by David Parker
With the regular season full now in the rear view mirror, it’s a good time to take a quick inventory of things we learned around college football. Here are five things that we added to our knowledge bank in 2018:
1) One thing we all learned this year was how Urban Meyer’s “dream job” went down the crapper. When he took the gig at Ohio State, I predicted he would flame out much the same way he did at Florida, and would use the same health issue as an excuse. I gave him 4 years. Well he almost doubled my guess, but he finally fulfilled the prediction. I was also a little off in saying that he would never win a national title as a Buckeye, but if the playoff committee would have done their job and been fair to Baylor or TCU in 2014, I would have had that part right. While I was not the only person who had a countdown clock for Meyer’s implosion in Ohio, I don’t know if any of us imagined that the scandal that would usher him out would be as ugly and disgraceful as it turned out to be. Getting caught cheating or being surpasses by another coach, Saban-style, in the Big 10 were the odds-on favorites. There were more hard feelings among Gator fans than could be measured for the way Urban departed Florida, doused the dumpster with gasoline and tossed in a lit book of matches on his way out of town, and spent most of his time since then bad-mouthing the school that gave him the platform to create his coaching legend. But I don’t think anyone could say at this point that he didn’t, I the end, get what he deserved. I don’t think the slate is clean, but at least it is gratifying to know that he paid a high price, the price of a fatally tarnished legacy, when all was said and done (assuming all is actually said and done).
2) As mentioned, one of the theories on Urban Meyer’s demise was that a better coach was going to come along and whip him and send him out of town with his tail between his legs. Much as many Gator fans believe he was run out of the SEC by Nick Saban. Accurate or not, that notion appeared to take shape in one Jim Harbaugh when he was hired in December 2014. Boy was that an air ball. In 2018 we learned that after four years, big bad Jim Harbaugh still can’t win any game that counts and still can’t beat any quality opponent.
3) We learned that no matter how many 5-star players Kirby Smart puts on his payroll, he will always find a way to throw away the big game with terrible game day coaching. As frustrating as it is to see Georgia ascend up the ranks with a 2-year head start over the Dan Mullen regime, it has been at least equally gratifying to see this cheating little imp not only get his comeuppance every year, but always at the expense of his own arrogance and stupidity. They used to call it Clemsoning. Now they can call it Kirbying.
4) We certainly learned this year that Dan Mullen can coach with the best of them, and he is a perfect program manager fit for Florida. But we really already knew this, we just maybe needed reminding. What we looked to learn for the first time is how Dan would recruit as the head coach at an elite place like UF. We got an exciting glimpse in a very short stretch last year when he essentially won Early Signing Day, a major coup for a first year coach with so little time to work. But this was his first full recruiting cycle. Although still playing catch-up to the established staffs who have been recruiting Florida footprint prospects for 3-4 years at least, recruits were able to see a full year of Dan the Man’s product on the field, and the results have been thus far very promising. Great players committed and a gaggle of elite players visiting and deciding on whether Florida is their new home.
But being Gator fans, even in the wake of a euphoric stretch of a few days where multiple elite kids from the 2020 and 2021 classes committed to the good guys and two great players at critical offensive line positions flipped commitments from Miami to Florida, the recruiting buzz is always teetering on the brink of collapse. The McElchamp era has left emotional scars so deeply dug into Gator Nation’s hearts that they collectively can’t enjoy today without feeling the strangling grip of fear that something cataclysmic is about to happen. Any. Second. Now. Thus we saw the Gator celebration of an amazing recruiting weekend shut down faster than a dental practice in Knoxville. All because a couple uncommitted prospects who have been rumored to be leaning toward Florida now are rumored to be leaning toward Miami. One is a defensive end, a position where our recruiting board is overflowing in every direction, but the other is a tight end, where we are working no other prospects this year. So stress level is particularly high over the prospect of “missing” on him.
Well here is where I suggest we all take a breath and relax and not sweat any single or even pair of prospects. Our recruiting class is going to be good. Really good. Don’t know who will fill every spot, but as long as we don’t obsess over who we miss, we’re all going to be VERY happy with the final class. As for the tight end position, I certainly hope we get our man, but if he chooses a different school, we will be okay at tight end without signing one this cycle. Except for the very rare (and truly elite) guys that are utilized in high school like they will be in college, tight ends coming into college are about as raw as any position gets. I know we’re in the age of specialization and we have a couple really bad nightmares from the Muschamp days of converted defensive ends who couldn’t catch a cold (that was more a problem of an idiot coach making them the primary receivers with the game on the line, even though he knew damn well they couldn’t catch a butterfly with a bazooka)…but I’m still of the opinion that tight ends are made in college, not high school. Give me a big wide receiver with room to grow, or an athletic 2-way player that maybe starts out at DE/OLB, and give them good coaching and you can churn out all-conference type tight ends on a regular basis without snagging any supposedly plug-and-play tight ends out of high school. And how often are even the supposed plug-and-play tight ends actually ready to play college ball early, anyway?
