If you are a Florida Gators fan and you feel like the upcoming bowl game with Michigan is not getting much attention, you would not be wrong. A huge chunk of the Gator Nation has already turned its attention to 2016. In my opinion, so has the coaching staff. That is not a bad thing.
Head coach Jim McElwain and his staff were forced to approach this season with the team and team psyche they inherited from the previous staff (plus a few true freshmen that were ready to contribute). After coaching this team for an entire season, the staff has a firm grasp of what they now have in personnel and what holes must be filled with the incoming recruiting class. Much more importantly, they have seen which members of the current team are ready, willing and able to do things the way THIS staff wants them to be done. We have seen that already in the not unexpected attrition through early departures and transfers. There will be more.
As much as the staff, the players and the fans would love to beat Michigan, win their bowl game, end the season on a high note and get that eleventh win, I believe that bowl practice has been approached with a larger emphasis on the future than on winning this one game. Because of that, we may not see the changes in offensive philosophy that many fans are hoping for on Friday. I’m just not sure the staff wanted to spend these all important extra weeks of practice designing and installing an offense for Treon they have no plan of implementing next season. This is just a guess on my part and I could be wrong.
In case anyone has failed to notice, McElwain has a process in mind for how to build a championship team, not for one season but for an extended period of time. He learned this process from some of the best in the business and he is confident that it works. Not everyone is going to like the process. Not everyone will be up to the task. That is always a painful process as players and sometimes even coaches fans have come to like or have great expectations for are shown the door. Relax, this is all part of building a perennial contender. This comes down to establishing a particular mentality throughout the program including the offices. I have a great deal of faith in coach McElwain. In fact, his competence and professionalism makes the previous coach’s shortcomings that much more glaring. If the cost of future accomplishment is one bowl loss, I can live with that.
That is not to say that the Gators have no chance of winning this game. That will depend on several things. Will a few guys step up to fill the void of those who were not willing to do what it took to be available for this game? Will those heading for the NFL play and prepare with the intensity necessary to win this game (especially on the defensive side of the ball)? This has all the earmarks of a game where one team just isn’t dedicated to winning the game. I hope I am wrong.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl should be a defensive affair. If, and I repeat if, the Florida defense is focused on this game the Gators should be able to smother the Wolverine offense. Michigan’s defense is statistically strong as well and I see little reason to think the Gator offense will be much more effective than it was late in the season. The only hope for improvement hinges on the offensive line perhaps being healthier and rested. If that is the case, maybe the Gators can generate some semblance of a running game. If not, the Gators will continue to struggle to score.
I advise Gator fans to view this bowl game as entertainment only. Look at this as one last chance to see your Gators this season and a few of your favorites for the last time in the orange and blue. A win would be wonderful, but it doesn’t really change the future of the program. Alright, I admit that it can be beneficial to go into the off-season with the confidence of a win but it is not imperative. I reiterate that the Gator program is really about to officially turn the page from the past to the future. Those incapable of assimilating into a program managed in a championship manner will continue to be culled. The final touches will be made on what promises to be a spectacular recruiting class. This spring, the conversion from the former philosophy to Mac’s should be completely on track. Those not on the train will be left at the station.
The future of Gator football is indeed as bright as it has been in quite some time. Enjoy it. That does not mean that Florida is suddenly a playoff contender. It is possible that this team actually takes one more step backward before embarking on a steady journey forward. Recruiting holes in recent classes and the attrition that comes with a change in staff, philosophy and work ethic may well mean that there remain glaring deficiencies next season while incoming talent comes of age. Just how many holes must be addressed will not be clear until the dust settles on early departures, dismissals and transfers. Regardless, I am convinced that this group of coaches do indeed have the Gators on the road back to elite status. This has been a long time coming.