A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell has joined OGGOA as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
What in the world happened to Florida? The last time we saw this team, it was hitting Florida State in the mouth and running up and down the field on its in-state rival. On the flip side, Louisville looked as if it did not even belong in a BCS bowl after losing two of its last three regular season games. It is truly amazing the difference one month can make. And it’s exactly why they play the game on the field and not on paper.
The Gators clearly got outcoached, outplayed and outsmarted in every phase of the 2013 Sugar Bowl on Wednesday. The Cardinals were obviously the more focused team on a night where both squads were being showcased on a national stage for the whole country to see. One team took advantage of the moment.
What was so amazing about Florida’s failure is that this team played the toughest schedule in the country and went 4-1 against teams ranked in the top of the BCS standings. All five of those teams were better than Louisville. That brings me back to my original question: What the hell happened? Why did a team so much better lose to a team that is definitely not at the same level?
1. The SEC is overrated.
Just read. The Gators could very well have been in the BCS Championship Game, which for Florida fans would have been great. Being completely honest here, you cannot tell me a team that put on a performance like that on a national stage is the third-best in the country no matter what he did the rest of the year.
Then you have South Carolina and Georgia, both of which won their bowl games but were pushed all the way to the fourth quarter against Michigan and Nebraska, respectively. These are SEC teams ranked in the top-10! They should be dominating these teams from other conferences. Don’t get me wrong, the SEC is still the best league in the country. There is no doubting that, from top-to-bottom, this conference beats the best of the rest. What fans do need to realize, however, is that there are teams in other leagues that have raised their game and can compete. The SEC’s overall dominance may continue but it has most certainly been lessened.
2. Long layoffs during bowl games can be good and bad.
Extremely long breaks between games are supposed to be helpful for top-notch coaching staffs, allowing them the ability to work on their team’s fundamentals while putting in a fool-proof game plan. That is how Urban Meyer utilized his bye weeks and time off, and it is exactly why the Gators were so successful under him when they had more than a week to prepare. However, these layoffs also help improve the health of players. In the case of Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, it allowed a player with ankle and wrist injuries to get back to full health and perform like he was on another level. Then you have head coach Charlie Strong who used the long layoff to game plan for every single thing Florida’s vanilla offense was going to do.
For the Gators, this layoff hurt them massively. Florida had just come off an emotional win against FSU and was riding high on the possibility of either playing in the BCS Championship Game or taking on Oklahoma in a high-profile Sugar Bowl. Instead, the team learned that Louisville would be the opponent and the focus was more on the coaching match-up than what would happen on the field. Additionally, UF went from being year-long underdog to a heavy favorite. The Gators lost a season’s worth of momentum and that is a recipe for disaster.
3. They didn’t care.
While I’m extremely excited for Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd and their futures after the duo decided to enter the 2013 NFL Draft, as a former player I was disturbed that both players announced their decision immediately after the loss to Louisville. I would never question the heart of any Florida player – especially guys like these two that both played well in the game – but one does have to wonder how much the NFL has been on their minds, whether or not it was discussed a lot in the days leading up to the game and how that had an impact on their teammates. Remember the 2009 SEC Championship Game? Those guys were looking ahead both to the NFL and to the BCS title game and thought they could just walk over Alabama. Then they got smacked in the face and kicked in the ass by a focused, motivated team.
And no matter what head coach Will Muschamp said during bowl week – yes, I read all of his quotes here on OGGOA – there were most certainly players out celebrating and enjoying Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. Perhaps they did not break curfew and therefore there were no discipline problems, but I was on the team for four bowl games and can promise you that plenty of shenanigans go on.
So, yes, this game does leave a very sour taste in my mouth, especially from the perspective of a former player. Bowl games can most certainly provide a boost for the following season, so the Gators really didn’t do themselves any favors this time around.
However, when it all comes down to it, one disastrous loss should not make fans lose sight of the fact that Florida did go through the toughest schedule in the nation and came out relatively clean with an 11-2 record that was better than almost anyone could have expected. Muschamp proved this season that “his way” works, no matter how many mistakes the coaching staff made in the bowl game.
While the season did end on a bad note, the Gators are a young team that is going to be even younger next year. With another great recruiting class about to enroll, the future remains very bright for a Florida team in the middle of a turnaround.