5) Another thing we discovered this year was about Gator fans, or at least some of them. Maybe it was predictable with the continued dominance of Alabama and the emergence of Georgia looking like they might be starting a similar dominant run alongside them, and of course the continuing powerhouse run of Clemson. You see the common thread? All programs well-known to vary between the dirtiest recruiters in the business to outright cash, car and housing machines for recruits and their families as illegal inducements to play football for them.
Mix these impressive and worrisome runs with the horrible demise and enduring floundering of the Florida program, and you have the emergence of a disturbing meme: if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, and if Florida doesn’t cheat along with them, they’re permanently relegated to second class citizens with an iron ceiling preventing any sniff of SEC or national championships.
This attitude that numerous Gator fans have, that our only option is to cheat or be losers and also-rans…and not only that but many have been actively advocating it, professing they actually want UF to evacuate all its character and morality, both as a football program and a university, to become what we abhor…I vacillate between being surprised and being disgusted, but at all times just very, very disappointed.
So let me go on record right now on the subject. I would rather have a losing program than to cheat. I’ll go that one better: I’d rather they take the entire universe of college football, my favorite sport and spectator event on Earth, and do away with it completely, than to concede it to this mentality that cheating like the best cheater in the game is what every program should aspire to do.
Be careful the men you are creating in these programs, and be careful the children you are teaching when they hear this sort of sacrilege from adults.
Perhaps I should not be surprised that so many people don’t care about integrity, character, or honesty, let alone sportsmanship, but I like to think that Gator Nation is different, a cut above the rest. That it’s an enclave of decency in a college sports world where rapists, child molesters and wife beaters are harbored and shielded and victims vilified; where other schools take recruits to strip clubs and buy them prostitutes and are busted not just by the NCAA but by Federal law enforcement agencies…and where the fans of all of these programs not only stand by them for doing these things, they cheer even louder. If I’m wrong about that, if Florida is just another one of the bums breaking every rule and law they can get away with for a little success on the field, please allow me to continue to live in ignorance.
After looking back on the season a little, why not get really crazy and project how the team will do next year. Obviously, there are far too many variables left to sort out – the recruiting class, spring practice, off-season workouts, another year in the strength & conditioning program, incoming transfers, etc. – to make any meaningful projections for a season a full year in the future. But who cares? It’s down time before bowl season starts, so let’s give rationality a holiday.
While it’s hard to project if we will be better, less good or about the same, I have a strong inkling that we will be improved overall as a team with better quarterback play, most skill players returning, Marco Wilson returning to make ours the best secondary in the country (again) and some really good talent coming off redshirt seasons. We lose a few key players here and there, mostly on the offensive line, but this year’s punishers and protectors were not driven by talent but by coaching and strength & conditioning, and that coaching and strength & conditioning will still be here. It remains to be seen if we will lose our two best defensive linemen (to go along with our third-best defensive lineman, who is a senior), but if we lose both, it is hard not to see a step back there, but I don’t see as big a drop as many do. Again simply because we will have so many kids benefitting from another year in the system, another year being developed by very good coaches, and another year in Coach Savage’s strength & conditioning program.
So what if we are better, though, if our record doesn’t reflect it? Let’s break that record down…
I don’t care what happens, playing Miami in Orlando should be a win for us. Mark Richt famously doesn’t have his teams ready early in the year, and we are just better than them up and down the roster and much better coached. UT-Martin and Towson are automatics, and Kentucky isn’t beating us two in a row (if it weren’t so early in the new regime, we never would have lost to them last year).
There’s 4 wins.
Tennessee isn’t beating us in Gainesville, and neither is Vandy or FSU. And Missouri won’t have their NFL Day 1 draft pick at QB, so we will beat them on the road. Muschamp will never beat Florida again, you can bet on that.
There’s 9 wins.
That leaves Auburn at home, LSU in Baton Rouge, and UGA in Jax. To my dismay, we play the three toughest opponents next year within a 4-game stretch over 5 weeks (a mutual bye before UGA). Hard to know what Auburn will be, with their coach basically the FHCIW (Fired Head Coach-In-Waiting).
