IT’S FINALLY HERE!!! It is game week. The long off-season wait is over and the Gator Nation is chomping (pun intended) at the bit to get the McElwain era started and the Muschamp era firmly in the rear-view mirror. Now, almost as one, the entire Gator Nation inhales a deep breath and shivers with a mixture of excitement and concern. Just what should fans expect from the 2015 Florida Gators football?
The Gator Nation went into last season extremely optimistic. Florida made it through camp in decent health in 2014 after the injury ravaged camp of 2013. Fans were reading flowery updates about practice and personnel. Most Gator fans were confident that the debacle of 2013 was an aberration and the 11-2 campaign of 2012 was the norm. What they witnessed last season felt like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. It just wasn’t what they expected. You really cannot fault those that covered camp for the various Gator outlets. They are, for the most part, Gator fans and want to believe the best of what they see in practices. They were just as optimistic as the fans.
Which brings us to the end of August in 2015. I do not visit a lot of Gator websites, I prefer Gator Country. However, I have liked a few others on Facebook and have seen bits and pieces of their updates throughout Fall camp. I have paid close attention to Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey’s reports at this site and I feel that they have been quite objective this camp. While there have been some glowing updates on certain individual players, there has been clear concern about other aspects of the team. For example, I don’t know how any member of Gator Country could be feeling real comfortable about the passing game right now. That is not to say that our insiders have painted a bleak picture but it is clear that neither quarterback has taken command of the offense and pass drops continue to plague this football team. It is something all fans will watch closely Saturday.
Some of the offensive woes of the last few years seem to remain. There appears to still be a lack of dependable playmakers in the receiving corp. The Gators still seem to be waiting for anybody to step up behind Demarcus Robinson and Brandon Powell at receiver. This might be offset some by the return of Jake McGee at tight end. Getting CJ Worton back from injury should help as well. The departure of running back Adam Lane turned what was a position of depth into a slight question mark but there should be ample talent there barring a rash of injuries. It is impossible to overstate the magnificent job Jim McElwain and his staff have done to find and develop depth along the offensive line. Even with the injury to freshman star Martez Ivey the line should be alright. Most of America has not noticed this which is why you are seeing some of the ridiculous rankings that are out there.
I don’t know about the rest of you but I have nothing but excitement about the prospect of watching this defense take the field. I believe Florida will field the best secondary in all of college football. The defensive line should be quite solid and as long as Antonio Morrison makes it back soon the linebacker unit should be fine as well. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ defense at Mississippi State only averaged giving up 17 points a game last season and that is with the talent he had with the Bulldogs. One would have to believe that he is amazed at the talent he has to work with in Gainesville this season.
So what does all of this mean for the Gator football program not only this season but moving forward? Simply put, until it transpires on the football field nobody knows what to expect this season. What does transpire affects not only this season but will go a long way toward determining just how long it will take for Florida to work its way back up to a spot among the elite of college football. While the 2015 recruiting class is solid so far, to compete at an elite level consistently in the SEC you really need spectacular recruiting classes. The Gators are poised to achieve just that if the remainder of the class fills out as hoped and for that to happen there must be excitement around what recruits see on the field each Saturday. Florida not only needs to win some games but in my opinion they need to look like they are having fun doing it. That all starts Saturday in the Swamp against New Mexico State. I would like to see a Gator team celebrating victory not survival Saturday.
I could make a wild guess here about what I predict the record to be this season, but until we see this team on the field it would be just as accurate to throw a dart at a board. I will say this. I have been nothing but impressed so far with Jim McElwain. I think he has assembled a fantastic staff (which I believe to be the most critical aspect of college football). I think he exudes the right mentality and disposition for success. I think our last coach lacked control of his emotions and it bled into the players themselves. I believe coach Mac exhibits the right balance of fun and discipline. Most importantly, I think he grasps the necessary balance between offense and defense. In the NFL it is really just about winning games. In college football you must also win in a way that makes recruits want to be a part of the program. I am pumped about this upcoming season and my recommendation is this: CAUTIOUS OPTOMISM.