By Jim Steele
As the curtain rises on the 2023 football season, we already have an indication of how things are going to fall.
Well at least a snapshot.
In case you missed it, Utah earned a measure of revenge over Florida, 24-11. If you’ll recall, the Gators stunned nationally-ranked Utah in the season-opener at Gainesville last year.
That result certainly raised a few eyebrows, at least for a while. Then the Gators limped to a 6-7 mark, bowing 30-3 to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Of course, Florida’s performance last year begged a couple of questions: how much of this could we lay at the feet of former coach Dan Mullen and how much of this was new coach Billy Napier’s fault. I dare say there is plenty of blame to go around.
To be fair, Napier inherited a program steeped in dereliction. Mullen forgot to recruit and lost interest in coaching the Gators, a place where the platform for winning was a lot more stable than at Mississippi State (where Mullen briefly had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2014). Then Napier came in and tripped over his own rhetoric right from the start.
He mentioned something to the effect that recruiting wasn’t that important and a few other things that concerned the swamp dwellers. Then, Napier said “he was taken out of context.” Soon he ran a full-page ad in the Gainesville Sun in an attempt to allay the fears of the fans … before they even had Practice No. 1.
You just had an idea that Napier, who had decent success in the Sun Belt Conference, was in a bit over his head in the SEC.
Last spring wasn’t any better. The final score in a lackluster spring football game was 7-6. The Gators were showered in boos as they left Florida Field last April.
Follow that up with a season-opening loss at Utah and perhaps you get an idea about Florida angst. It doesn’t get any easier for the reptiles, either.
Florida hosts Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU and Florida State; a neutral game at Georgia and road games at Kentucky, South Carolina and Arkansas. That’s a tall order.
If Florida can’t dig deep and find a winning formula against an extremely-challenging schedule, I’d be willing to bet Florida AD Scott Stricklin will be prompted to search for a new coach.
Isn’t it curious how Florida has become what Tennessee once was.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing. email@example.com