Will 2014 be an echo of 1980?


Head football coach Charley Pell gets a victory ride in 1980 when his Florida team beat California, 41-13, in Tampa Stadium. The Gators went on to an 8-4 record, earning a trip to the Tangerine Bowl.

Gainesville Sun File photo
Published: Friday, August 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 10:54 p.m.

If you were around for it, you recognize the similarities. If you weren’t, you still have heard about it.

For those who attended some or all of the games (and despite Gator mythology that the stands were always full, there weren’t many of you), the 0-10-1 season of 1979 is a badge of honor.

I’m not sure anyone feels that way about 4-8 last season.

This is a different Gator Nation, one that expects success, not heartbreaking failure. Back in the old days, SEC championships were as elusive as snakes in high weeds, and nobody dreamed seriously about national championships.

Today, 4-8 feels worse than 0-10-1. That’s all you need to know about the different level of expectations.

Like the 2013 team, the 1979 team was decimated by injuries. John Brantley and Scot Brantley, the starting quarterback and the best defensive player, respectively, were injured and lost for the season on the same night. Last year, Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley were actually lost three days apart, but their injuries had the same impact.

The 1979 team wasn’t as bad as its record. Neither was the 2013 team. But losing often leads to more losing, which leads to more losing.

But the real question isn’t whether 1979 or 2013 were similar but whether or not 2014 can be like 1980.

In 1980, Charley Pell’s second year, Florida went 8-4 despite losing its starting quarterback again and won its bowl game. Again, times have changed, and eight wins wouldn’t have anybody jumping for joy around here, even though this year’s team faces a tougher schedule.

But anything less could mean a job search conducted by University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley. I’ve said before that there is no magic number of games coach Will Muschamp has to win, but I don’t think 7-5 after 4-8 is sellable to the season-ticket holders.

Based purely on talent, this is not a five-loss Florida team. It is a team that has a quarterback who needs to stay healthy. When former NFL head coach and former UF tight end Mike Mularkey visited UF last preseason, he told Muschamp that Driskel is a first-round draft choice.

That and $6.99 will get you the lunch special at Adam’s Rib Co., but it is important to understand that the ability to lead this team to Atlanta is there for the Florida quarterback. He just has to avoid injuries, something he has been unable to do in his first three seasons at UF.

But if Driskel is healthy and coordinator Kurt Roper’s offense is as good as we think it is, this team has a chance to be special. There are wide receivers here. Florida has to give them a chance to be great. There are plenty of running backs, and if Kelvin Taylor takes a major step from his freshman to sophomore year he could be an All-SEC player.

The missing piece to the offense might have landed in the laps of the coaches when Virginia tight end Jake McGhee transferred to UF. The ingredients are all there, and not having a dysfunctional offensive coaching staff has to be a plus.

Defensively, there are major losses, especially in the secondary. Still, defense is Muschamp’s speciality, and he has recruited well. It’s difficult for me to believe any defense with Dante Fowler Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves III isn’t going to be good.

There are players who have to step up, especially at safety. It would help if Antonio Morrison turns out to be the linebacker we thought he could be after his freshman year. Again, the defense could use some breaks when it comes to health, but we know it can’t be as bad as last year.

The bottom line is that this should be a really good football team. But being a really good football team doesn’t guarantee anything in this conference, especially when you keep getting a raw deal from the conference in terms of scheduling. Florida’s two opponents from the other division are Alabama and LSU. What, the Seahawks were unavailable?

But let us remember this — the conference is in a state of transition at quarterback. Even if everything goes well for these teams, Alabama’s quarterback will be playing in his fourth college football game, the quarterbacks at LSU, Missouri and South Carolina will be getting their first starts in The Swamp, and the Georgia quarterback will be playing in his first Florida-Georgia game.

So there’s that. And there is this — this is Muschamp’s fourth year as Florida’s head coach. This is his team. If nothing else, we’re about to find out exactly what he can do.

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