The Florida Gators’ hopes and dreams for the 2017 season have completely fallen apart over the last month. A team that expected to be back in the race for a third consecutive SEC Championship appearance now sits at 3-5 after four consecutive conference losses.
A team that started that started the season at No. 17 in the country now finds itself staring a season without a bowl game in the face.
“It’s just part of being a man,” said redshirt junior defensive lineman Khairi Clark. “You’ve got to keep moving forward, you can’t look back and regret anything. You’ve got to focus on the what’s next.”
It can be difficult to move forward after the adversities Florida has faced recently.
Over the last two weeks, the Gators were outscored by Georgia and Missouri by a combined 87-23. In between those two losses, an odd sequence of events led to the departure of former head coach Jim McElwain and left defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to try to pick up the pieces as interim head coach.
That didn’t go over too well on Saturday as Florida lost in embarrassing fashion to a Missouri team that hadn’t won an SEC game all year. The Gators were completely flat and the Tigers made them pay in every aspect of the game.
It may not have been the situation any of the players were asking for or expected coming into this season, but playing without passion is not an acceptable response.
As hard as it is to believe, Florida still has some things to play for as this season closes out.
The first of those being their coaches, many of whom are about to have their lives uprooted with changes on the horizon.
“I hate the way we represented our coaches like that today with this game,” said sophomore linebacker David Reese. “Those guys really care for us and gave us a real good game plan to do what we had to do. It’s sometimes disappointing when everybody doesn’t want to come together and just play for each other. That’s sad to see. We’ve still got a lot to play for.”
If that isn’t enough, their own pride and the future of this program should be. It is not a good feeling to lose back-to-back games by four touchdowns or more, and recent performances shouldn’t be a part of what any player wants to leave as his legacy at Florida.
Along with that, the Gators still have a chance to play in a bowl game with a perfect finish to the season. It won’t be a premier game, but playing in December/January is a lot better than ending a season early.
“They’re very big,” Reese said of the remaining games. “Obviously, we need to go to a bowl game. Since we haven’t gone to one, it’s been awhile. Florida always goes to bowl games. Just holding up tradition. We need to play our hardest, play out, do what we can do to get this good motivation for the next year.”
The remainder of this season has many more implications than what meets the eye. It will affect the way recruits and the rest of the college football world see this program and it will affect the attitude Florida takes into the 2018 season.
There will obviously be new leadership next year, but many of the same players will still remain. The character of this team now will carry over in the years to come.
It may not be a lot, but the Gators still have things to prove and play for in 2017.