By: Rajan Nanavati
All the folks in Gainesville believed they finally had things right this time.
The University of Florida brought home the coach they should have never let leave in Dan Mullen, and he led the Gators to both a 6-1 record through the first weekend in October, and two quality wins against ranked SEC teams in Mississippi State and LSU.
Finally, the Gators were back where they thought they belonged: in the conversation about a potential SEC championship.
But as the famous Nationwide Insurance commercial tagline warns us: life comes at you fast.
By the middle of October, the Gators had risen to the #9 ranking in the nation. And by the end of the first weekend of November, the Gators had lost two-straight games by a combined score of 73-34, but even more alarmingly, started to find themselves in the exact same place they were during the forgettable tenures of Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain: sprinting on the treadmill of SEC mediocrity.
We’ve quickly realized that said 6-1 start was little more than a mirage that masked the ultimate truth that Gators’ students, fans, and alumni don’t want to hear: the University of Florida is now a mediocre football program.
Not only have the folks in Gainesville seen the Gators’ knocked off their perch of supremacy that they held when Urban Meyer was head coach, but they saw virtually every other program in the SEC – starting with Alabama, and running down the list with programs including Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and even Kentucky recently – surpass them, in terms of their prominence within the conference
In theory, you could at least excuse Florida’s loss to the University of Georgia two weekends ago, considering most people believe that Georgia might have the second-most talented team in the nation, only behind Alabama.
But last Saturday’s game against unranked Missouri was supposed to be a tune-up game, instead of a 21-point loss. Yet the Gators’ offense was largely non-existent and the defense was picked apart, only further planting the seeds of discord within the program.
There were rumors of disrespectful behavior by quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was already becoming persona non-grata among the Gators fanbase, towards the coaching staff, and some insiders believed it could lead to a near-mutiny on the team, considering he’s already not exactly a Heisman-caliber player. Unsurprisingly, Mullen benched the wildly ineffective Franks in Florida’s loss to Mizzou.
But the whole ordeal around Franks is likely nothing more than a footnote in the saga of Florida’s fall from grace in the post-Meyer era.
The Gators can still recruit blue-chip talent, but they’re having a much harder go of things, considering said talent could go to virtually any other school in the SEC and likely have a better chance of winning something meaningful. Florida still produces NFL-caliber talent, but it’s not nearly as elite and voluminous as it once was under Meyer or Steve Spurrier.
More to the point: University of Florida students, alumni, and fans need to accept reality: the Gators have a decent – at best — football program, but it’s not one that’s going to be competing for SEC Championships anytime soon, let alone National Championships.
That era is over, and it’s time to move on.