Now that the euphoria of Florida’s stunning win over Georgia has worn off a bit, it’s time to get in touch once again with reality and ask the question that has to be asked: Was beating Georgia so badly a fluke – perhaps a case of fired up Florida meeting overconfident Georgia – or is this the Florida team we can expect to see the next four games?
That the Gators played better in beating Georgia than they have in any game they’ve played since 2012 certainly leads Georgia fans and apologists along with a fair share of Florida faithful to consider the possibility that this was a one-time deal. I’ve heard at least 50 hard core fans tell me they won’t believe in this Florida team until they see another game like the one just played in Jacksonville.
There’s just one problem with that notion. The next three games are Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Eastern Kentucky, games the Gators can win and probably win handily without an effort anything close to what we saw against Georgia. Vanderbilt is 0-5 in the SEC and its three wins are UMass, D1AA Charleston Southern and Old Dominion. You could make an all-star team out of those three and couldn’t come up with a decent third string in the SEC. South Carolina has the worst defense in the country. The Gamecocks have blown two touchdown leads in the fourth quarter of their last three SEC games. Eastern Kentucky is D1AA and while every Gator still smarts from last year’s loss to Georgia Southern, a meteor might land in Lake Alice before that happens two years in a row.
Simply winning the next three games isn’t going to prove much although it will get the Gators bowl eligible and send them to Tallahassee with a 7-3 record. That’s respectable but respectable teams die a thousand deaths at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Gators need to go into that game on a real roll, having stomped the life out of Vandy, South Carolina and Eastern Kentucky.
In beating Georgia, the Gators got away with running the ball 60 times and only throwing one pass in the second half. They were able to do it because Georgia’s defensive brain trust somehow never figured out that Florida ran the exact same play perhaps 40 times. When your execution from all 11 guys on the field is practically flawless, you can get away with lining up and all but telling the other team here we come, stop us if you can and then doing the same thing over and over again.
The next three games leading up to the Florida State game will be all about establishing the Gators as a team that can execute an offensive game plan. They’re going to have to expand the passing game because you can’t expect to simply line up and let the O-line outmuscle every opponent which means Treon Harris is going to have to do something other than hand the ball off and run an occasional quarterback draw. It also means the wide receivers are going to have to prove they can run routes and catch the football.
What we saw against Georgia was the best execution we’ve ever seen of an offense in the Will Muschamp era at Florida. Can the Gators do it again and again and again? That’s going to tell the story of the last month of the season. If the Gators can repeat the process, then Florida fans will be seeing the team they thought they had at the beginning of the year. If they have trouble executing, then we’ll be left with the prevailing thought that this was a fluke.
The only head coaching job Mark Richt has ever held is at Georgia, where he is 132-47 with four games to go in his 14th year on the job, a better record than Vince Dooley had (103-49-5) in the same span of time. Dooley is revered, a Hall of Fame coach who is a true Georgia legend. Richt has a love-hate relationship with Georgia fans and right now, it’s more hate than love after that devastating 38-20 loss to Florida last weekend.
What galls Georgia fans the most is that four different SEC schools – none named Georgia – have won eight national championships in the last 14 years. It’s bad enough that Alabama has won three national titles and LSU two, but arch-rivals Florida (2006 2008) and Auburn (2010) have hoisted the crystal trophy a combined three times.
While others have been winning national titles, Richt has won two SEC titles, the last time in 2005. Even with one stud recruiting class after another, Richt hasn’t gotten the Bulldogs to the highest level and he’s got a losing record – 5-9 – against Florida and he’s 5-6 all time against Steve Spurrier (0-1 at Florida, 5-5 at South Carolina). Richt’s two losses this season are against a Florida team that was thought to be teetering on the verge of total collapse just the day before the game and to South Carolina, which has perhaps the worst defense in all of college football.
It is that inability to get Georgia to a consistent championship level that frustrates the faithful and caused ESPN’s Travis Haney to question if Richt might be the ultimate under-achiever. Haney says that one coach he asked about Richt said, “You can accidentally win nine games there.”
After the Florida loss, Haney wrote, “But things such as that keep happening, and often enough Georgia fans should be irritated by a program that keeps bumping its head on a ceiling that’s been set far too low for far too long.”
Even Atlanta Journal-Constitution blogger Bill King, an unabashed Georgia homer wrote, “Can a football program located in one of the richest talent hotbeds in the nation, and which makes millions of dollars in profits, really be satisfied with being good, but not quite good enough to win championships?”
The three at the top are the same – Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn – but the #4 position in the second college football playoff poll belongs to Oregon of the Pac-12 with Alabama right behind at #5. Oregon and Florida State have the cleanest paths to the final four while Mississippi State still has road games at Alabama and Ole Miss and Auburn has roadies at Georgia and Alabama. We know one thing for certain: whoever emerges as the SEC champion will be in the final four but at this point it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be Mississippi State, Auburn or Alabama.
(1) Mississippi State; (2) Florida State; (3) Auburn; (4) Oregon; (5) Alabama; (6) TCU; (7) Kansas State; (8) Michigan State; (9) Arizona State; (10) Notre Dame; (11) Ole Miss; (12) Baylor; (13) Nebraska; (14) Ohio State; (15) Oklahoma; (16) LSU; (17) Utah; (18) UCLA; (19) Arizona; (20) Georgia; (21) Clemson; (22) Duke; (23) West Virginia; (24) Georgia Tech; (25) Wisconsin
Should you require proof that there are far too many bowl games, consider this. Among the five power conference plus Notre Dame, there are 65 schools. Already more than half – 35 – are bowl eligible with a month to go in the season and those numbers are going to swell as five teams with five wins could earn #6 to become bowl-eligible this weekend. That does not include the 13 already bowl-eligible teams from the smaller conferences where another 14 schools are within one will of invitation to play in the post season.
One win away: Kentucky (5-4)
One win away: North Carolina State (5-4)
Big 12 (5): Kansas State (7-1); TCU (7-1); Baylor (7-1); Oklahoma (6-2); West Virginia (6-3)
One win away: Oklahoma State (5-4)
Pac 12 (7): Oregon (8-1); Arizona State (7-1); UCLA (7-2); Arizona (6-2); Utah (6-2); Southern Cal (6-3); Washington (6-3)
Independents (1): Notre Dame (7-1)
One win away: BYU (5-4)
American Athletic (1): East Carolina (6-2)
Do you think the Gators are capable of executing at the same level we saw against Georgia the rest of the season?
I was working at The Record Bar on University Avenue after school in 1969 when Al Hospers introduced me to the music of blues artists such as John Mayall, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. One afternoon when the store was particularly quiet, he put on a Paul Butterfield album and I heard that harmonica for the first time. I was hooked and have remained hooked on Butterfield for more than 40 years. He died much too young of heroin abuse, but his music lives on. This is the full album “East-West” from 1966. I couldn’t settle on one song so I’m giving you the whole album today.