Battle for bowl eligibility


Florida head coach Will Muschamp shakes hands with Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin after last year's game at Dudley Field.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.

When Tim Davis came to Will Muschamp on Tuesday night and started to spill the latest story of “General Hospital” to the Florida head coach, there was none of the “woe is me” that has enveloped the Gator Nation.

Instead, Muschamp figured Davis had to be kidding. Tyler Moore out for the season after a scooter accident? Yeah, right.

“I asked him when he walked away, 'You're not messing with me are you?' ” Muschamp said.

Unfortunately for the Gators, he was not. If this season was an old Suzanne Pleshette movie from the late '60s it would be called, “If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Bad News.”

We're at the point where you just hope nobody suffered an injury getting on the team bus. Several readers have suggested to me that somebody must have ticked off the wrong voodoo lady in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl and she's been sticking pins in a Gator doll on a daily basis.

Even Muschamp is feeling it, coughing through allergy attacks that almost seem to be taunting a guy who can't seem to catch a break.

Still, Muschamp is undaunted. The heat is external and he has developed a bunker mentality as he tries to build a program even as the parts keep breaking.

He knows what he needs.

This season is no longer about championships and confetti. The East is out of reach, Atlanta a stopover only for recruiting. The rest of this season is about getting to a bowl game. The 22-year streak is the second longest in the nation.

He doesn't want to be the guy who ends it. Neither do these seniors.

That's why today's game is crucial. Florida probably isn't beating South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Florida probably isn't beating Florida State in Gainesville. The Gators probably wouldn't beat the Seminoles if they played them in Jeremy Foley's driveway.

They have to win today to have a realistic chance at being bowl eligible. This is not to downgrade Vanderbilt, which has upgraded dramatically under James Franklin. But Florida needs two wins. Georgia Southern is a middle-of-the-road FCS team. Of the other three FBS games, this is the most winnable.

So today, it has to happen. Florida has to find a way to win or the seniors on this team will add another big grease stain to their UF resumes. First to lose three straight to Georgia in more than two decades, first to miss a bowl game since 1990.

It's more than just the swag that comes with making a bowl game. There are the extra practices that you hope will help next year's team. There is the exposure of another national TV game.

More than anything, there is the perception. The chasm between 6-7 and 5-7 is wider than the Grand Canyon.

Somehow, today, this Florida team has to forget about the injuries and forget about the tough losses. It has to use whatever crowd shows up for the noon game as fuel to get this team over the hill. It has been more than a month since the Gators have played a home game, another example of the inequity of the SEC schedule-makers, and perhaps just dressing in your own locker will help.

I know that the offense is difficult to watch. So does Muschamp.

“Fans are frustrated with our offense, well, I'm frustrated with our offense,” he said.

But maybe it's as good as it's going to be with this quarterback and this battered line and no tight end and only a couple of wide receivers they can count on. If that's the case, they have to find a way to make that offense score one more point than the Commodores.

Muschamp told me this week that the injury that has really killed Florida was defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

“I'll always remember where I was when I heard (about Easley's torn ACL),” he said.

Easley was the leader of this team. But he's gone, already signing with an agent to pursue his future. It's time for a player or players to step into that role and lead this team to a victory. OK, so the AdvoCare V100 Bowl or the BBVA Compass Bowl isn't as sexy as the Sugar Bowl.

But it beats the alternative.

And for all of the criticism that has been heaped on this coaching staff, at some point the players have to make the plays required to win games.

It is, after all, their team.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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