The Florida Gators Are Almost Almost There
Of all the almost-ness in the SEC East, the almost-ness of Florida should be the most alarming. Georgia fans won’t like hearing that any more than I like writing it, but the Gators really aren’t that far off. But the narrative around the program is somehow lumped into that of Georgia and Tennessee despite more cause for optimism.
Will Muschamp was not a great coach. No one (except maybe the administration at South Carolina) would make that argument. But he took his team to a BCS Bowl in his second season at Florida. He went 5-3 against his two biggest rivals (Georgia and Tennessee). He never lost to the Volunteers (I guess we’ve already decided that Florida’s 11-game winning streak in that rivalry is just finished?). He beat the tar out of a top-10 Georgia team just weeks before getting fired. He drew an insanely difficult schedule. He played 18 ranked opponents during his tenure. LSU is on the schedule every year; Alabama was on there twice; FSU was peaking; etc.
Did he succeed at the level Florida fans expect? Obviously not. But he had more success than he gets credit for. He averaged seven wins per season at Florida. Tennessee has had exactly one season with more than seven wins since Fulmer was canned.
But I’m not making a case for Muschamp’s Gators. I’m (reluctantly) making a case for Jim McElwain’s Gators. Because guess what: that guy won 10 games in his first season and won the division in question.
It was rarely pretty, but he found ways to win ugly ball games in the same way Butch Jones finds ways to lose them. He won on the road in a close game against Kentucky. He won at home in dramatic fashion against Tennessee. He beat the ever-living tar out of Ole Miss (ranked third in the nation at that point). He crushed Mizzou on the road. He embarrassed Georgia and all but ended Richt’s tenure. He survived against Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
The wheels came off late in the year. No denying that. Getting blown-out by Florida State, losing to Alabama in the conference championship game and losing a bowl in embarrassing fashion is no way to go out. But know what’s worse than losing an SEC Championship game? Not appearing in one. So score that one to Mac’s tally.
Of the three teams in contention in the East, Florida was the best last season—by record, by divisional finish, by head-to-head competition, you name it. And coaching staff stability should benefit Florida where it might hurt Georgia. And a relatively recent history of winning (2012 BCS Bowl, 2015 SEC Championship Game) is something Tennessee players can’t relate to. Seriously. The last time Tennessee went to a BCS-caliber bowl (not sure what they’re called now) was the Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2000.
Florida is almost almost a good team. And compared to the rest of the East, Florida might actually look good.
That’s all I got/