So here is what today was supposed to be:
- A warm-up for a big game with Florida State.
- A chance to pad stats and nobody needs to pad stats more than the nation’s 115th-ranked offense.
- An opportunity to let some back-ups get some playing time in The Swamp.
Only the third item is relevant because young guys are about all Florida has remaining on what feels like a spring game roster. Instead of a chance to have some fun, the 3-6 Gators are simply hoping to feel what it’s like to win a game.
Has it really been seven Saturdays since the Vanderbilt victory?
In a season that has felt like the Titanic colliding with the Hindenburg (don’t ask me how that could happen), today’s game isn’t even about bowl eligibility. That ship has already run aground.
Instead, this day will be about enjoying some cool weather and cooler tailgating. Florida fans will attend today’s game against UAB peering through their fingers at what is taking place on the field.
They know how they got into this mess.
They want to know how (and if) they can get out of it.
It can be as simple as the change that’s about to take place at the top. We’ve seen it before. There are dozens of examples.
The college football landscape is littered with once-proud programs who have been kicked to the curb and former train wrecks that have turned into powerful programs.
Just look at the latest College Football Playoffs rankings.
Alabama is No. 1, the bar that every team is reaching for on an annual basis. Before Nick Saban and after Gene Stallings, the Tide went through four coaches and had four losing seasons.
Clemson is No. 2 and the defending national champions. In the seasons under Tommy West and Tommy Bowden prior to Dabo Swinney’s arrival, the Tigers had 10 seasons with at least five losses.
Miami is at No. 3 and is undefeated under Mark Richt. From 2007-15 before he went home, the Hurricanes lost 50 games.
Oklahoma is at No. 4. During the five seasons before Bob Stoops walked through that door, the Sooners were 23-33-1.
We could point to the downfall of Nebraska. We could look at the downfall of FSU in the last years of Bobby Bowden or the miserable season the Semis are having this year.
Or we could simply talk about all of the coaching changes that are made every year that don’t work out.
The point is that there are no guarantees in college football. Facilities and recruiting and fan bases matter, but if you don’t have the right guy at CEO it can still turn ugly.
And it can also turn into something beautiful.
In some ways, college football has become like the NFL. You can count on a few teams to always be there, but there’s always a team that goes from meh to masterful and always a team that you pick to be in the Super Bowl that flops like Grayson Allen.
It’s hard to win college football games. It takes a lot of elements, including luck every once in awhile, to do something special. And we’ve seen what can happen when everything that can go wrong does so in flammable fashion.
College football seasons can be like snowballs. The momentum starts to build one way or another and you can’t get out of its way.
Who knows what happens at Miami if the ’Canes don’t get that late touchdown against FSU? Who knows what happens at FSU if they stop Miami on that last series?
Who knows what happens if Florida pulls out those tight losses to LSU and Texas A&M?
It takes the right coach to turn things around, but that’s always a dicey proposition. There are very few home-run hires and they are much easier to spot in the rear-view mirror than in a crystal ball.
Turning things around will not begin today. It will begin with a new staff and a new culture that is still to come. And it won’t be as easy as it sometimes looks.
Instead, today is simply about a bunch of young men who have been beat-up physically and mentally trying to remember how to win a football game.
It’s like they forgot how to ride a bike. And instead, they fell off into a sludge-filled ditch.
A group of fans who have been terribly disappointed can provide the necessary training wheels.
Because that’s what college football really is about.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.