The last year the Florida Gators had a losing record was 1979 — well, until the 2013-14 college football season, that is. In fact, entering last season, you’d have to go all the way back to 1990 to find the last time Florida was not playing in a bowl game.
So, to say Florida had a bad year would be like saying the Chicago Cubs have not won the World Series in quite some time — a huge understatement (Cubs jokes never seem to get old, even for a fan of the team). Unlike the Cubs, who seem to always be in rebuilding mode these days, the Gators are loaded with talent in 2014.
The only problem is the fact that Florida plays in the SEC. I hope I’m not the first person you are hearing this from, but the SEC has some very, very good football teams — just look at seven of the last eight BCS title game winners.
Florida will be stacked in 2014, but it wouldn’t be realistic to say that the Gators are going to bounce back and make the first College Football Playoff. Not when it has to go up against teams like Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Florida State. Of course, even if Florida won the SEC East, it would play in the SEC championship game — more than likely resulting in a matchup with Auburn or Alabama.
You may say I am a dreamer, but … not when it comes to Florida winning a title in 2014-15.
Realistic expectations for the Gators in 2014-15? How about an 8-4 record, a bowl appearance and head coach Will Muschamp living to fight another day. Let’s go into more detail with that record:
— Florida starts off with three straight wins (plays against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky)
— Loses to Alabama
— Beats Tennessee
— Upsets LSU, possibly Missouri, but not both
— Goes down against the Dawgs
— Beats Vandy in style
— Upsets South Carolina
— No problem against Eastern Kentucky
— Loses a close one (yes, a close one) to Florida State
That would leave Florida with — you guessed it — eight wins and four losses. Beating LSU, South Carolina and maybe even Missouri may seem like a long shot to many people, but think back to two seasons ago.
Florida entered bowl season with a stellar 11-1 record and basically a nonexistent offense (78th in the nation in points per game). Now come back to today; the Gators have talent all over the field on both sides of the ball, and the defense is definitely not in question:
— Finished eighth in total defense last year (via USATodaySports.com).
— Gave up 21.1 PPG, which was good enough for 15th best in college football (via ESPN.com).
I think you get the point.
Here’s the kicker: QB Jeff Driskel will be healthy (missed nine games last year), AND Florida finally has a new offensive coordinator, former Duke OC Kurt Roper.
Wait … you mean to tell me the old offensive coordinator wasn’t working out? The same one who helped coach Florida to the 110th-ranked passing offense (yards) and 89th rushing offense (yards) in 2013? The team did suffer many injuries, so there is that, but those numbers are unacceptable for a Florida team.
Blame it on Driskel not becoming the star many fans hoped he would be, the injuries, the former offensive coordinator or Muschamp in general, but something had to be done. If the problem wasn’t at OC, then we will see that all year long by simply watching Florida’s offense, and we will also see Muschamp’s hot seat turn into a job opening for a head coach at season’s end.
The bottom line is, if Florida can stay healthy, it will be just fine. Injuries are going to happen as part of the nature of football, but key injuries are what the Gators have to avoid in 2014.
The schedule is brutal (six games against teams currently ranked in the top 25), the new offense will be a question mark until Florida actually puts up points against top defenses, and Driskel has to prove himself. If all else fails, the running game seems to be solid with the top two rushers, Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor, returning; Muschamp always has top defensive teams, and things cannot get much worse than last year. At least not in Gainesville.
Although Florida’s football program has seen the brightest of days, it likely will not be playing in the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff. The Gators will, however, be a much improved team, leaving fans with much to look forward to.