UF players have one goal remaining — play in a bowl

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The last time the Florida Gators played in Columbia, S.C., defensive lineman Taven Bryan, right, helped make a stand in a 24-14 win against the South Carolina Gamecocks two years ago. [File]

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Over the course of this dysfunctional Florida football season, the Gators’ preseason goals have been flying off the board at a lightning pace.

Beat Michigan.

Gone.

Make it to the College Football Playoff.

Gone.

Go undefeated at home.

Gone.

Win the SEC East.

Gone.

Win the SEC Championship Game.

Gone.

Gone, all gone. Except one. Call it the last goal standing: become bowl eligible.

“That’s the goal,” junior kicker Eddy Pineiro said.

“We’ve been talking about it in practice. Just right now, we had a little meeting and everyone’s fired up. You want to do it for the coaches and do it for the seniors. That’s important. We want to go out on a good note, a bang, hopefully, and make a bowl game. That would be cool.”

Before the start of the season, it seemed a given that Florida would be playing in the postseason. Maybe not in the CFP, but certainly in a bowl game somewhere. This was a confident team that was talking about getting to Atlanta for a third straight season under coach Jim McElwain and taking it a step further by actually winning the SEC Championship Game.

In retrospect, given how this season is playing out, those grand preseason goals now seem somewhat delusional on the Gators’ part. Even this final goal — getting to a bowl game — seems almost unattainable.

To become bowl eligible, the Gators would have to sweep the three teams remaining on their schedule — South Carolina, UAB and Florida State.

That may be asking too much for a depleted team that went through a coaching change two weeks ago, is riding a four-game losing streak and is coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Georgia and Missouri.

It’s a longshot, but the Gators say they’re going to try their best. Other than pride, what else is there to play for?

“A bowl game is a reward for the season and with all the stuff that we’ve gone through this season, a reward would be nice,” junior offensive guard Tyler Jordan said. “It’s been a crazy season. I think the silver lining is win out, get to a bowl and that’s going to be that silver lining. We’ve had a hell of a year. It’s been crazy, but if we can pull it out, we can get to a bowl game.”

Going to a bowl game, of course, is more than just a reward for a successful season.

It’s an opportunity to get in 15 more practices and another game, something that could be huge for a young team like Florida, which is playing multiple true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores.

It’s also an opportunity for the returning players to show their future coach what they’re all about by practicing hard, playing hard and putting positive things on tape.

“It’s big,” Jordan said. “Coach (Brad) Davis was talking about it, put something good on film every day. We still have a bowl game in mind. We still want to get to a bowl game and we have to win.”

Winning out would give the Gators more time to be together as a team, more time to heal and more time to start working on the future.

“You only get three guaranteed opportunities,” junior defensive tackle Taven Bryan said. “These young guys, it’s really important to get those extra reps and really play as much ball as you can play. The more you can play, the better you’re going to get, so a bowl game is crucial for them.

“You get those extra couple of weeks of practice, film, those kind of things, you stay in shape better. If you have the whole December off, you kind of slack a little bit. It’ll definitely be a good thing if we hit a bowl game.”

Under normal circumstances, the idea of Florida winning out should not seem all that improbable.

South Carolina, like Florida, is offensively challenged. UAB is UAB. Florida State is 3-5 and struggling to get bowl eligible also.

But when you look at UF’s recent performances and the overall state of the program with so many injured and suspended players missing, winning one of the final three games would be considered an accomplishment.

The Gators were barely competitive in their last two losses — 42-7 to Georgia and 45-16 to Missouri.

After the Missouri route, sophomore linebacker David Reese called his teammates out, saying they needed to play with more effort and play together as one.

Interim head coach Randy Shannon expressed his approval of Reese’s comments earlier this week, and some of his teammates said his comments hit home with the players and will have a unifying effect.

The question now is do the Gators have enough talent and will left to chase down their only remaining goal?

“I can tell you it’s going to be a challenge,” Shannon said.

“The challenge is for us at the University of Florida, these football players on this team, to challenge themselves to be the best they can be. And we’ll see what happens.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Im getting tired of the new mantra that we lost the last 2 games so bad because we lost so many guys. The 3rd game back we lead the whole game against A&M and only lost because of the Knuckleheaded play calling at 5 minutes left of 3 dive plays up the middle and gave them the ball back to go down and kick a field goal. the game before we only lost by 1 to LSU. We were depleted in both of those games too. What happened is we lost badly as expected to Ga, but then the guys gave up against Mo, having just lost their coach. It wasnt due to lost players or we would not have competed so well in the 2 prior games. So Bobby and Pat, quit with the excuses. This was a coaching failure not due to player loss!

    • At this point its due to the administration. The problems span the end of Meyer to today. The administration does not want to hire a proven coach. They claim we can get who we want but they hire trainees. Muschamp got his on the job training at UF and now he is a good coach at SC.

  2. Big time programs hire BIG NAME COACHES.

    Miami hired a big time coach. Smaller school with less money.

    Everybody said “no excuses” to Mcelwain, I am saying “no excuses for not making a big hire.

  3. Well the naysayers have had their say (and then some). True die-hard Gators like me quickly turn from the negative and look for the positive. Yes, the 9 suspensions and numerous injuries have hurt (no pun intended) the Gators. While this by itself is no excuse, it is an explanation. If you are playing teams with 10, 15 or even 20 more healthy players on their rosters, it is simple math – keep rotating fresh players and wear the Gators down. Re: UGA – best team in the SEC East by far this year (may not have been the case if we did not loose key players to suspension, which then led to less experience players getting injured etc.). We should not have been blown on by Mizzou – that should have been a competitive game, regardless. GO GATORS – BEAT USC!!!

  4. If “big name schools hire big name coaches”, please explain why UGA hired Smart. Why did LSU hire Coach O? Why did UF hire Meyer? None were “big name” coaches when they were hired. Just guys that had shown potential at a much less known school or were simply good coordinators. Hiring a coach isn’t as easy as some posters would like to think.

  5. This article is a bunch of BS. These players don’t care about going to a bowl game or anything Florida football. They’ve checked out on this season and the Gator fans. They don’t deserve the wear the Gator jersey.

  6. The wide receivers are more interested in drawing penalties than catching passes. There aren’t any winners on the offense that are still able to play and very few on defense. This team has no “will.” Franks is an athlete playing qb. He has no will to win. Team doesn’t deserve to go bowling. They’ve taken the personality of their HBC. It’s a win if they make it onto the field.

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