For openers, McElwain needs positive result

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Michigan Florida Football
The No. 11 Wolverines and the 17th-ranked Gators play Saturday in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/File)

The game was always going to be big.

It was going to be big because it was so new and fresh, such a departure for Florida football to play away from The Swamp to open a season and against a real, live, ranked football team to boot.

So the buzz permeated the sticky Gainesville air all summer, as Gator fans learned to hate khakis and wonder if maize is really a color.

But before we could get to it, Saturday’s game became big for a different reason.

By the time Feleipe Franks was announced as the first redshirt freshman to start a season at quarterback since Kyle Morris, we were already wondering whether anybody would be accompanying him to Dallas.

The University of Florida is embarrassed or should be. The program is embarrassed. The fans are embarrassed. Everyone connected with UF is embarrassed.

The Gators ― because of the actions of a few ― made themselves an easy target, something that already was there with Jim McElwain. He has developed an us-against-the-world mentality and that usually turns the world against you.

You want to know why the shark non-story stayed viral for so long? People love to hate the Gators. You want to know why there were so many outrageous columns about Florida playing LSU for (gasp) Homecoming? Same deal. Forget researching to find out the truth.

It’s easier to be mean.

That’s why the jokes are flying now that Florida has 10 players suspended for the first game, including a Tweet by my friend ESPN’s Mark Schlabach showing a small two-engine plane and proclaiming it to be the Florida team’s transportation to the game.

Funny. But for Gator fans it stings an open wound.

Hey, you want to be all over ESPN’s Gameday? You got it, Gators. They will have a field day moralizing.

I empathize for the people who spent tons of money to travel to Dallas only to be let down by selfish players, but it’s difficult to feel sorry for anyone with dry clothes and a home today.

Still, all is far from lost for the Gator players who will make the trip. It’s still a good ball club, but it may be one that is more fragile mentally than it is physically.

This is where McElwain ― who has a talent for creating a bunker mentality ― has to be able to circle the wagons and get the Gators feeling the same way they did at Baton Rouge, La., last season.

All of the deafening buzz that was around this Gator program in July as recruits lined up and the head coach oozed confidence now sounds more like the rush of air noise when someone sits on a whoopee cushion.

I know, it’s only one game, but, really, does anyone know if it’s just one game? Who knows how far this thing can go and how crippling it can be for this team?

Florida football has survived worse ― Tank Black, 0-10-1, Lindsay Scott, Georgia Southern, NCAA probation twice in six years.

But this right now is a red-faced program.

Which makes Saturday’s game even bigger than it was before.

Here’s why ― McElwain has to figure a way to make his depleted roster respectable, how to at least have a chance to win. A loss isn’t going to break this season, but a blowout loss might.

The head coach has talked about how much he likes this team throughout the summer. Even after the seven players were suspended and James Robinson joined the list, he talked glowingly about how much the players on this team were in it for the right reasons and how much the game means to them.

Today, those words ring hollow.

Instead of being known for DBU, the Gators are better known for DNP. As in “Did Not Play.”

McElwain’s third team cannot start the season by looking like it doesn’t belong on the field with a Michigan team that is rebuilding. The fickle fan base will be skeptical at the very least as to where this program is heading.

So this may not be as big a game as it was a month ago. It may not be the biggest game McElwain has coached.

But if we’re talking about throwing a stop sign up against negativity, about stemming a tide heading the wrong way, it’s as big as they come.

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

12 COMMENTS

  1. And still, trying to guilt the reader with references to the Hurricane Harvey catastrophe. What is it about sportswriters that they are so intent to demonstrate their goodness by scolding others?

    Pat, you’re a sportswriter, and should stick to that. I love reading your columns about the Gators, and I have for years. But your views on national, international, or otherwise controversial topics are irrelevant, and insulting to the reader who wants your insights in your narrow area of expertise. Every year or two you have to bang the “it’s only a game mantra,” which denigrates this great experience we can all share.

