You’d Think The Gators Are A Bad Team

ATLANTA, GA — If you listen to the talking heads of the airways speak about the University of Florida, you might get the impression that the Gators are college football’s version of the blind date. You know the one. You ask what does this incredible girl look like and the reply is always “Oh man, she’s got a great personality.” And of course, in real life she’s a regular Fido.

Nobody wants to give the Gators any love these days. All they want to talk about is that the Gators can’t be all that good because they don’t win pretty. Style points seem to be the rage and while the Gators are winning, they just don’t do it with enough panache to impress the talking heads and prominent national writers that have spent the last month trashing Florida every chance they get. Nothing Florida does seems to be good enough for these guys. The Gators keep winning against the nation’s toughest schedule but nobody seems to care.

Wasn’t it just three months ago that these same people were saying that any team in the SEC that went undefeated or 11-1 would have to play for the national championship because the SEC is just too darned tough? Aren’t these the same guys that said the Gators would never make it through the gauntlet of Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia without at least two losses? And didn’t some of them predict that Florida would be lucky to go 1-4?

Well, Florida went through that murderer’s row 4-1 with a single hiccup on the road at Auburn, a game in which Auburn failed to score an offensive touchdown. You’d think going 4-1 against those guys would earn the Gators a measure of respect but listen to the folks doing all the talking and you would never guess Florida finished the regular season at 11-1.

If you listen to the bozos on Atlanta talk radio Thursday you would think that it’s the Gators that are heading to the Emerald Bowl to play UCLA or to the Frostbite Bowl or whatever it is that they call the game on the Smurf Turf in Boise where the opponent is that noted college football power Nevada.

So how is it that the Gators are playing Arkansas Saturday in the Georgia Dome for the Southeastern Conference championship and an automatic BCS berth? Could it be that Florida is a good football team? Could it be that the Gators are a team that does whatever it takes to win and simply gets the job done? But if that’s so, then why isn’t that good enough for the national media?

Urban Meyer’s job at the University of Florida is to win football games. There is no manual or book of instructions that says the wins have to be pretty. In his two years at Florida, the Gators are 20-4. He’s 59-12 in his six years as a head coach. He won at Bowling Green which was a dead end job before he got there. He went 12-0 in his second year at Utah, bullying his way into the BCS, which did everything it could to keep the Utes out. Nobody goes 12-0 at Utah but Urban Meyer did.

Maybe the wins at Florida haven’t been as artistic and exciting as they were at Bowling Green and Utah, but let’s face it, it’s a teensy bit more difficult to score against LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and teams like that than it is against Kent State, Wyoming and the like. At Bowling Green and Utah, Meyer’s teams won with pizzazz. At Florida, he’s had to rely on defense and special teams as much as the offense. You don’t win in the SEC with a one-dimensional team nor do you win with a team that’s inept in any one area. Florida’s defense is top ten in Meyer’s two years and the special teams that were so routinely burned the three years prior to his arrival are among the best in the country.

Critics like to rag that Florida’s offense hasn’t burned up the SEC in the Meyer era. They’ve made Meyer and his offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, their personal whipping boys but nobody wants to talk about the fact that the Gators have faced FIVE top 25 defenses in each of the last two seasons. This season, Florida has faced as many top 25 defenses as Michigan (3), Notre Dame (2) and Southern Cal (0) combined.

The Florida offense, for all its flaws and inconsistencies, still averages more yards (398.2) than Notre Dame (398), Southern Cal (393.3) and Michigan.

All the critics say that the Gators don’t ever throw the ball down the field yet Florida averages 8.75 yards per pass attempt and 13.67 yards per completion. Michigan averages 7.68 yards per attempt and 12.38 yards per completion. Southern Cal averages 7.62 yards per attempt and 12.4 per completion. Notre Dame averages just 7.53 yards per attempt and just 11.95 per completion.

Herbie says that Michigan’s offense is much better than Florida’s. We also can’t forget that Charlie Cheeseburger coached the Bradys — Tom at New England and Quinn at Notre Dame. Southern Cal has had two Heisman quarterbacks in the last four years.

As for Florida’s quarterbacks, we all know that Chris Leak can’t run and Tim Tebow can’t throw, right? So why have they combined for a quarterback rating of 155.2 while Notre Dame (with Charlie Cheeseburger calling the plays and Brady Quinn chunking) is 150.6, Michigan is at 144.5 and Southern Cal is 143.2.

One very prominent Florida writer recently wrote that the Gators couldn’t stay within three touchdowns of Ohio State. Was he talking about those same Ohio State Buckeyes that darn near took a hit to the Fighting Zookers of Illinois? You’ll have a hard time convincing me that any team that struggles to beat the Zookers 17-10 is three touchdowns better than the Florida Gators or any top SEC team.

Well, what about Herbie’s November prom date, Michigan? The mighty Wolverines struggled (17-3) to beat those same Northwestern Wildcats that lost to New Hampshire. And those same Ball State Cardinals that lost to North Dakota State took the Wolverines to the mat before losing 34-26.

Southern Cal? The lone loss is to unranked Oregon State. Among the Beavers’ four losses is a 42-14 job at the hands of Boise State.

The numbers prove that Florida is far from the unworthy, undeserving team that the media has spent the last month trashing but even if the Gators beat Arkansas Saturday it is highly unlikely that they will get a shot at Ohio State in Glendale for the national championship. Florida is facing an Arkansas team that lost by 36 points to Southern Cal. Florida would need to beat Arkansas by a wider margin than Southern Cal did and there’s not much chance that will happen. The Gators would also need Southern Cal to struggle against UCLA and again, there’s not much chance that happens against UCLA’s sieve of a defense.

Since Southern Cal has played for three national championships, winning two, in the last three years, a case can be made that the Trojans deserve their shot at Ohio State. It’s hard to argue with success but we don’t hear the pundits talking up this very good Southern Cal team and letting the Trojans stand on their own merits. We do hear them talking down the Florida Gators as if they are the blind date with the great personality and that’s just wrong.

We have no playoff system that will allow the Gators to prove their worth on the field, just a beauty contest with rules that constantly change. Florida can win Saturday and the Gators can win a bowl game in about a month. The Gators probably can’t win the beauty contest but at least 13-1 might shut up the critics that think artistry outweighs winning.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.