The Back Nine: UF football team still working way up to elite level

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[Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after a two-week absence to get my second knee replacement. I’m now three-quarters bionic. Going through airports is going to be rough.

10. Bear with me on this because I’ve been under a lot of medication lately, but it feels to me like Florida fans — and that includes players and former players — are getting awfully cocky over a 10-win season. Last week’s “14,000” campaign — the number of days since Georgia won a national title — was another indication of that. Yes, you want some swagger and confidence and it has been pretty clear Dan Mullen — who has a little of both Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier in him — has focused on the Bulldogs as Florida’s top rivalry game, but it might be smarter to pick on a program that you’ve beaten more than three times in the last eight meetings. It’s not even that UF fans are waking a sleeping bulldog, Georgia is woke and would have played in two straight national playoffs if someone had hidden the special teams playbook from Kirby Smart. There is no question anybody with a right mind would prefer the last 30 years of Florida football over the last 30 years of Georgia football. But the truth is that Georgia is where Florida wants to be. And the Gators are not going to get there on social media.

11. That’s the funny thing about a football season in that not all 10-win seasons are created equally. Florida had 10 wins in 2015, but there certainly wasn’t this kind of off-season chest-puffing going on. Three reasons:

• The Will Grier situation put a damper on any future expectations because Florida was still wandering in the wilderness looking for a quarterback.

• Jim McElwain never let UF fans get all that excited with his us-against-the-world mentality.

• Most importantly, Florida ended the season with a thud losing to FSU and Michigan, the exact opposite of last season.

I’m not saying Florida fans should not be excited about the direction the program is heading. But it still feels like there are different tiers of college football and Florida is on the second one behind Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State.

12. So another thing they did while I was out was propose a change in college football’s overtime rules to avoid the kind of seven-OT thriller we had last year between LSU and Texas A&M. And nobody seems to like the plan of having teams just go for two after five OTs. Look, I get that player safety is important to the NCAA (when it’s convenient, that is), but they want to change a rule for the rare times games go that long. So they really aren’t doing anything. I wouldn’t touch it, but I do have one proposal if you really want to get the players off the field quicker. Let’s face it, anything you do is going to be different than an actual game so how about this — each team gets the ball on the three and has a choice of kicking an extra point or going for two until the game is decided? That way you would avoid the bastardization of the stats that is my one pet peeve about overtime.

13. So I watched the Derby, studied the replays and read a ton of columns written by people who know way more about horse racing than I do. Here is my conclusion (as if it matters) — there was a foul and I had no trouble with it being called. But I could have lived with it being ignored like so many before it. The worst part was seeing the emotions of the trainer and jockey only to see their dreams wiped away in the rain at Churchill Downs. It reminded me of the Auburn-Virginia game, which again was the right call, but we’ve seen those whistles be swallowed before. Anyway, I wonder if in five years anyone who is not a racing fan will be able to tell you the name of the winning horse in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

14. I have a lot of theories as to why Florida senior pitcher Kelly Barnhill has gone from unhittable to unpredictable this year. It might be a change in pitching coaches or the fact she has thrown more innings this year than any of her previous three seasons. Or it could be that the league has caught up to her. Certainly, a 1.69 ERA and 27 wins is nothing to scoff at, but it has been different this season. I think it will be fascinating to see if she turns it on in the postseason, which starts Wednesday at the SEC Tournament.

15. There may not be a sport on campus that gets less attention than lacrosse and that’s likely because the sport isn’t recognized by the SEC. But Mandee O’Leary has done another great job this year in winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament (boy, could Florida use those SEC All-Sports points this year). The ladies head to Chapel Hill for the NCAAs, their ninth straight trip to the Big Dance. Meanwhile, it’s never a bad weekend when you sweep FSU in any sport as men’s tennis did Saturday to advance to the next round of the NCAAs. The Tennessee Vols come to town this weekend and don’t forget the final three rounds of the NCAA Tournament are in Orlando.

16. When you go through a major surgery, you are overwhelmed with the efficiency and kindness of the people taking care of you, especially my main man Dr. Hari Parvataneni, who has now sliced me open three times. It also is a reminder of how lucky I am to have a wife who took “in sickness and in health” to heart. The Karen Cafe made this whole ordeal tolerable. But more than anything, it made me realize that laying around watching TV all the time is not for me. If I see one more episode of “Mom” or “Two and a Half Men” I’m gonna scream.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Pope Francis, although I’m guessing his Holiness does not follow me — “We need a journalism that is free, at the service of truth, goodness and justice; a journalism that helps build a culture of encounter. #DefendMediaFreedom”

18. It’s pretty amazing how the body works. You work so hard at the gym to lose weight and it comes off incrementally. Then, you spend a little more than two weeks laid up with little exercise and you lose 19 pounds in 19 days. That may say something about my regular consumption of barley and hops. I just know I can’t wait to get mobile again. Try this playlist:

• “Television” by The Dove and the Wolf.

