For anyone who has read my work throughout this fall, you likely know that entering the season, I wasn’t very high on the Florida Gators. And when I say “Not very high,” that’s really just a nice way of saying that I thought they’d suck. As in, “lucky to get back to seven regular season wins,” kinda suck.
And reflecting back, can you totally blame me?
Understand, it wasn’t just that Florida was bad last year, because ultimately everyone has bad seasons. My concern was who the Florida Gators become: An entitled, largely passionless bunch, which played three ineffective quarterbacks and had more personality quirks than Jim Carrey in “Me, Myself and Irene.” Say what you want about the previous four years with Tim Tebow under center (and believe me, I said it all), but at the very least when you played the Gators during that time, you know you were in for a fight. Florida might not have won every game, but they did leave it all on the field for 60 minutes, and as fans, it’s hard to ask for much more than that. Fast-forward to last year and it wasn’t the same; quite frankly I don’t know that there were 60 plays the entire season when the Gators gave it their all.
Add all that up, and entering this year, I didn’t see much reason to think things would be better. Florida had a first year, first time coach, and an almost entirely new offensive and defense staff that was implementing completely new schemes which didn’t seem to correlate much with the actual talents of their players. Plus, there were still the quarterback woes from last year. You know how they say “If you have two quarterbacks, you really have none at all?” Well what did that mean for Florida, which played three last year and didn’t get effective play from any? Calling John Brantley the starter was like calling the Kansas City Chiefs the “best team in the AFC West,” last year. If they all suck, what does it matter?
Reflecting back on those last two paragraphs, I still don’t blame myself for thinking the way I did about Florida. I didn’t have them in my preseason Top 25, and quite frankly, I think it was justified…
And now that I got that lengthy intro is out of the way, I’ve got a confession to make: I was wrong. Like totally, 100 percent wrong. I don’t say it often (and certainly not as much as I probably should), so soak it up America. But I couldn’t have been more incorrect on these Florida Gators.
As of Sunday morning, Florida is now 4-0, coming off their most impressive win of 2011 at Kentucky, with the final score of 48-10 not doing the team total justice. Florida was not only the bigger, faster and stronger team, but also the one that played with more heart. They got up early and never took their foot off the gas, finishing with an impressive 520 yards of total offense, and not allowing a single point after the intermission. It wasn’t just a victory for Florida, but sheer domination.
Now let’s get to the fun part, and start looking ahead. Because with back to back games coming up for the Gators against Alabama and LSU, I’m warning you, don’t look past the Gators. That doesn’t mean I think they’ll beat either of those teams. But I don’t think they’ll get pushed over either.
Starting with the offense, it looks roughly 50,000 times better than it did last year (All numbers approximate). For whatever I’ve said in the past about Charlie Weis (and let me tell ya, I’ve said it all), this is a completely different unit, with a completely different attitude. To his credit, Weis has taken the talent that Urban Meyer left behind, and run with it- literally. Florida is ninth in the country with over 259 yards per game on the ground, thanks to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, who’ve combined for over 700 yards and six touchdowns. Again, all that doesn’t necessarily mean that Florida will light up the scoreboard against Alabama or LSU. At the very least, they will be better than last year though.
Then there’s Brantley, who admittedly, I’ve had some fun with through the years. Again though, can you blame me? Clearly the guy was never a fit in Meyer’s spread-option attack; really, the two went together like oil and water. Brantley spent most of last year running for his life, and when he did try to throw the ball vertically, it usually ended up in the hands of the other team. He finished 2010 with more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine), numbers that are so etched in my brain, I didn’t even have to look them up.
Well my, oh my, what a difference a year makes. While the numbers don’t entirely show it, Brantley is so much better this year it’s laughable. The guy is way more confident, a much better decision maker when he is forced to throw the ball, and carries the “I got this” swagger that a Florida quarterback should walk around with. Want to know the biggest testament to Brantley’s improvement? How about the fact that when he went out with injury last night, Florida fans were actually concerned? Had he gotten hurt last year, they’d have been dancing in the aisles, and doing a Tim Tebow like prayer that Brantley would be out the rest of the season.
And finally, there’s the defense. As much as Weis has affected the offense, Will Muschamp has done the same on that side of the ball, and it shows, not only with their production (allowing just 8.7 points per game), but in their confidence too. Simply put, these guys look like a Florida defense again. Their line is blowing people off the ball, the linebackers are making all sorts of plays in the open field, and for whatever experience the secondary lacks, they make up for it, by always being in the right place at the right time.
So now let’s quickly chat about next week and beyond.
I don’t know if Florida will beat Alabama or LSU, nobody does. Truthfully, my guess is that they probably won’t.
But isn’t the fact that they’re even being discussed with those teams, even mentioning the possibility that they’ll be in the game with them a testament to how far the program has come in such a short period of time? To Meyer’s credit he brought in all this current talent, and now Muschamp, Weis and company are coaching it up. And that combination is a scary proposition, especially as this team only seems to continue to get better by the week.
Florida isn’t totally where they want to be right now, I get that.
But really, isn’t it better than where it was?
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.