For the second straight season the Florida Gators are in a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s been a quick turnaround for a program that had missed bowl games entirely in two of the previous five seasons before Dan Mullen’s arrival.
Playing in a bowl game is great for the players. The season is long and taxing and bowl games provide a vacation, bowl gifts, and the opportunity to be a team for a couple more weeks. It’s also an opportunity for younger players to get ready for their future.
Florida practiced four times in Gainesville before breaking for the holidays. Those four practices were developmental, with some of the veteran players getting most if not all of the practice off.
“These practices are everything,” offensive tackle Stone Forsythe said. “It’s like an early spring practice, basically. When we were back up on campus there were a lot of younger guys getting reps and the older guys getting rest they needed from the season, a long season.”
As Forsythe said the first four practices were spent largely working in new players or guys that haven’t gotten many reps throughout the season. It’s not a waste either. The NCAA rules allow for players to participate in four games without ruining their redshirt status, meaning guys like Lloyd Summerall, Ty’Ron Hopper, Nay’Quan Wright can all play in the Orange Bowl while maintaining their redshirt. It’s a huge opportunity for those players to get meaningful reps now because their time will soon come.
“The two weeks leading up to it, you kind of get some developmental practices for young players,” Dan Mullen said. “It’s huge because you’re talking about guys that now are transitioning from ‘Hey, I was on the scout team, I was getting a look or really a minor role,’ but this spring they’re guys we’re able to count on and be big, major players for us heading into next season and that kind of gives them a jumpstart into that, being able to get back in January to next year’s team and start the offseason program.”
Not to say that the bowl game itself is meaningless — winning a New Year’s Six bowl game or even being in it is great for the program and for recruiting — but at the end of the day, if you’re not in the playoff, the best thing you’re going to get out of the bowl season is getting the future ready.
The Gators will hit the practice field on Thursday at Barry University for their fifth practice and before that, they’ll digest Virginia tape at the Intercontinental Hotel on Biscayne Boulevard. They want to win the game and that’s the goal but the coaching staff is balancing the present and the future.
“It means a lot, it’s going to help for their future,” Stiner said of what these bowl practices mean to younger players. “Just like all of our bowl game prep, a lot of the younger guys got a lot of reps, so it’s just preparing them for their future.”