• “Special Announcement” by The Felice Brothers.

• “Alligator” by Of Monsters and Men.

• “Crowbar” by Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes.

• And for an old one, because one of the eight million things I watched over the last two weeks was a Glen Campbell Show with David Gates as a guest star, “It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread.

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

35 COMMENTS

  1. Welcome back Pat! I’m not a horse racing expert either, but I noted there was no appreciable contact for the last run, after the contact on the curve. So I agree, the winning horse was much faster and extending his lead at the end. PS: Your not “lucky” (no such thing in the real world), your a “blessed man to have the wife”.

    The social media hype is far better than the last several years of hopelessness.

  2. There is balance and then there is balance; likewise there is perspective and there is perspective. Nobody wants to be unrealistically enthusiastic about the Gator’s re-ascendancy, but after reading this I certainly remember the last 30 years differently than the author. I guess I must be foolish for being excited about the Gators.

      • Thanks Sparky — I must be one of those guys without a “right mind”, because after seeing your comment I re-read #10 and realized that I had completely reversed Pat’s meaning. Good thing I’ve never minded making an ass out of myself in public, huh? 😒

        I will therefore, having disqualified myself, refrain from replying to Sly’s post below with a comment that journalism does not appear to be a profession, apparently lacking a code of ethics. That’s what I would have said, absent embarrassing myself!

  3. ”…a journalism that helps build a culture of encounter. #DefendMediaFreedom.”
    Be very careful, Pat, knee surgery recovering or not, on pain relief drugs or not, some of the posters here will lecture and ”encounter” you about discussing ”politics in sports.” But since we’re on the subject, ”media freedom” goes both ways. Therefore, it should humbly admit when its wrong. So fill in the ”Russian Roulette” blanks (pardon the pun). And that’s all I say about that! Lastly, Florida Football may not be Final Four football material yet. But it seems more attainable than it ever has since the C.F. Playoffs’ inception in 2014. And much like the media, ”appearance is EVERYTHING!” Go Gators!

    • When I was growing up, my parents and I would watch the evening news together everyday. When I had some spare time, especially on Sundays, I would catch up and read the newspapers. Sadly, I do neither anymore. Back then, I trusted the reporting. I believed they were unbiased, objective, and truthful. Not anymore; I no longer trust the entire spectrum of the media. They have sold out and unashamedly taken sides and influenced by money and power, while courting favors for access, to be the first to break a story, and to gain views with shocking revelations. Some offenders are easy to spot like CNN and Fox News, while others are less obvious. Back then, journalism was a well respected profession. Now, they are met with suspicion. They have become the masters of deception under their former guise of impartiality. I am especially wary of pieces that contain information from anonymous sources because that is a blinking red light that shouts fake news. Now I seek news and opinions from all sides of the spectrum, even the obscure outlets and forums such as this, to form my own conclusions. I leave with this one rhetorical question. Why don’t we see more pieces from Gatorsports that is critical of the UF administration?

  4. What’s awesome about Gator football right now is that we believe we have an edge in player development and play calling vs. almost every other team we play. It’s been a decade since that was the case…and the last guy that gave us that edge was the same guy, CDM. After Muschamp and Mac, Gator fans have every right to be excited. What’s with Dooley telling folks how to feel all the time. “Don’t be upset with bad calls, play through them”, “don’t get excited about the Gators”, etc., etc. Just tell us about the sports Pat. We will feel how WE want to feel.

  5. Coach Dan has the right of it. Dawg Scum is and always will be our biggest rival. Every season, every sport should be focused on taking them down. BS and PS (before and post Spurrier) ARE completely different times. For those of us of a certain age (cough, cough 50+) Vince Dooley and Hershel Walker will ALWAYS be the monsters under the bed. But as Pat wrote, the last 30 have been different. The Lil’ Dawgies need to check under the bed for Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel and Errict Rhett and Lito Sheppard. Don’t give them back that sense of comfort – that “we got this”. No more Lindsay Scott! Never again! Don’t aim any lower than beating Dawg Scum’s eyes in every year. That’s not over-confidence. That’s desperation. That’s the sense of urgency that will get the Gators over on Dawg Scum and push them back into that elite tier of college football. They’re not there yet. But they can see it from here. It’s starts by winning the SEC East. And that goes thru Dawg Scum until it doesn’t. Go Gators.

