Gators’ history following bye weeks

The 2012 season is obviously not the first time the Florida Gators football team has opened its season with a pristine, 4-0 mark. However, the fact that UF will be enjoying a week off following its 38-0 drubbing of Kentucky is a bit of a new wrinkle in the team’s schedule. For a while, the Gators enjoyed a week off before the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville.

Without a game this weekend, coach Will Muschamp has laid out plans for his student-athletes to both improve from a team standpoint and also to prepare for LSU.

Because no one can be sure what will happen after an extended time away from the gridiron, we at Gator Country decided to take a peek at how the Gators have performed over the last 10 years, both prior to and coming out of their bye weeks.

While, of course, those are no real indication of how this team will hold up heading into its grudge match with LSU in two weeks, there is always something to be gleaned from a little bit of history, so take what you will from this quick study of how three respective Gators coaches have spent the team’s time off.

2002: The Gators began the season ranked No. 6 in the nation, but struggled out of the gate in the Zooker’s first year in command. How many times have Gators fans read a sentence similar to this?

The team struggled with inconsistency in getting stomped in the grillpiece by No. 1 Miami, 41-16, in the second week of the season and then venting their frustrations against No. 4 Tennessee, winning 30-13 in front of 108,722. Seriously, that many people were on hand to watch Ron Zook win a football game. Simply fascinating. Anyways, the team’s Week 9 bye could not have come at a better time after the Gators lost consecutive games to Mississippi and LSU before beating a decent Auburn team in overtime. Over the course of those two losses, however, the team dropped from No. 6-nationally all the way out of the polls altogether before regrouping with two weeks off and upsetting No. 5 Georgia.

2003: Not only did Ron Zook’s Gators finish the season with a second-consecutive 8-5 record and a second-consecutive No. 24 finish in the final AP Polls, but just like in 2002, Florida did not have a bye until the ninth week of the season. At that point, Florida already put together a relatively weak 5-3 record. The eerie similarities between the first two years of the Ron Zook era do not end there. Apparently, Zook was a master at using the team’s bye weeks to his advantage. For the second straight year, the Gators upset a highly-ranked Bulldogs squad in the program’s first game out of the break, this time winning 16-13 against the No. 4 Bulldogs.

The Gators had two weeks to prepare for the final game of the regular season, the team’s annual showdown with Florida State. Unfortunately, Zook could have probably used a third week after UF went down in a close one, losing 38-34 to FSU.

2004: Zook’s third and final year as the face of the Gators program ended with not only another five-loss effort, but no opportunity to show off the type of bye week pride that carried his team to a couple of memorable wins over Georgia. Due to the impending destruction of Hurricane Frances, the Gators’ Week 1 game against Middle Tennessee State was postponed and subsequently rescheduled for the team’s bye week on Oct. 16. Insert a funny joke here about how playing Middle Tennessee State is a bye week in and of itself. Although things may have seemed that way following the 52-16 cakewalk, the fact that Zook’s men lost their next two games, to Mississippi State and to none other than Georgia speaks volumes to the importance of receiving some actual time away from football. In any case, Zook would be spending some time away from the Gators program before Charlie Strong took over for the team’s Peach Bowl loss. Like, a forever amount of time.

2005: Urban Meyer inherited a team loaded with the talent of the Zooker’s solid recruiting classes, including seven key starters returning on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, respectively. Plus, he had the benefit of the team’s traditional, pre-Cocktail Party bye week to game plan. After losing a close, 21-17 game to LSU in rowdy Baton Rouge, Meyer took the two weeks, his first bye week with the big boys of the SEC after leading Utah to a BCS Bowl game, and got Florida ready for Georgia. Yet again, the Bulldogs were entering the Jacksonville matchup with a top-five national ranking, and once again the ‘Dawgs were sent yelping home with their lil’ tails between their legs. Meyer would finish out the season 9-3 and with a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Think anyone was missing Zook at that point? Was anyone ever missing poor ol’ Zook?

