It has been a brutal football season for me this year. My two teams are the Florida Gators and the Atlanta Falcons. Both are experiencing extremely disappointing seasons and for the exact same reason – both teams have been decimated by offseason attrition and injuries.
The Atlanta Falcons let players that had played key roles in their ascension to elite status go during the offseason. Atlanta chose not to bring running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and offensive tackle Tyson Clabo back for the 2013 season. Center Todd McClure decided to retire. On defense, cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes moved on and were replaced on the roster with high draft pick rookies.
The Falcons thought they would replace Clabo with Mike Johnson but he was lost for the season with a preseason injury. Over the course of the season, Atlanta has lost defensive end Kroy Biermann and star wide receiver Julio Jones for the remainder of the season early on. Along the way running back Steven Jackson, wide receiver Roddy White, offensive tackle Sam Baker, running back Jason Snelling and cornerback Assante Samuel missed multiple games. Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is still waiting to come back after weeks on injured reserve and news just came out that left tackle Sam Baker is now gone for the season. Sound familiar Gator fans?
By comparison, the Gators lost their starting right tackle Chaz Green for the season before the first game. Right guard Jon Halapio missed the first few games with a torn pectoral muscle and has not been 100% for a single game all season. Left tackle D.J. Humphries has played injured since the second game and is now out indefinitely. Injuries have rippled up and down the offensive line. Gator fans should have seen this season coming when starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered appendicitis at the beginning of camp forcing him to miss virtually all of the preseason preparation after surgery. Then starting running back Matt Jones came down with some strange viral infection and was never full speed right up to the point where he was lost for season with an injury. And, of course, wide receiver and kick returner Andre Debose was also lost for the season before the first game. Since then it has been a parade of players departing for the season with injuries culminating this week with the loss of linebacker Antonio Morrison and possibly starting quarterback Tyler Murphy, who won’t know for sure if he will play until Saturday against South Carolina. If it weren’t so sad it would be laughable.
All of this on top of the fact that the Gators lost four underclassmen early to the NFL after the 2012 season. Any way you slice it, this Florida team is a shadow of what it could have and would have been. The record is still worse than one would expect but in the overall scheme of things is 5-7 that much different from 6-6? Well, I guess it is since 6-6 would be bowl eligible. I find it quite unlikely that Florida will be playing in a bowl game this year ending the second longest bowl streak in the nation.
Both the Falcons and Gators came into the 2013 season with big expectations and both teams will fall well short of those expectations. However, here is where the similarities end. For the Falcons, the coaching staff has been quite successful in the past including falling just short of playing in the Super Bowl last season. Oh wait, the Gators fell just short of playing in the championship game last season as well. But, Falcons fans know that head coach Mike Smith and his staff are among the best in the league. They grasp that this season is all about the injuries. Nobody is calling for Mike Smith’s head. Granted, Smith has deposited more capital in his account than Will Muschamp, but the total disregard for Muschamp’s 11-2 season in 2012 baffles me. I realize that the offense wasn’t spectacular but please spare me the national rankings. The Gator offensive rankings could have been higher in 2012 if Muschamp had not chosen to let the air out of the ball in the games Florida did win handily but that wouldn’t have meant the offense was better.
I have full confidence that Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff will fix what is wrong with the Falcons. I’ve seen them do it before. That doesn’t make this season any easier, but I will still be excited about next season. As for my Gators, am I as confident in Muschamp’s ability to turn it around? No, not as much because I don’t have the same sample size to work with, but I do believe Muschamp is the right guy for the job. I have some serious doubts about Brent Pease and I understand the reasoning behind those who seem to want Muschamp’s blood, but I think an 11-2 season should earn you the opportunity to prove which season is the aberration. If that bothers you, too bad, the decision will not be up to me or up to you.
It will be up to Jeremy Foley. However, I do believe that the constant barrage of attacks on the coaching staff creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s kind of like what the media does when they don’t like a president. They create an environment where success is all but impossible. I personally believe that Gator fans are in the process of doing exactly that with Will Muschamp. I think that, to some extent, Gator fans did the same thing to Ron Zook. I’m not saying Zook would have turned it around, I’m saying that Gator fans created an environment that made it virtually impossible for Zook to fix the program. I see it happening again with Muschamp and I think it is sad. I think Gator fans should be better than this. I guess I’m asking too much. Muschamp might not be the long term answer for the Gators. The day may well come when Florida is forced to realize that and let him go. But this is not that day. He deserves a chance and I hope he will get that chance.