Florida Gator fans are quite often accused of being spoiled, to which I say, SO WHAT? What is wrong with spoiled? What is spoiled really? In my opinion spoiled just means that things have gone well for you for so long that you have become used to it and that would seem to be a very good thing. Of course, how you act upon it shows who and what you really are but that is a story for another day.
Gator fans are spoiled because the Florida program has reached – and, for the most part maintained – a a level where anything less than an appearance in the SEC Championship game is considered a disappointment. Even so, last year’s 11-2 season last year without a trip to Atlanta still has to be looked upon as a very good season. I would have called it a great season had the Gators shown up ready to play in New Orleans and finished it off with a Sugar Bowl victory. There is no way to gloss over that debacle in the Big Easy.
Which brings us to where we are now: about to start the 2013 football season. What should we expect? What would be considered a successful season? As I stated above, anything short of a trip to Atlanta will be disappointing, but we also have to be at least somewhat realistic. While the Gators return an extremely talented team, so do two East Division rivals. Both Georgia and South Carolina come into the season ranked ahead of the Gators in both polls and both would seem to have an easier path to Atlanta than the Gators.
What will it take to reach Atlanta? Others have broken down the season game by game so I will not do so again here. For one thing, the non-conference schedule does not affect who plays in the SEC Championship Game. And, let’s face it, if the Gators are not ready to handle Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Vandy. then they probably do not need to be worrying about championship games. That does not mean they won’t lose one of those games, nor does losing one of them take Atlanta out of the realm of possibility. But, for the sake of discussion let’s assume that the Gators play to their abilities and take care of business in those games. If that happens – from an SEC point of view – the season comes down to three football games: LSU, UGA and South Carolina.
LSU: Like the rest of you, I have heard all of the so-called experts talk about how much talent LSU has coming back, even though it seems like a third of their team departed last January. I just do not see it. Maybe I am just a skeptical kind of person but you have to prove to me that any team can overcome that much attrition. I absolutely refuse to give LSU the nod over a team that not only won more games last season, but also won the head-to-head matchup. LSU will have the advantage of playing this year’s game in Baton Rouge and there is no way to discount the home field, but the Gators proved they could win on the road last year. Barring some bizarre turn of events evolving around that rabbit’s foot Les Miles has, I just do not see a way that LSU wins this game.
Georgia: Like the rest of you, I absolutely enjoyed that incredible run we had over the Bulldogs for twenty plus years, maybe even more so since I live behind enemy lines and I am constantly surrounded by their fanatics. During that stretch from 1990-2010, the Gators were in their heads to the point that even when Georgia had comparable talent, they still expected to lose to Florida. As soon as the first thing went wrong, they accepted the inevitable and collapsed. The edge has diminished somewhat with Georgia winning the last two and if the Gators don’t end the streak, there is that worse case scenario that the pendulum swings the other way for awhile. I remember those days when it was the Gators who went to Jacksonville each year not only wondering what would go wrong but expecting it. Make no mistake about it, Florida needs to win this game this season. Badly. Georgia returns almost everybody from an offense that was among the league’s best last season, including two excellent running backs and a seasoned senior quarterback that will shatter nearly every SEC passing record this year. That said, the Gator defense slowed Georgia down considerably and if not for the Gators generosity – six turnovers can only be called generous – the Gators probably would have won and punched their ticket to Atlanta for a showdown with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Florida must come into the game in Jacksonville calm, focused and ready to play if there is to be a reversal of fortune this year.
Since Georgia replaces nearly all of its defensive starters and Florida expects to be vastly improved on offense, this is a real opportunity for the Gators to come away with a win. Florida should be able to score, so if turnovers are avoided and the defense plays with the same effort and focus as last year, this is a game for the taking. Still, it’s a rivalry game and a huge one at that. Therefore I say it’s 50-50.
SOUTH CAROLINA: This is the game that really concerns me. South Carolina has the easiest draw from the SEC West of the top three in the East. Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in all of college football. Nothing short of a catastrophic injury will prevent Clowney from being the number one pick in next year’s NFL draft. Conner Shaw has developed into a very solid, if not spectacular, quarterback and Dylan Thompson gives the Gamecocks something that nobody else in the SEC East has – a viable option if the starting quarterback goes down. Steve Spurrier claims to be confident in the running backs and receivers he has on this team. Bruce Ellington is a bona fide playmaker at wide receiver and there is depth at running back, including former Gator commit Mike Davis.
To make matters worse, the Gamecocks have a home game against Mississippi State and then a bye week before the Gators come to Columbia. They will not be as tired, nor will they be as battered as they were when they came to The Swamp last season. Spurrier is one of the best coaches in all of college football at getting the most out of the talent he has. I believe that the Gators are the more talented team but that may not be enough in this game. At this point in time, it’s hard not to see South Carolina favored when the Gators come rolling into town, but that’s weeks away and a lot can change in that span of time.
Will Muschamp has a plan to ensure the Gators will be among the nation’s elite college football teams year in and year out. Winning eleven regular season games with what he had to work with last season was one of the best coaching jobs I have ever seen. Winning that many games this year might be an even tougher task because the Gators have a few very big holes to fill on the defense, but the talent is certainly available on this Florida roster. The offense MUST be better and more balanced than 2012 if Florida expects to play in Atlanta in early December. Regardless of what the final record and accomplishments turn out to be, I am as excited about the start of a Gator season as I can remember.
For the record, I like being spoiled and I want it to continue.