2006: The 2006 Florida football season was one of ‘Ones’ for the Gators. Not only did the team finish No. 1 in the nation when all was said done, but they had to overcome the nation’s No. 1 schedule in terms of competitiveness. While they did, of course, win the national championship on the strength of Chris Leak’s arm and Tim Tebow’s legs (not to mention pure awesomeness) they also finished the season with one loss. That one blemish came at the hands of Auburn, and it came one week before the team’s open date. The bye must have really helped lock in these Gators and make them mentally tough, because coming out of it, Florida beat Georgia by a mere seven, Vandy by six and South Carolina by only a teensy-tiny point before pounding Ohio State into the turf to raise that beautiful crystal ball.

2007: The 2007 Gators season was not a letdown by any means, although to an outsider it might be seemed that way, considering the year is sandwiched between two national championship-winning campaigns. Rather, the departure of several key upperclassmen left the team loaded with so many freshmen and sophomores that when Florida went to Ole Miss for the third game of the season, 35 players on the Gators’ 60-man travel roster had never played a road game as collegians. Inexperienced? We think yes. The team really needed their bye week after losing by only three points at home to Auburn and by four on the road at LSU. With the extra time to regroup, the Gators beat Kentucky for the 21st-straight time. But don’t laugh, Gators fans. The team’s 45-37 win came after the Wildcats upset LSU in triple-overtime, and at the point the Tigers were the No. 1-ranked team in the entire country.

2008: The funny thing about the 2008 Gators schedule was that there were actually two bye weeks on the schedule. Tim Tebow and his teammates were able to parlay a Week 3 bye into a big win over Tennessee (what else is new?) but actually suffered the team’s only loss of the season in Week 5 to none other than Ole Miss, 31-30. Can’t make stuff like that up. Following a 51-21 win over LSU, however, the team was able to rest and regroup with another bye in Week 8. The Gators were able to parlay that off week all the way to not only to an SEC Championship Game win over Alabama — which is always sweet — but also to a BCS National Championship over Oklahoma — which is even sweeter.

2009: The 2009 football season saw the Gators resume their standard Week 5 bye following their standard drubbings of a few out-of-conference creampuffs as well as Tennessee and Kentucky. In other words, the team was able to enjoy some rest after beating down four creampuffs. Coming out of the break well-rested and relatively injury-free — Tim Tebow sustained a concussion against Kentucky before the bye — top-ranked Florida was able to dispatch No. 4 LSU, 13-3. Don’t think too many Gators fans would mind a repeat of this scenario in two weeks’ time.

2010: The Gators’ bye week could not have come at a more dire time in former coach Urban Meyer’s final season at the helm. After ripping off four wins to open up the season, Florida was smacked in the face by Alabama in Week 5, to the tune of a 31-6 final score. Like any heavyweight contender sent reeling, the week between games was equivalent to the mere few minutes a boxer is given to recover between rounds, and the team fell to LSU the following week, 33-29. With no off-week, the Gators remained unable to regroup, and the entire country had front-row seats. Meyer’s final team in Gainesville lost to lowly Mississippi State at home, 10-7, before they were able to crawl into hiding for two weeks with a Week 8 bye. The team was able to put on a happy face, but the black eyes and swollen jaw from so many knockout punches would follow them all the way into the 2011 season.

2011: The first open week of first-year coach Will Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville did not do much good. After opening up the season with the standard four wins over the standard four overmatched opponents, Coach Boom and his own overmatched Gators suffered three beat downs in a row at the hands of Alabama, LSU and Auburn. With a 4-3 record heading into the Gators’ bye week, fans were hoping to see some of the coaching adjustments the 2012 team has enjoyed during the halftime breaks of the team’s big wins, but that did not turn out to be the case. After losing to Georgia in the World’s Largest Cocktail Party coming out of the layoff, the team alternated wins and losses the rest of the way to finish with seven wins and posting six losses for the first time since 1987. No fun.

2012: Check back in in two weeks, Gator Nation.