NEW ORLEANS — Everything happens for a reason.
Florida losing 33-23 against Louisville in Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl was the best thing that could have happened to the program.
For starters, let’s flip the script and examine what would have been gained if the Gators headed back to Gainesville victorious.
They would have been the fifth team in school history to win 12 games.
A win may have served as a boost in recruiting, giving coaches the ability to tell prospects they had won a BCS bowl.
It would have sent the seniors, and juniors Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam, out on a positive note.
They would have finished with a higher ranking, possibly even No. 2 behind the winner of the BCS National Championship between Alabama and Notre Dame.
All of the above would have been awesome feats. However, those are essentially short-term goals other than the part about boosting recruiting.
Long term, losing could benefit the future of the program more than a win.
Instead of riding a wave of confidence into the offseason, players received a wake-up call by losing to a Big East team they were favored to beat by two touchdowns.
With the loss, the Gators now know there is more work to do. They may work even harder in the offseason than they did after last season’s 7-6 mark served as motivation. Strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman is sure to remind players about the embarrassing season-ending loss on a national stage.
The loss also hammers home the importance of proper preparation as many players, such as senior running back Mike Gillislee, admitted the Cardinals were more prepared than they were for the game.
Had they won, speculation would have run rampant. For instance, if Alabama wins, many would have debated would might have happened had the Tide and the Gators, two 12-1 teams, met in a playoff.
One could even make an argument that Florida was deserving of No. 1 votes. After all, the Gators beat Texas A&M, the team that handed Alabama its lone loss. Of course, the Tide rolled over Georgia, the team that beat UF, in the SEC Championship game.
Remember, Florida had six turnovers, including one inside the 5-yard line with about a minute remaining in regulation, and still had a chance to beat — or at least send the game into overtime with a successful two-point conversion — the Bulldogs in Jacksonville.
It would have been an intriguing debate for sure.
Losing that game also can boost recruiting, depending on how coaches can spin it. What that does is give coaches the ability to tell prospects, “Hey, this is why we need you. You are what we’re missing as you saw against Louisville.”
The way Florida lost also should show the Gators the importance of having an efficient passing game. Only once before, when the Gators drove down the field late against Georgia, had they been forced to pass to try to win a game.
Not every game can be won by playing sound defense and running the ball.
Had the Gators won, they certainly would have even been in the conversation to be among the top teams nationally in the preseason. Hearing how good you are going to be on ESPN for eight straight months during the offseason could have inflated egos.
Heck, even with the loss the Gators likely will be among the top-10 teams in preseason polls heading into 2013.
Florida is losing several stars on defense but has quality replacements returning. There are also several key contributors coming back with big-game experience who should be better such as Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler Jr. and Antonio Morrison.
Then on offense, quarterback Jeff Driskel will be a second-year starter. Gillislee will be gone, but the running game could be even better with Matt Jones and Mack Brown returning as well as talented signees Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor running behind what should be a vastly improved offensive line. Hopefully, a receiver or two will emerge as a consistent threat to give the Gators more balance offensively.
Senior kicker Caleb Sturgis will be tough to replace, but practice reports on Austin Hardin’s ability have been positive. Punter Kyle Christy will be back, so special teams should stay solid.
They’re going to be strong anyway, but didn’t need to hear how awesome 2013 is going to be all spring and summer. The loss serves as a reminder, a wake-up call, they need to get better if they want to achieve their ultimate goal.
Speaking of teams achieving their ultimate goal of winning a national title, several have done it after losing a bowl game the previous season, including two in recent history.
Florida lost 41-35 against Michigan in the 2008 Capital One Bowl and then went on to beat Oklahoma 24-14 to win the BCS Championship the following season.
Alabama lost against Utah in 2009 before winning the BCS Championship the following season.
In other words, if the Gators look at it the right way, losing to Louisville could have been the best thing to happen to the program.
Everything happens for a reason.