With every single bone-crushing tackle, every interception taken back to the house, and every perfect spiral that darted from the arm of Chris Leak to a Gator receiver last Saturday in the Swamp, you could feel the mood of the previously angst-ridden Gator Nation slowly changing from guarded optimism, to restrained enthusiasm, to outright giddiness by the time Tre Orr streaked into the end zone for the final score.
No, wait…………yes, Florida just scored again on San Jose State.
Anyway, as all of the fans and media rush to declare an imminent resurgence of Florida football back to the prominence that it once enjoyed, there are two words that come to mind as very appropriate for this Gator team: BABY STEPS.
Yes, baby steps. Baby steps to respectability. Baby steps to an up-and-coming team. Baby steps to serious contender. And baby steps to elite program. As a matter of fact, all Gator supporters should make that their new mantra: BABY STEPS. Just keep repeating it whenever something goes terribly wrong during the course of this season, which is inevitable with any team as young and inexperienced as this Gator squad.
These things, these resurgences; they don't happen overnight. They happen over the course of two or three great recruiting classes that grow up and develop with a coaching staff. Zook already has bagged one solid and one spectacular recruiting class; and there's no reason to think this won't continue.
This should give Gator fans great hope for the future of Florida football, emphasis being on the "future." This is a very talented Florida team, without question. It is also, however, one of the youngest teams in Division I-A football. It is a team with two quarterbacks with a combined one career start under their belts. It is a team full of players with their best football ahead of them, not behind them.
This Saturday is in the Orangle Bowl at night against the third-ranked team in the nation that is coming off of a championship game appearance. This is big-time stuff. This isn't for the non-contenders of the world. In other words, this isn't San Jose St.
Yet, the expectations of many for this young squad in Saturday's showdown with Miami have already ballooned beyond anything reasonable. The Hurricanes, like it or not, are easily the best program in America and are currently at the place where the Gators want to be, not of rebuilding but of reloading annually with a fully-stocked cupboard of All-America-caliber talent. Future first-round picks replacing recent first-round picks.
Ron Zook has admitted as much, himself, saying that "the talent gap is closing," and "we've still got a long way to go." These are hints, people. He's trying to make people understand that it's a work in progress. There is a place he's trying to get to, and he's not there yet. But he will be, eventually, hopefully.
That being said, UF certainly has a chance to beat Miami on Saturday. It's been proven many times over that when two talented and athletic teams meet, especially Florida teams, that either team could win regardless of experience. Just look no further than the Final Four this year when a baby Syracuse team beat a veteran-laden Kansas team for the national title.
That, however, was basketball, and this is football, where depth and experience are much bigger factors given the physical nature of the game. It plays the biggest role where the Gators have the most to prove, in the trenches.
The Gators were simply manhandled on both sides of the ball last year. They were beaten-up, kicked in the teeth, pushed around, and generally treated like a kid brother by the Miami big guys. If UF has any chance of pulling the upset, they will have to hold their own in the trenches. They MUST run the ball. If held under 100 yards rushing, it will take an act of God for Florida to win. To say that Miami's secondary has an advantage over the Florida passing attack is putting it mildly. UF must run the ball, stop the Canes' running game, and have a terrific special teams game if it has any chance of winning.
So remember, if it starts to get messy in the Orange Bowl Saturday night, and I don't mean the weather, just repeat after me: BABY STEPS, BABY STEPS…
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