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From the Pressbox: Florida fizzles at Utah

By Jim Steele

MVP Sports

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.

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