  6. The entire foundation of being a sports fan is based on emotion. Excitement, over-excitement, disappointment, bitter disappointment. Personally, I’ve kind aged past the extremes. Nonetheless, I’d much rather have excitement and over-excitement followed by disappointment or bitter disappointment than just sit here trying to be rationale about what we should really “expect” before the season even starts. It’s sports man. Let’s think we are the best until someone shows us otherwise. — I don’t think that is really much different than when Muschamp or McElwain were here. The difference is that hope and delusion masqueraded as excitement and over-excitement.

    As for poking UGA, or any one else for that matter – who cares. Sometimes things get said that make me cringe, but even then, bulletin board material never actually determines the outcome.

  7. Hope I don’t get skewered here but I agree with Pat on poking the bear or bull dog as it were. I’m as excited as any Gator for the upcoming season and have (for the first time in years) hopeful optimism that’s not based on smoke and mirrors.

    I’m my astute and near incomparable knowledge of football (as we all think clearly and objectively concerning our own teams right?) I consider our program on the rise but not quite at the mountaintop. Hurling insults to the ones on top before getting there I think will only lead to boulders on our heads.

    I have high high hopes for this coming year but wouldn’t be totally surprised if we took a step backwards before going forward again. Last year, other than LSU, there are nagging little doubts in my head about all the big wins we had. FSU is the worst they’ve been in decades, Mullen knew how to beat his old MSU team (he won’t always have THAT much of an advantage) and Michigan had NFL talent and others abandoning ship before the bowl game. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have won all those games without the extenuating circumstances but I’d like a year where all our big wins didn’t come with potential little asterisks before poking at your more recently successful rival. Unless you’re Spurrier, then I’m ok with whatever you want to say.

    I think Pat is saying we need to be cautiously optimistic about this team next year and I’m ok with that because that’s how I feel. But, I’ve always been one to trash talk after success…especially after the last 8 or 9 years.

        • I doubt it’s superstition, based on his history of posts. Dallas sees something that isn’t quite right — he alluded to it c respect to Michigan and MSU, but we probably differ on how much it played into the former and personally, I think the latter made the same mistake LSU did. That is to say, they both under-estimated where we were as a team at those particular points in time. So he’s right about one thing: I doubt they’ll do that again. Might be his concerns about when the OL comes into it’s own, as I’ve got some pause about the timing of that maturation too. I’m sure Dallas will weigh back in tho.

      • I’m not expecting a step back, it just wouldn’t boggle my mind if it did happen. Mostly because the majority of my views, sports wise or other, tend to land in the middle of a possible spectrum of opinions. As far as not being surprised, I’ve considered articles and podcasts we’ve all listened to to come to my opinion. It’s nothing I’m sure you guys haven’t heard before. I’m not a football savant by any means but I listen to people smarter than me and have two eyes.

        A few reasons would be:
        – the harder schedule (at least on paper).
        – the would be high school seniors or inexperienced O line trying to protect the quarterback.
        – speaking of which, I’m not sure Franks will take the same monumental step forward like he did last year. Like Hevesy said (I think) it’s easier to go from 4 wins to 10 then 10 to 11. I figure the same for QB development.
        – UGA stockpiling 5 star recruits like a crazy man collecting canned beans in anticipation of the apocalypse. The leg humpers may not be as well coached but that much talent is well…scary.
        – 10 years of ineptitude in the program.
        – this isn’t McElwain’s SEC east where we fell ____ backwards into the championship game.
        – we won a lot of big games last year and things just seemed to go our way in them. Eventually, Grantham will get burned, it’s football!
        – lastly, higher expectations. If we don’t beat UGA and contend or win the east it would be a step back in my mind. Mullen says if you aren’t improving, you’re getting worse. That means more than 10 wins. I think it’s possible, maybe even probable to some but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

        • I gotcha, Dallas. My crystal ball says 11-2 by the time the bowls are over, allowing for possibly not beating UGA and one other loss. So I don’t realistically forecast us to get to the SEC title game and Playoffs…..not this year, anyway. I would disagree with you, however, on the meaning put directly on all that 5-star (and presumably 8-star too, c a nod to our pal CO Jones 😜)……..

          One game at a time, bud — one season at a time —

          • I think Dallas is in the same boat as most of us. Optimisti, but a little shell-shocked still from the past 10 years. I think a 9-3 regular season would be a great feat considering this team compares to the 1992 team with new O-line. I will consider that a step forward….but a lot of fans wont.

