Could The Gators Go 6-6 In 2011? 5-7?

Do you remember The Blair Witch Project? I do. It was awful. So much so that I would probably list it among the 10 worst movies I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the premise wasn’t bad, but the hype killed it. I didn’t see the movie right away, but instead dealt with weeks of hearing how great it was and how I absolutely had to see it. Everyone that said that at the time deserves a punch in the face. When I finally got the chance to check it out, I was more than disappointed. It was boring, not remotely frightening, and – as I said – awful. It far from lived up to its heightened expectations.

The 2011 Florida football team could very well turn out to be The Blair Witch Project; and that has me worried.

Gators fans have expectations that rival few regardless of the situation presented to them. Those expectations helped push Steve Spurrier to the door. They resulted in Ron Zook’s firing. They very nearly killed Urban Meyer. They also lead to pieces like this by Alligator Army’s own FlaGators. To his credit – and that of many that commented on the article – expectations seem tempered. To those few, 7-5 in 2011 is a real possibility – as pointed out in another piece by FlaGators – 8-4 sounds realistic, and 9-3 is the dream. But they are just that – the few.

Most Florida fans don’t feel that way at all. If 7-5 were to occur, they may hurl themselves off of a bridge. A new era means an improvement over last season. A new offense means the days of airing it out again. A new defense means players’ talents will be realized. It doesn’t matter that a new coaching staff is in place with new schemes to implement. It’s the University of Florida and the Gators shouldn’t settle for mediocrity.

I agree with that, to an extent. 7-5 isn’t acceptable for a program of Florida’s caliber. 10 wins should be the water mark. But look at it realistically. 7-5 could happen again and this time around it might not be that bad of an occurrence. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, if the Gators don’t live up to heightened expectations, all may be okay for the long term. What every fan wants or should want during the 2011 season is marked improvement. Whether that translates to wins is another story. 2011 is for the future of the program. It’s the very definition of a transition or even rebuilding year.

I don’t want to go 7-5, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Surprise would be 11-1. Frustration, but not surprise, would be 7-5. But what about something worse? What about 6-6? Or even 5-7? What then?

Florida is among the nation’s top programs for a number of reasons. One of those is the fact that the Gators have not had a losing or even a .500 regular season since 1979. You do the math; that’s a long time. Add postseason games to the mix and you still have to go to 1987 to find a Florida team that lost six games. By comparison, Miami went 5-7 in 2007, FSU lost six games in 2006, 2007 and 2009, three of the last six seasons have produced losing records for Tennessee, and Georgia went 6-7 in 2010. You could even go to the other of Florida’s “big” rivals – LSU. The Tigers went 3-8 in 1999.

So you can see why expectations are so high. Five losses in a season are more than just frustrating to most orange and blue supporters and six losses are unheard of. To put it into perspective, most (not all, but most I would imagine) current University of Florida undergraduate students weren’t alive when it last happened. That breeds unrivaled expectations, ones that make it nearly impossible for the Gators to get through a transition year without hearing Will Muschamp definitely wasn’t the right man for the job.” Those may have been the same individuals that once upon a time pleaded “go see that movie, TRUST ME!”

We could all live with 7-5 though. Really we could. If the offense shows improvement and if the defense plays up to its ability, we’ll accept 7-5 begrudgingly and look ahead to 2012.

6-6 is a different story though. Even think of 5-7 and you might break into a cold sweat. Is it worth falling that low? LSU won two national champions after 1999; one only four seasons after going 3-8 and another in 2007. The others didn’t, but their seasons of futility were much more recent. It is important to note, that the Tigers had a different head coach in 1999 than they did in 2003 when they won the title. The Hurricanes have a new coach and not the same man that went 5-7. The Seminoles are in a similar situation. Muschamp will get more than one season though. He should get at least three. Zook did – although he never produced a losing season.

Three seasons may be too much for Gators fans though. Say Florida does go 5-7 in 2011 then rattle off a 7-5 record in 2012. Will fans want to see Muschamp in 2013? We all think it’s highly unlikely that this would ever happen, but it could. It has happened to many similar programs. What makes Florida unique is that they haven’t experienced it in over 20 years; and that’s why Muschamp’s leash is much shorter than those at other schools. Even if we go outside of the Gators main rivalry base, the difference is staggering. Texas? 5-7 in 2010. Ohio State? 6-6 in 1999. USC? At least six losses in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Oklahoma? Three straight losing seasons from 1996 to 1998. Michigan? Alabama? Notre Dame? Nebraska? None match Florida’s streak. Think about that for one second and it makes the last 23 seasons that much more impressive. But all streaks end.

