Florida football players, coaches say there is plenty left to play for in 2022 season
With Florida football entering November, the goal of playing for an SEC title is all but eliminated.
Motivation for the Gators (4-4, 1-4 SEC) the remainder of the season could come in different forms. For younger players, it’s a chance to make an impression and move up the depth chart for the 2023 season. For the veterans, it’s a chance to finish their careers playing a bowl game and attracting the eyes of NFL scouts.
“We didn't get the result we wanted last weekend,” said Florida cornerback Jaydon Hill, referring to UF’s 42-20 loss to rival Georgia. “Only thing we can do now, from here on out, is just keep fighting. It's got to mean something to you. You've just got to keep swinging.”
Florida needs two more wins to qualify for a bowl game for the fifth straight season and 29th time in the last 31 seasons.
“It's very critical because you go to University of Florida, and they just automatically assume they're going to have a championship and a bowl game,” said Florida offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, a projected NFL first-round pick. “It is critical to get two games so we can be bowl eligible. I feel like these next few weeks we're going to take very serious to get that accomplished.”
First-year Florida coach Billy Napier mentioned another incentive for getting to a bowl -- the added 15 practices in December that can help with player development and adjusting to new schemes.
“More meetings, more walk throughs, more practice opportunity,” Napier said. “There's no question this is a developmental game, and you do that in a practice setting.”
There have been some rough Novembers
November can be a tricky month in college football. Rosters are often depleted due to injuries. The ones left playing are dealing with the aches and pains that come with the grind of playing a contact sport for three months, beginning with fall camp in early August.
The Gators are 29-21 in November since 2010, with the worst stretch coming in 2013, when Florida went 0-5 that month under former coach Will Muschamp. That included an embarrassing 26-20 loss at The Swamp against FCS opponent Georgia Southern that ended with third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg failing to lead UF to a touchdown drive in the closing minutes.
In 2018, Florida went 3-1 in November in former head coach Dan Mullen’s first season, riding that momentum to a Peach Bowl win over Michigan. In Mullen’s final season in 2021, Florida went 2-2 in November, which included a blowout loss at South Carolina and an overtime loss at Missouri that cost Mullen his job.
Winnable games left on schedule
Certainly, the Gators are looking for a 2018-like close to the season under Napier. Florida has four winnable games on its schedule, beginning Saturday at reeling Texas A&M (3-5, 1-4 SEC). Although Florida enters the game a 3.5-point underdog, the Aggies have lost four straight and, like the Gators, are a young team relying on talented but inexperienced players.
“Everybody knows A&M has a pretty good freshman class and a pretty good team, period,” Hill said. “They've been on the rough end, kind of how we have been. A&M definitely has that explosive offense. We have to prepare well for that, and I look forward to doing so.”
After Texas A&M, Florida plays its final game at The Swamp against South Carolina (5-3, 2-3 SEC) on Nov. 12 and will conclude the season with back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt (3-5. 0-4 SEC) and rival Florida State (5-3. 3-3 ACC),
The combined conference record of UF’s final three SEC opponents is 3-11. A stark contrast to UF’s first five SEC opponents, who have posted a combined league mark of 17-7.
“There's a lot of games left to be played, and it depends on how we finish,” Torrence said. “We could still have a pretty good season and finish with a nice record.
“If we continue those things well, like the discipline, the small things, the small details, I feel like we could finish the season nice and be a good starting point for next season to build momentum.”
Napier didn’t go as far to say that players' jobs are on the line during this stretch.
“This is more about just this team still searching for their best,” Napier said. “I still think that we've got a lot of individual players that are growing, that are improving. We have certain position groups, units on our team. I think it's more about finding a way to win a game one week at a time to create some momentum.”