The hysteria is starting early

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Florida coach Dan Mullen directs players during a time out in the second half Saturday against Vanderbilt. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
There is nothing quite like football hysteria in a college town … in February.
We’re not talking about the Super Bowl or those wonderful 94-degree opening days or big-game Saturdays that damage your voice boxes.
College football in a place like Gainesville is a year-round sport, as we all know. It’s talked about on radio, in bars (or so I’ve heard), in break rooms and on golf courses.
The fever pitch never really dies. It just gets quieter. And then something happens and it rises to another level even though it is still seven months until the Gators play a real game, as real as a game against Eastern Washington can be.
The noise in the system is palpable as we head for mini-Signing Day and then spring practice and the spring game and SEC Media Days and then we finally see what the hoopla is all about.
(You would think Gator Nation would be jaded by the expectations for the current basketball team, but I digress).
This is the year, Florida faithful are screaming from the chat rooms and message boards and on AM, FM and DirectTV. And maybe it is.
There seems to be almost a playoffs-or-bust attitude and it extends throughout the program. The fans feel it, the players feel it and the coaches feel it.
Why should Florida, which is going to get its share of summer loving like we haven’t seen around here since Tim Tebow announced he would return for his senior year, make it to the College Football Playoffs for the first time ever?
Here are five reasons (and five why the Gators might not):
1. The schedule.
One reason there is a “this is the year” crowd is because they have looked at the 2021 schedule and know they get Alabama that season along with a road game at LSU.
This year’s schedule looks incredibly manageable with three softies in the non-conference plus an FSU team in transition, only three true road SEC games, LSU at home and Ole Miss the rotating West team.
Certainly, Ole Miss could be a pesky gnat for a lot of teams this season with coach Lane Kiffin, but you’d rather go to Oxford than see Nick Saban on the other sideline.
2. The roster.
Florida lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but only took one hit as far a junior leaving early. As a result, the Gators have some experienced and motivated seniors at the top of the roster.
There is no doubt Dan Mullen has done a great job of filling in what was a depleted number. Just look at the offensive line where John Hevesy will have enough bodies to fill three units.
The roster was a problem last year when the Gators were in the mid-60s with available scholarship players for the FSU game. That problem has been solved.
3. The Georgia thing.
The Bulldogs own the SEC East right now no matter how many Florida fans want to point to the closeness of last year’s game and the closing of the gap in recruiting.
But with Georgia being ranked No. 1 in recruiting this season, I’m not sure that the recruiting gap has been closed significantly.
The Bulldogs took some serious personnel losses, especially quarterback Jake Fromm, and the East will likely come down to that one big game in Jacksonville. In a series that has been littered with winning streaks (eight of four or more by both teams), it’s important to note this:
Over the last 12 seasons, each team has run off three in a row twice. Georgia has won the last three. Is it Florida’s time? Well, that’s where Gator fans are oozing optimism.
4. Kyle Trask.
One would have to think he’ll be even better with 10 starts under his belt. Trask may be the preseason All-SEC quarterback and has the temperament to handle the spotlight.
He’ll be missing some of the weapons that made him effective, but there’s no shortage of talent at wide receiver and certainly tight end.
5. Continuity.
Things could change and often they do after National Signing Day, but right now Florida has the same staff again for next season and that means the players have a comfort level with those coaches and vice versa.
Now, for the downer. The five reasons it may not work out for the Gators:
1. The schedule.
Yes, it’s manageable, but that could come back and bite UF. If it comes down to quality wins and there are a bunch of 11-1 teams for the last couple of spots, strength of schedule may be a problem.
Florida fans actually want FSU to be better for that reason. They want LSU to remain powerful in the SEC and to win all of its non-conference games.
The schedule may not make a difference, but it’s possible.
2. New roles.
Guys like Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland, Khris Bogle and Kaiir Elam and Dameon Pierce, they are all going to be asked to step up their games and be the guys.
Not everybody is ready when the director yells “action.”
Another issue is that Florida is going to have depth, but it will be young depth. High school stars have to buy in to playing special teams.
3. Georgia is still Georgia.
The reports of Georgia’s demise are grossly exaggerated. The Bulldogs will still probably be the pick at SEC Media Days because of the players they added in the transfer portal (most notably quarterback Jamie Newman) and the second top-ranked recruiting class in three years.
You saw in their bowl game with 10 guys either injured or leaving early that Georgia was able to handle a good Baylor team because there was still plenty of talent available.
Don’t think for a second Georgia isn’t going to be good.
4. The running game.
As much fun as it was to watch the pass-crazy Gators last season, they are not making it to the playoffs if the running game doesn’t get better.
Hevesy has numbers and is confident the line will be much improved. It had better be.
Florida was 74th in yards per carry and 107th in rushing yards per game in 2019. The Gators have to have much better balance if they are going to get over the hump.
Four starters are back on the line, but two of them are true sophomores and another starter could end up being a true freshman. There is a lot of work to do.
5. The quarterback controversy.
OK, there really isn’t one, but there has been enough noise from people who think Emory Jones should be starting to address it.
We can expect to see more of Jones this year. I don’t think there is any question about that. How that meshes together may be the key to the entire season.
Will it be Chris Leak-Tebow? That’s the hope. But a quarterback’s rhythm within a game is a tricky thing.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Silly Gator fans. But then again, while my command of Serbo-Croation dialects is a bit rusty, “Dooley” must mean “joy sucker”.