We expect seven wins, want eight, and hope for nine, but we do so without any true idea of what Florida will put on the field this season. The starting quarterback may be in a better system to support his talents, but he’s had a short time to learn it all and proved virtually nothing in 2010. The running game is dynamic and exciting, but far from consistent; the offensive line will be a work in progress; the linebackers need to become visible again; and the secondary has a 2007 feel to it. Sure the Gators won nine games that season, but some thanks have to go to Tim Tebow for that.

Then there’s the schedule. The October run of Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Georgia is brutal. The Gators visit South Carolina and host FSU in November. The odds of losing all six of those games are slim, but, again, it could happen. What about Tennessee or even Kentucky? Even lower odds. Much lower, but we aren’t remotely sure what we’re looking at. So why are Florida fans thinking nine wins will be easy? Hope? Unwavering support? Both seem plausible. Both can end up punching you in the gut.

We want to believe it can’t happen to the Gators. There is no such thing as a losing season. Even at their worst, Florida wins more than it loses. It has been that way for more than two decades. So much so that expectations are too high. We believe Muschamp should win immediately. If he couldn’t, then why did Jeremy Foley hire him? (To that point, why did he hire Zook? But let’s not go down that path in this piece.)

I, like most of you, have looked at the schedule at least once a week since it was released. I can see 8-4 and, yes, even 9-3. I can also see disaster. The lump in my throat builds and I almost feel nauseous. Not just because I worry for the team, but I worry for the fans. I worry about what will be said. For every rational piece we’ll read this season after a loss, we’ll read 10 describing a sinking ship and pointing out that the sky is falling. It’s the nature of the Florida fan. It’s the same reason why many are okay with the fact that Meyer is gone despite the fact that he produced three 13-1 seasons and two national championships. If a five-loss season is as bad as it seemed, six means the world has come to an end.

Try to put it into perspective when the season does eventually begin. This is a team, a coaching staff, and a program with more questions than it has had in recent memory. As hard as this may be to grasp, the record may mean nothing in 2011. Florida could go 6-6 and actually be a better team than they were in 2010. If you don’t believe me, I implore you to go back and watch last season’s outings against Mississippi State, South Carolina, and FSU. If you think the only way the Gators can be better in 2011 is if they produce an 8-4 regular season, then you are sorely mistaken. 2011 will be about answering those questions and redefining the program.

After Florida went 6-6 in 1987, they produced back-to-back 7-5 records, but then Spurrier arrived and it wouldn’t be until after he left that the Gators would lose more than four in a season again. 2010’s five losses could be five or six or even seven in 2011, but how they happen is what’s important. Temper your expectations for one year and allow questions to be asked and answers to be found. Don’t go into the season expecting all to be right in orange and blue land. Go into it knowing that we really don’t know much and we’ll all be learning what the future brings together. Don’t let expectations ruin whatever the 2011 produces for the Florida Gators.

About The Bull Gator

I like orange and blue things.
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18 Responses to Could The Gators Go 6-6 In 2011? 5-7?

  1. One Eyed Willy says:

    Wow! This is a very unusual article for you TBG seeing as though you are almost always a "glass is half full" (actually you are more like a "glass is always three-quarters full") type of guy. But you are right, as many people who say we should go 10-2 or 11-1 next year, there should be just as many who think we can realistically lose 6 or 7 games. If you ask me, both of these outcomes are fairly unlikely.

    I would love to say that our over/under for losses should be set at 3 games (and I didn't check to see what it really is set at). But in reality, it probably should be more like 4 given our performance last year and the unending number of questions that surround this year's team and coaching staff. Let's put it this way…if I said that you HAD to put your life's savings down on us either losing 3 games or less this season or 5 games or more, which do you pick? My immediate reaction is to go with the 3 or less. After all…we are the Florida Gators for heaven's sake! But look at that schedule! And look at that QB from last year! And look at that offensive line and how we lost several starters off an already bad group of players! And go back and look at the Miss St. game and that FSU game and that USC game like you said! Maybe it's not that easy of a decision when you really start to think about it.

