Success in 2014 will come down to five big games

Florida coach Will Muschamp watches Jeff Driskel during the first half of the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 12.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 9:42 p.m.

Since I returned from the wonderful ride with the Florida basketball team, there are three questions that I have been asked the most.

1. How do you think the football team will do?

2. How was Dallas?

3. How do you really think the football team will do?

Whether it has been on radio shows or in the gym or at Publix, there is a real curiosity about the 2014 Florida Gators. As someone who didn’t get to see the spring practices and did see the spring game, my opinion is about where it was before I left for the SEC basketball tournament in early March.

Florida will be better than it was in 2013. In other news, the sun rose today, my knee hurts and most Americans can’t identify the Ukraine on a map.

Of course, Florida will be better. It has to be better than 4-8. Last season still seems surreal and an aberration.

The question is — how much better?

And that’s a question nobody knows the answer to right now.

We know this much — the offense will be better. That’s like saying a warm shower is better than bathing in a waste treatment plant. Last season was hard enough to watch for Gator fans used to winning without it being insufferable offensively.

We’re a long way from the start of the season, but we also know it’ll be here before we know it. When the Gators open on a sticky-hot day in late August, there will be a fan base that’s part curious, part excited and mostly demanding. Everyone has his or her own idea of what is acceptable, whether it be the pipedream of a national title or the reality of having a chance to win the SEC East.

To me, that’s where Florida has to be in October — with a chance to win the division.

It’s all about five games.

College football seasons aren’t just about how you play, but who you play. Will Muschamp gets a deserved break in that he has three softies on the schedule. Of course, we thought Georgia Southern fell into that category last year.

And I’m not saying that the other conference games are going to be easy. Missouri is the defending champion of the East. Vandy beat Florida in Gainesville a year ago. Tennessee is trying to make up for a lack of experience with enthusiasm.

But it’s still about these five games.

At Alabama, LSU, Georgia in Jacksonville, South Carolina and at FSU.

They are spread out during this upcoming season, none of them coming back-to-back. Only two of them are in Gainesville, which makes it that much more daunting of a task.

Four of those teams won at least 10 games last season. One of them won a national title. Combined, they went 54-12.

The good news is that four of them lost their quarterbacks from a year ago. But they are still the teams that will decide Florida’s fate in 2014.

I know coaches never look ahead and players aren’t supposed to do it. But it’s OK for you to circle the Big Five on your schedule magnets.

To go 5-0 would be almost unthinkable. To go 4-1 would likely mean a really good season. I could go on, but you already have done that in your minds.

So have I.

We are seeing a changing landscape in college football, a new cycle that comes around every decade or so. It’s an offensive game now, and you can’t win without scoring points. That’s why Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin. It’s part of the reason Muschamp changed offensive coordinators.

Florida’s head coach understands that 14-10 games are now the abnormality. When he stepped into the job, you could win games with defense and special teams. He won 11 of them that way in 2012.

But it’s different now, and he understands that. It’s not that defense and special teams are dinosaurs, but you had better have an offense that can strike quickly and be entertaining.

Between now and Aug. 30, there will be a lot of work put in at the stadium and on the practice fields to make that happen.

But it’s how that translates into those five games that will determine what kind of season this is. And when it’s over, we’ll see what kind of hand Muschamp and his staff are holding. Four aces and a king would be ideal. A pair of twos and it’s going to be another rough season in the Gator Nation.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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