    Honestly, I haven’t heard the “hysteria” spoken of, but I’ve sure as hell heard a lot of honest appraisals among fans, and participated in some myself, of what 2020 might look like…..none of which reached or exceeded the clinical threshold of mass personality disorder suggested by the word. But what do we mere fans know anyway?

      • I thought I was being nice!

        But all kidding aside, the manufacture of controversy does not appear to be helping this now anemic site in the least. I can reel off too many stories in the last week alone that would have generated 50-70 posts just a few months ago, before the “no notice — sudden death” sell out that took place in August. Just take a peek at the right side under RECENT TOPICS……..no way your two excellent topics would have petered out so fast last year, nor It’s always something’s BB topic as well.

        Well, that’s all water under the bridge now, but we sure lost a lot of great voices. A few have hung around and there’s a couple of new ones, but somebody sure turned the volume down. Not that I count myself among them, but I doubt I’ll renew next time around. Too many of the old guys on the email circuit by now and more to come, I’m sure.

  2. Print media has a real problem generating revenue in the internet age. Subscriptions are dying out, right along with our generation.

    If you take to the internet, go on your favorite web search engine and request “Gator football news” you’ll get all the Gator football stories you’ll need to stay informed… every day… FREE of charge! If you use an Apple device, their web search engine Safari offers an ad blocker option that filters out just about all the advertising on all web sites.

    So, what’s an old fashioned local newspaper to do? The Sun made a financial survival decision. Perhaps, they could have handled the roll-out better. But, in the end, the younger folks, who aren’t going to pay for what they get elsewhere for free, were going to bail out. They haven’t been taught that nobody, not even those who love what they do like Pat Dooley, will work for free. I’m concerned about the long-term implications of that level of ignorance about basic human nature, but it’s not something we’re going to easily change now.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue paying for the privilege of reading Pat’s annoying columns. I must confess I really like his humorous take on things. I also like the informed banter we have going on this web site. Once BOTH of those things are gone… well… I guess I’ll decide then.

    • Stl I have no problem paying for good content. I think many of the posters here where here for the conversation. I understand fully the need for revenue to stay in business. The writing is better elsewhere and that is why many left. If you have to pay, people are going to pay for quality.

      • Well put, 65 — kind of fun to comm with you “off line” like this once in a while, if you know what I mean. Reminds me of the Good Old Days………

        StL, I get everything you said and will just add one thing to 65’s response. To me, the value of this site was not so much the sports writing, which is as good as anywhere else, but in two things: (1) clutter free and linear format for responses, and (2) the quality and volume of those responses.

        Now, we still have the format and we still have the quality of posts, but the conversations end way too soon due to lack of volume. And, we still have Dooley, excellent sports writer that he is, sticking his finger in Gator fans eyes at every opportunity when it is not even required to establish some false notion of “objectivity”. The latter, of course being quite funny by now, and me, of course, carping about it every time I see it as is my custom (my principle life’s work seeming, in retrospect, to be one of tilting at windmills).

        I leave you with this: It is not the price, but the underhanded, middle of the night, sudden way in which it was done.

  3. So the five reasons that Florida won’t make the playoffs contradicts the five reasons they will. So UF has no greater chance in 2020 than before? I too don’t see the hype and hysteria and if UF will go to the playoffs because Georgia is down, no wait, they are not down,…they will have leadership…no wait they are too young… I am confused…let’s just enjoy all there is about college football and see what happens when the season starts. No doubt some will be surprised…then again, some might not be…Go Gators!

  4. Anybody who follows college football closely knew LSU was a Top 5 team going into 2019. They also knew Joe Burrow was a good Sr. QB.

    Anybody who KNEW, going into 2019, that LSU would mow down all the competition, go undefeated and win a NC, led by HT winning, passing phenom Joe Burrow, please step up and show us now.

    Anybody who follows college football closely knows the Gators have a good chance of opening 2020 ranked in the Top 5. However, those same folks have to admit that for the Gators to finish 2020 in the CFP, the first five items on Dooley’s list above must ALL come true and there are no guarantees all that WILL happen. That’s what makes the sport so compelling to watch!

    GO GATORS!!!