It hasn’t been forever.
Really, it hasn’t.
It just feels like it.
It has been a long time since a Florida football team has taken the field to play a real football game. It has been 280 days since the last game at The Swamp, a game you’d like to forget in a forgettable season.
It has been longer since Florida played a game you thought it could win. Even longer since Florida has played a game in its stadium with an unblemished record.
This team hasn’t lost a game. Of course, THIS team hasn’t won one either.
“This team has never played a game,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Each year has its own shelf life. You have one year to leave your mark and your legacy.”
There are plenty of marks on the returning players, deep wounds of an embarrassment of a 4-7 season.
Today — these players hope — will mark the beginning of a turnaround for an unranked team with what can only be called underachieving players.
It starts right now. Well, actually at 7:30 p.m.
Mullen has talked all week about trying to make sure his team doesn’t peak at breakfast or pre-game meal or on the bus ride over.
But you know these guys are antsy.
No more antsy than their fans.
They have been waiting for the start of this season with renewed anticipation and enthusiasm. It can’t be as bad as last year, right?
They can’t wait to see the new offense. The players can’t either.
“There is a curiosity to see how the game is called,” said receiver Josh Hammond.
More than anything, there is curiosity about how the quarterback will play. It is a new and improved Feleipe Franks, we’ve been told. OK. Let’s see it.
Is the deer still staring at the headlights or is the simpler and more efficient offense a perfect fit for an elite athlete?
Today might not tell the whole story, but it will give us our first clues.
If nothing else, it may tell us whether this quarterback competition is still in play. Mullen said Franks gives the Gators the best chance to win this game. But what about the next one?
There is curiosity to see if Florida has improved in two major areas — offensive line and special teams. There is curiosity to see if Van Jefferson is a difference maker at receiver.
There is a curiosity to see if Jordan Scarlett plays as good as he looks. There is a curiosity to see of the defensive line is as strong as we’ve been told it is supposed to be.
Curious minds want to know, right?
I know I do.
Because it has been a long time.
“Feels like forever,” offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor said Monday.
It’s supposed to feel that way when you won only one time since September of 2017. But the truth is that while it may be difficult to get the taste of last season out of your mouths, the past is past.
Nothing can be done to change the last eight years of dreadful offense or the terrible losses that have plagued this program, 28 of them in the last five years.
To put that in perspective, Steve Spurrier lost one fewer game in 12 seasons as the Gators coach.
But nothing that has happened before has anything to do with what will happen this year.
Has the culture truly changed? We think so. We’re about to find out.
Maybe not today, but over the stretch of a long season. Everything is new. Everything is shiny. Everything is fresh.
And you hope everything is better.
There is nothing like opening day. It can feel like your first game in The Swamp even if you’ve been in the stadium 100 times.
It smells different, tastes different and feels different. Old images flash through your mind like old friends you haven’t kept in touch with for a long time.
They’re back tonight. Football is back. Florida football is back.
Now we start to see if it is really back.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.