Great(er) expectations for the Gators
Sorry, Jim McElwain: Consider your expectations reset.
No longer are followers of the Florida Gators content to see a rebuilding team in the midst of a turnaround, one that was projected to lose as many as half of its games while working out the kinks and shedding some old skin on the way to becoming a program that could be a legitimate contender for its division crown in 2016.
No. That’s not how it works when you open your first season at Florida, one of the nation’s top five jobs, with six straight wins, the long-awaited unearthing of a game-changing starting quarterback (albeit a suspended one) and the evolution of a top-flight playmaker that has been largely absent for the Gators since Percy Harvin left early for the NFL in 2008.
With Florida completely in control of its destiny, even after a hard-fought road loss to LSU, the expectation for McElwain’s Gators has gone from “looking respectable and steadily improving” to earning a berth in the SEC Championship Game. My how things change in a matter of weeks.
Forget all of those “I’m not going to make excuses but here are some excuses” statements that were expected and understandable two months ago. McElwain accepted the raised expectations late Saturday night in the bowels of Death Valley.
“This Gator football team is a good football team.”
Yes, Florida is good. (And of course, McElwain will claim that these have always been the expectations for his team from the get-go, which internally may very well be true.)
Through seven weeks, UF is playing the best ball in the SEC East – and it’s not even close. That is why the Gators cannot afford to have the slip-ups they were famous for during the Will Muschamp tenure. Try as it might, Florida would lose games it was supposed to win but still somehow maintained in contention for the SEC East crown. That has not happened yet for the 2015 Gators, and if this is a team that has truly changed for the better under McElwain, it won’t happen two Saturdays from now in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Let’s be blunt: There was no better time, team or situation for Florida to lose a game then last Saturday night. The Gators fell to a top 10 team on the road in one of the toughest environments in the nation. Florida faltered after a week that saw its starting quarterback shockingly shelved due to a banned substance suspension and a talented freshman defensive back suspended on five gun-related charges. Despite all of that, the Gators remained focused, played quite hard and only lost by a single touchdown to a team that fielded the nation’s best player. Oh, and that deciding touchdown? It came on a fake field goal.
If Florida is fortunate enough to win out, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will have myriad reasons to categorize this Gators loss as an “understandable” one, just like Stanford’s season-opening defeat at the hands of Northwestern in a game that effectively had a 9 a.m. kickoff for the Cardinal. When arguments for CFP spots (if UF wins the SEC) or New Year’s Six bowls (if UF does not) are made, that loss will stand as one of the strongest in the nation, especially if LSU’s surge continues.
But for Florida to be in that conversation, it has to take care of some aforementioned business. The Gators will be favored against the Bulldogs in two weeks – and for good reason. However, this is a game where the line does not matter. Wacky stuff happens when UF and UGA meet (see: 2014). Florida simply cannot afford to mess this season up – not against Georgia.
UF should be able to walk through South Carolina and Vanderbilt to close its SEC slate, but it must first beat Georgia to maintain and effectively clinch its place atop the SEC East.
A league championship appearance, potential national championship opportunity and even greater expectations await for McElwain and Co.
Fournette shows respect
Following LSU’s 35-28 win over Florida, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette – who ran over the Gators like he does most defenses – gave respect to a unit that he described as one of the best in the nation.
“Coach [Les] Miles told us it was going to be like a street fight,” he said, per NOLA.com. “I can’t take nothing from the Florida defense. They are tremendous. They move fast to the ball. They did a great job.”
Fournette continued, though, explaining that there was plenty occurring “under the piles” such as “grabbing you, poking your eye” and even after the whistle with backwards tackling after his forward progress was halted. He insists it “kind of made me upset” and led to him putting “the team on my back during the fourth quarter.”
Miles decided to submit film to the SEC on Monday specifically about supposed late hits by the Gators’ defense on Fournette. McElwain, who does not reveal when he sends film to the league office, probably had plenty more clips to show the SEC about blatantly missed calls including an obvious fumble recovery and late pass interference that would’ve given Florida a better shot to tie the game in the final minute.
Not Only Gators: New television shows
As with every fall, a number of new television shows have popped up across the major networks. Here are some Twitter-esque (140 characters or less) reviews.
* Blindspot (NBC): Intriguing concept that has maintained my interest through its first few weeks. More answers sooner will keep audience engaged longer.
* The Grinder (FOX): Best new sitcom to date. Rob Lowe picks his shows masterfully and can really do no wrong in comedy.
* Limitless (CBS): Smart to play this less as a serialized drama and more as a crime dramedy. A successful adaptation, continuation of a good movie.
* Minority Report (FOX): Opposite of the second sentence on the line above.
* Heroes Reborn (NBC): Some bait for fans of the series disillusioned by the way it changed then abruptly ended, but not enough of a line to pull in new viewers.
* People Are Talking (NBC): Pilot aired last week. Worth feeling out for buddy comedy aspect but may not have staying power.
* Grandfathered (FOX): Not as bad as I thought it would be. Doubt it lasts past this season.
* Dr. Ken (ABC): Run.
* Upcoming pilots I’m interested in checking out: Rush Hour (CBS), Coach (NBC), Game of Silence (NBC), The Guide to Surviving Life (FOX), Supergirl (CBS), Superstore (NBC), You Me and the End of the World (NBC)
This Week’s Movie Trailer
The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…
1. Peanut Butter
3. Milk Chocolate
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