own the state.
If there is a bright spot, it’s that the Gators cannot possibly play any worse than they did against Miami. Hopefully it serves as a wakeup call for this season and maybe the rest of Muschamp’s tenure. I’m writing this on a Monday, so the wounds still run deep. Hopefully on Friday things won’t hurt as much.
But right now, this one just feels different.