          • Sparky, in my grand scheme 9-3 would be 10-3 c a good bowl win, so while that’s not “progressing”, it certainly is acceptable in terms of all the factors Dallas noted. Heck, it may be “progress” after all, l guess.

            You know, c regard to the Optimistic — Shell Shocked continuum, the hardest thing for me to do is bridle my enthusiasm for what our potentials are after last season. That’s why I keep repeating, “one game at a time, one season at a time”……..but damn, it’s hard to contain!

        • Dallas those are all valid points. I don’t think Franks will take a monumental step forward, but I do believe he takes a decent step forward. Every QB has done so under Mullen in their second year. He’s no longer green and learning a new offense, so everything should run much smoother. With the abundance of weapons on offense and a confident seasoned QB who’s a willing runner, I really don’t think the line needs to be all SEC to have success either. As long as the team stays healthy, I think what we saw on offense in the last 4 games, will become the norm this season. I’d be surprised if we didn’t at least match last season’s record. Losing to UGA won’t be a step back either. The only way a loss in that game can be considered a step back is if it’s a bigger blowout than last season.

          • I think the only reason it would be a step back to lose to the leg humpers is the SEC East most likely goes through them. Losing to them would be losing the east UNLESS, they somehow lose to one of the other east teams and maybe (although I doubt it) Auburn. We did about as good as we could have last year without winning the east. Winning the east is the next logical goal if we are taking a step forward.
            At least it makes sense to me.

  8. let me modify my wording, as dallas gator has made my arguments better than i can. i shouldnt have said the program will take a step back, i think a step sideways is more precise. a step back is going from urban to champ (at least on the field). a step sideways is Spurrier’s third year, i think we got schooled early with 2 freshmen offensive tackles, but by the end of the season we put on one of the best shows in college football history with the first SEC championship game. its a long time until the offseason is over, we had an arrest this weekend, and an incident the week before. im sure more bad news is coming, i just dont know what it will be. so far the damage is minimal and the offensive line sounds better than i thought, but everyone gets crazy ivans, im thinking we will handle them better than in the past, but you have to survive first and then talk about whether we have advanced or not.

  9. Here’s the thing about 14,000 days; it’s just a statement of fact. How is it trash talk to just state something that is true? Should we all pretend Georgia has won 48 national titles? Should we just not mention it around UGA fans because it should be treated like a gross and disgusting mole growing on their bloated faces with black, wiry hairs sticking out of it that everyone sees but pretends it isn’t there just to be nice? Are UGA fans such delicate little crybabies that they will burst into tears at the mere utterance of things that are factually true about their program?

    In my view, the fact that “14,000 days” makes Georgia fans cry says a lot more about them and their program than it does about Gator fans. Hey, Uglies– maybe instead of choking in the big game you should actually win one? Maybe?

    Finally, I have no desire to be where Georgia is. They choked in the national title game and didn’t even make the playoffs last year, their offense dominated in the bowl game by a Texas defense that sucked. No thanks. Bama and Clemson? Yes. They actually know how to win a big game.

    • Jaws you should see the leg humper fans on the Saturday Down South’s site. EVERY Florida article has multiple UGA fans posting on almost every gator story to troll us. It’s really sad (and fun) how much Mullen has gotten into their heads. They are straight up basket cases on that site.

      • I love it. I have to say I think it part Mullen and part the simple reality that there is a huge gap between their delusional belief that they are an elite program and the reality of how little they’ve actually done over the last thirty years since their national title– I think maybe three SEC titles and one choke in a national title game that made them the laughing stock of college football. The truth is UGA has never had a run where they were a power. They’ve always been a second tier program, and they always will be no matter how much weed their fans smoke.

  10. People, this is simple…lets just kick back and watch the UM game and see how we look. The UM meter game, “where we’re really at game” will be telling similar to the MI game two years ago. Bet on it. I’m glade we are all a little excited, but be patient with the trash talk.

  11. Having had some time to think about it, since when it rains in Texas it REALLY rains……I got tired of just sitting so I decided to sit and think for a few minutes before I went back to just sitting…….Mveal explained it perfectly (as did Dallas). So here is my revised assessment, backing off what appears now to be a demand for continued progress in the W-L column in successive years until we reach the promised land again: A “sideways” step in Year 2 is nothing to sneeze at and would actually be an, albeit more subtle, indicator of continued progress.

    So sayeth the NealyBob, anyway, as if that opinion matters. Gawd, is it time for football yet?