I think we can win 2 of those games, but even if we only win 1, that’s a 10-win regular season, with possibly a trip to Atlanta in the mix, then the bowl or playoff games if we actually get to Atlanta and beat Alabama. Who knows how good we will be by the end of the year? Beating Georgia and/or Alabama are obviously the biggest difficulties in 2019, but Dan is going to start beating them both soon. May as well be next year.
So I definitely see a path to a 1-game regular season improvement in the W/L balance. We may not get there, but it’s not out of the question by any stretch. Anything beyond that is all gravy.
Not a bad outlook for the second year of the biggest rebuilding job the program has seen in nearly thirty years.
Chomps from the GC Staff & Columnists —
First off, Florida’s official visit weekend was a successful weekend for the most part. The biggest news was the Gators were able to get Tyron Hooper back to being a solid commit with the Gators despite a recent push from South Carolina.
The one guy to watch out of the weekend is FSU offensive line commit Dontae Lucas who is listening and giving the Gators a legit shot to flip him. Lucas will visit FSU this weekend so Florida will have to worry about him shutting it down but heading into the weekend, Florida has a good shot.
This weekend will be a big one as the Gators host RB Trey Sanders and linemen Evan Neal and Deyavie Hammond on official visits. The Gators are the team to beat for Hammond but have some work to do with Sanders and Neal. Sanders is the guy that the Gators could very well gain momentum with this weekend as his brother being on campus already is a big deal.
NICK DE LA TORRE
First off congratulations to Steve Spurrier on being inducted into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame. Spurrier played in one Sugar Bowl (1966) and coached in five. He was named the Sugar Bowl MVP in 1966 despite the Gators losing the game.
Some Peach Bowl week info for you guys as well. Obviously the game is the 29th but both teams will arrive in Atlanta on the 23rd. That means the players, coaches, staffers and everyone in the football program is away from home and family for Christmas. The Peach Bowl holds a banquet style dinner for everyone with traditional Christmas food. It’s not the same but I thought it was a nice touch for the Peach Bowl to try and make Christmas special for the teams and staffs.
The rest of the week is comprised of competitions between the teams. The Peach Bowl has a wrestling style belt that the teams compete for and the winning team takes home the belt and bragging rights. They call it the “Battle for the Bowl Week Belt.”
Florida and Michigan will compete at the Andretti Indoor Karting facility with high-speed supercarts on a unique track. There is a basketball competition, I don’t think a game but more of a shooting competition like horse, don’t need anyone spraining an ankle playing basketball in the hotel ballroom on a Thursday night.
The players are also getting bowl gifts, as every bowl does. This year the players get a $300 Vanilla Visa Gift Card, A Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Fossil watch, a Mophie Powerstation XL (estimated retail $69.95), an Amazon Echo Dot ($49.95) and a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl souvenir football.
Every year I do score projections using a formula I made for all bowl games. You can find this year’s set up on Gator Country right now.
While calculating them, many games go by without me reacting much. “Oh, Fresno State should beat Arizona State? That’s nice.” However, some games do pop out to me, first and foremost those of Florida and its rivals.
It struck me just how bad a year it is for those rivals. Tennessee is once again locked out of bowl season, but for the first time in my lifetime, so is Florida State. Miami is stuck playing in likely cold if not downright awful weather in New York City against a Wisconsin team that will be in its element. Only Georgia got a nice situation with their New Year’s Six game, but the Gators also are in a NY6 contest. This bowl season is one where it really is great to be a Florida Gator, more so than some recent ones.
The best part of the week!
I know my insider tidbits have been pretty injury report-heavy but that seems to be most of the talk around the team as they try to get some healthy bodies in the frontcourt and Chase Johnson should be ready to go soon if there’s no setbacks, which could be a good thing if you believe some of the rumours swirling around… there is talk that he and his camp are unhappy with the way he’s been kept out and might feel as though it’s an excuse to play him less minutes. I for one think if he’s totally healthy they’d be happy to play him a ton, so I’m hoping the rumours of his discontentment are untrue. Mike Okauru is another guy whose decreased minutes from last year to now has raised some eyebrows but he has played well defensively in spurts and should warrant some more looks. Some think he is another player with his eye on a possible transfer, but I hope he sticks around for the long run.
That’s all, folks!
We’ll send you off with our photo of the week below. Until then, see you in your inbox next Wednesday. : )
All the best,
Your friends at Gator Country…where it’s GREAT to be a FLORIDA GATOR!