Great expectations in 2013
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 11:57 p.m.
When Florida arrives in New Orleans today, it won't be something that Will Muschamp will be thinking about. He has six days to get his team ready for the Sugar Bowl where Florida will be a big favorite.
But he has thought about it.
“Honestly, when you get some time off after a season and the holidays are happening you think through some things,” the Florida coach said. “And I've kind of already prepared for what we're going to be facing in the offseason.”
And what Florida will be facing is unlike anything it has faced in his first two seasons in Gainesville. Because expectations will be back to where they used to be for the mighty Gators.
Now, that's assuming Florida beats Louisville and we saw this team play to the level of its competition all year, so anything is possible. But if the Gators win — let's imagine for a moment they win handily — think about the preseason rankings, the magazine covers, the All-Whatever teams, the watch lists.
Some of it will make sense. Some of it will simply be because Florida's quarterback returns.
That's one of the real flaws in preseason rankings. So much is based on whether your quarterback is back and how you did in a bowl game the previous year.
“Any team with its quarterback back, people are going to like a lot,” said Dennis Dodd, the national college football writer for CBSsports.com. “The case could be made they should be playing for the national title this year instead of Alabama. You know the defense is going to good and I think it was huge that they kept (offensive coordinator) Brent Pease. They'll be top five.”
If Florida beats Louisville, the Gators have a good shot to finish the season No. 2 in the country, assuming the loser of the BCS National Championship Game falls below UF.
“This year they had to work their way up the rankings,” said SI.com's Stewart Mandel. “Next year, they'll probably start really high. Any time you have a year like this year, people expect at least that much next year.”
Muschamp knows that. He also knows it's a load of manure. But he knows what is coming.
“I think the theme for next year is going to be, ‘Are you better?' ” he said. “I don't believe any momentum comes from one year to the next. Absolutely zero. What happened this year is done. (After the Sugar Bowl) it's in the rear-view mirror.
“But there's no question people are going to have a high opinion of this team next season. We have to handle that.”
Florida loses key players, but who doesn't? Once the dust has settled on the early entrants to the NFL we'll know more about the 2013 Gators, but we already know that, offensively, Florida should be better. Pease will be in his second year, Jeff Driskel will be in his second year as a starter. Mike Gillislee will be missed, but anyone who saw what Matt Jones did in the fourth quarter against Florida State feels comfortable about that position. Especially with the freshmen running backs coming in.
And while there will be losses defensively, Muschamp has recruited well so the Gators should be salty again.
In other words, the tangibles will be there. Florida trades Johnny Football for Arkansas on the schedule, but also trades Jacksonville State for Miami on the road.
What nobody knows for sure are the intangibles. It takes special players to go 11-1, not only talent-wise but makeup-wise.
“We have a good core, but what will our commitment level be?” Muschamp said. “This team we had this year was a highly committed football team. It's like the old story about eating breakfast. The chicken, she wants to do well and she gives you eggs. But the pig is truly committed.
“We had some really strong personalities on this team. There was a high level of commitment. I told them that at the banquet.”
There is still one game to play for this team, a BCS bowl game that is a deserved reward for a special season.
And I'm with Muschamp in that I don't believe the core of Wednesday's game has anything to do with the scores of any games next season.
But it will have a lot to do with the Gators' preseason ranking. It's just the way it is in a flawed system.
Get ready for it. After starting the last two seasons ranked outside the top 20, it will be a welcome change for the Gator Nation.
Of course, that's assuming Florida beats Louisville.
And we all know what happens when you assume anything. Especially in college football.
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