    If Gator fans are angry that their expensive tickets, hotels, plane fares, etc are threatened by idiot scholarship thugs, then you should not add a “yeah, but…”. You should only respond to that passionate fan within the scope of the game, and please, keep your moralizing to yourself.

    • Really! That might to the stupidest thing I’ve ever read at the bottom of a news article; and I read comments from the rocket scientist that read Fox News. You hate the press so much that one line in an opinion piece expressing sympathy for people who lives have been devastated made you wet yourself like an entitled little girl? …I don’t know that any advise could help you, but I would suggest growing up.

  2. I am kinda’ tired of hearing about how embarrassed I should be. You and Robbie ought to stop writing about it. It is not so bad. Two starters as suspended and Mac Handled the problem. I think we should be proud. I am hoping we can overcome this and have a good showing tomorrow. Stop already. Sheesh.

  3. Just watched the replay of the ’16 S.E.C.C.G. Goolsby had a great game against ‘Bama, and Cleveland was blocking ‘Bama players to the point of frustration. Zuniga and Cece Jefferson balled like champs, too. There are plenty of Gators that WILL PLAY like real Gators Saturday, that aren’t suspended, Pat! So, remember Gator fans, Pat’s admitted he cannot be a ”Gator fan” and work in journalism (by his own admission, from his lips to God’s Ears). So, don’t let Pat get you ”blue”. And let’s rally around the Florida players and coaching staff that have busted their Gator tails, since the Outback bowl, and kick Michigan’s butts!
    Go Gators! Just do it!

  4. I am so tired of all the negative, depressing columns from Pat and Robbie. We know about the players who were suspended. Coach Mac said they are being dealt with. Can we wait until we know a little more before we convict them? Aren’t there any gators there in Dallas with Felipe? Tell us something about the activities before the game. Please, please, something positive for a change. I know I will be watching and cheering for my Gators as I have been for half a century! Go Gators

  5. Not our greatest moment for sure.
    If Coach Mac likes this team, let’s be true Gators and like them too. If this team is “too embarrassing” to some fans, then the don’t need to go to Ben Hill this year. Stubhub.com can bail you out.
    I’m very excited about this season. This should be our first real change in nine years. Our offense is going to score points and we have real playmakers (not suspended). Let’s pull for the Gators and remember “in all kinds of weather”!! We will shock the world tomorrow night! Work ’em Silly Gators

  6. As a Gator fan who lives in Michigan & only gets to see a very few Florida Football games I can see both sides in regards to Pat’s discussion points. Being here in Dallas/Arlington/Irving where there are many gas stations with NO GAS or it is $3.29/gallon we are very fortunate that our only concerns are if the Gators are in fact heading in the correct direction & have players that care about being Gators and returning the team to the level of football that we expect & not whether or not our home is flooded & our loved ones are safe & alive! It has been great to win the SEC East the past 2 years but the quality of the football being played is not to the level that we have experienced in the past & hope to continue to enjoy! I have a large family so our trips involve LONG drives to see the Gators play. We traveled to the extremely disappointing Arkansas performance last year & to listen to Coach McElwain apologize to the writers & media members who had to cover the game but not acknowledge the significant contingent of Florida fans who traveled long distances & actually payed their own money for tickets, hotels & travel costs (& not media expense accounts) was almost a slap in the face to me! However, I am sure that he was even more distraught than I/we were about the performance so I hope that it was only an oversight on his part. I hope the performance today validates our short memory, optimism for this season & the future & our long drive here & home! Go Gators & please play well!! I have to live with all of these Michigan fans & our 2 bowl performances vs. Michigan have not left me with much to feel good about & I hope this changes today!

  7. Embarrassed about my Gators? Hell no!! College kids did something stupid and the coach made them pay the price for it. Why should we be embarrassed? I’ve been a Gator my whole life and it will die a Gator fan. GO GATORS!!