There’s a lot of Gators fans pounding their chests like LeBron after an and one layup about the 2016 season and a supposed “clear path” to a repeat performance of last year’s SEC Championship drubbing at the hands of Crimson Tide.
But here are three reasons their arrogance is misguided:
1. Your quarterback
This is a reoccurring theme in the “reasons you suck” columns, but the value of a quarterback, especially at the collegiate level, cannot be overstated. No, a quarterback alone cannot make a championship contender of a bad team, but nothing submarines title hopes faster than a bumbling idiot under center. Just ask former Florida coach Will Muschamp.
This year, as is seemingly always the case since Tebow left Gainesville on the Josh McDaniels train to Denver, the quarterback position could not be more of a mess. Vying for the spot is a three-headed monster of probable ineptitude, highlighted by last year’s starter, the abominable Treon Harris, semi-touted freshman Feleipe Franks, and Raiders coach Jack Del Rio’s kid (on what must be his 10th team already).
Harris, who compiled a pathetic 41% completion percentage against above-.500 opponents, mulled a move to wide receiver in the offseason, a surefire sign of future quarterbacking success, right? Franks, who most recruiting services describe as “raw,” probably the last thing you want to hear lining up against SEC defenses, looked completely lost in the US Army Game against decent high school players; and finally, the supposed leader in the clubhouse, Luke Del Rio.
Florida fans are really funny, clinging to a 10/11 Spring game performance as evidence the former walk on Del Rio, who has transferred out of both Alabama and Oregon State, is the solution at QB, at least temporarily. Now, let’s keep in mind here the kid couldn’t hack it at Oregon State in the midst of a coaching change and a historically awful season in Corvallis that made Charlie Strong’s Texas debut look like the second coming of Vince Lombardi.
But yeah, the walk on will totally be great against Georgia, LSU, and the Seminoles! Sure. And no, I’m not discussing Purdue transfer Austin Appleby. If he starts, the Gators are in much more trouble than I thought. For a moment Will Grier looked like the savior, but unsurprisingly his above average play was substance-enhanced.
2. Your schedule is a fucking mess
Drawing LSU from the west is a tough break, especially while getting the best team in your division according to some, Tennessee, on the road. Annually, the Gators and Georgia Bulldogs play in a neutral site venue in Jacksonville, leaving the beleaguered Gators fans with a definite loss to LSU as the highlight of a pathetic home slate.
Florida State on the road is a guaranteed loss, as the Noles will cake walk into a showdown with Clemson with both an ACC title and playoff berth on the line. LSU should be a loss, as Florida is perhaps the only team in the entire SEC in a worse QB situation than Les Miles and the Tigers.
Things could go very, very wrong this year in Gainesville. Georgia, LSU, and FSU will be extremely difficult games to win. Getting both Tennessee and Arkansas on the road is a rough break to say the least, and a much improved South Carolina with revenge on the mind for former Florida Coach Will Muschamp presents a dangerous letdown week challenge before the rivalry matchup with FSU.
I must mention here the absurdity of Florida scheduling Presbyterian Week 11, and advocate the disallowance of Power 5 teams playing non-D1 teams mid-season. This is dangerous for the kids, awful for the fans, and totally unnecessary.
And Presbyterian’s mascot is the “Blue Hose.” What the fuck is that?
3. The state of Florida
This is not applicable as much for this season, as to what I believe will be a difficult and short-term future for Jim McElwain at the University of Florida. During the golden days of Gator football this century, you know, with Hernandez killing people as Tebow prayed with Urban Meyer, the Seminoles were in the midst of a slumber with Bobby Bowden’s refusal to retire and a totally inept series of coaches at the University of Miami.
Not anymore. New Miami Coach Mark Richt is a proven commodity, with the SEC’s best current winning percentage of anyone not named Nick Saban prior to his dismissal in Athens. A former Miami football player, Richt has deep ties to the area and is greatly respected by local high school coaches, an advantage former coach Al Golden lacked immensely.
Florida State is an absolute machine, churning out NFL players while perennially competing for national chmapionships under Jimbo Fisher, while elevating recruiting efforts to a level unmatched since the Bowden glory era decades ago.
Aside from the in-state rivals, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, and the insufferable Jim Harbaugh are casing the sunshine state unlike ever before, with the Buckeyes, no doubt helped by Meyer’s past in Gainesville, signing more Florida recruits in Meyer’s first 3 seasons than the previous decade combined.
Florida has already felt the pinch on the recruiting trail, and with another down season on the horizon for the Gators, the pressure and criticism will only mount in the notoriously cutthroat (read:dirty) practice of major southern recruiting.
The Gators lose to LSU, FSU, Georgia, and at Tennessee, narrowly escaping disaster in Fayetteville against Arkansas. The defense is stellar, but the secondary desperately misses lockdown cornerback Vernon Hargreaves as the young Gators corners crumble in primetime games.
The offense is again a mess, with Coach McElwain playing musical quarterbacks all season, even resorting to burning Franks’ redshirt by mid-season for a short lived tenure as the starter. Del Rio takes most of the snaps, but reminds us why he is a multiple time transfer, and walk on.
The Gators lose their mid-tier bowl game, as motivation runs thin in Gainesville for a team with lofty pre-season hopes, and a clean sweep by their main rivals FSU, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Reasons for hope:
1. Tennessee loves to find a way to lose.
Last year Coach Jones and the Vols snatched defeat from the Jaws of victory unlike anything I have ever seen. As someone with Florida moneyline in that match up, I am still indebted to Coach Jones and his offensive staff for trying to kill 15 minutes of clock with a negligible lead. After the game, Florida players proclaimed “we don’t lose to Tennessee,” a fact of the last decade. The best predictor of future behavior is past.
2. Georgia will likely play a freshman QB
Jacob Eason, the top ranked QB in the 2016 class, will win the job in Athens. Though a future star, a 19-year-old kid against a stellar and multi-look defense like Florida’s is a scary proposition. The great equalizer in any football game is turnovers, and it is not unreasonable to expect Eason to throw a couple to the men in Gator blue during the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. Stopping the two headed rushing attack of the Dogs led by Nick Chubb is the key.
3. The defense
If the flailing offense can provide some semblance of ball control, allowing the vaunted Gators defense some time to rest and limiting turnovers, the front 7 should keep Florida in most games, at least early. Florida possesses sideline to sideline speed at the linebacker position, an invaluable advantage in today’s “players in space” up-tempo offensive era..
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