    We were 8-5 last season. But just as close as we could have been 9-4 (see the LSU game!), we could have easily of been 7-6 (see the UGA game!). And it’s not like we pounded Tennessee and Penn State in the bowl game either. Sure we beat them by 14 points and 13 points, respectively, but those games were much closer than the two-possession score indicates. So I definitely see where you are coming from. But then again that makes sense for me to see the possibility of a 6 or 7 loss season…I am after all the pessimistic ying to your optimistic yang!

  2. The Bull Gator says:

    I hope it didn't come across as a prediction. Anything could happen this season. I'm mostly interested what the reaction will be. I fear most fans immediately expect 10 wins and a SECCG appearance. It's the nature of the Gators fan.

  3. One Eyed Willy says:

    So going back to my hypothetical bet…you have to put all your money on the line…what are you taking? 3 or less losses or 5 or more losses?

  4. The Bull Gator says:

    Can I split the difference and take 4?

  5. V. Money says:

    Even if you look at the six loss/losing seasons opponents, notice a trend:

    Ohio State won a national championship just three years after going 6-6 (Having Maurice Clarett didn't hurt, either). USC gained steam after the 1999-2001 campaigns, beginning with a Heisman Trophy winner in Carson Palmer in '02, and following it up with two (one?) national titles and two (one?) Heisman winners in the seasons ahead. Oklahoma won it all in 2000 after the '96-'98 drought.

    However, if you look at the very recent past, Alabama in particular makes for an intriguing comparison, as well as a case study of a successful coaching transition. In 2007, the Crimson Tide struggled to a 6-6 regular season record in their first year under a new head coach (albeit one that was a much more proven commodity than Muschamp is now).

    In Saban's second year, Bama swept the regular season before losing the SEC Championship to a white-hot UF team. (By my recollection, it was Tim Tebow's first and last fourth-quarter comeback in a Florida uniform.)

    The third year, they finally went over the hump and won it all before tripping up in Year Four, although they still had a 10-3 record for the season.

    Furthermore, landing the right recruit in the right position, even if he is not a five-star out of high school, can be a tremendous shot in the arm to a team's success. Cases in point: The last three Heisman winners (who also played on championship contenders) were a junior college transfer (Cam Newton), a four-star high school recruit (Mark Ingram), and a three-star (Sam Bradford).

  6. One Eyed Willy says:

    No, 4 losses is the line so you have to pick above or below it. No pushes in this game!

  7. The Bull Gator says:

    What's your pick? You never actually made one.

    I'd go over 4. We've both said there are too many unanswered questions to be too confident in 3 or less. If forced to make a pick today, over 4 with a desperate hope for a push.

  8. One Eyed Willy says:

    It hurts me to say it, but I think I might have to go over as well. I really think beating Bama, USC and FSU may be very tough this year. All those teams man-handled us last year and I am not sure if enough has changed for us to contend with them this year. So we would have to go undefeated in our other games for me to pick the under. Considering we would still have to play Auburn, LSU, UGA and a bowl team, I don't think that is possible. So I too think four losses may be the magic number, but would have to go with the over if there was a gun to my head.

    After thinking about this more and more, anybody who makes fun of the Gators for playing the two crappy teams we play every year in games 1 and 2 can really "tell me how my ass tastes" (to steal a line from the Big Shaq-tus). Our schedule is ridiculous this year!.

  9. The Bull Gator says:

    Great point. Hard to look down on the cupcake games when you look at the rest of the schedule year in and year out.

  10. V. Money says:

    TBG, I say push/over (no pun intended).

    Florida stumbles to a 8-4 record in the regular season before losing the bowl game and stumbling to 8-5.

  11. The Bull Gator says:

    As OEW stated: no picking the push. So you're over too. Sounds like we all are.

  12. V. Money says:

    TBG, that depends upon whether you count the bowl game/unlikely SEC championship game.

    Something like 3.5 losses would be better.

  13. The Bull Gator says:

    No need to kill it with details. It was a simple question: would you take 3 losses are less? Or 5 losses or more? You can't alter the question to be 4 or more because you changed it to 3.5. I mean you can, but then you're just avoiding the original question.

  14. V. Money says:

    More. Anything less than 5 is gravy.

  15. The Bull Gator says:

    Seems to be the consensus.

  16. One Eyed Willy says:

    A very sad consensus at that. Remember when we thought 1-loss was the end of the world? Wasn't too long ago.

  17. The Bull Gator says:

    And with that bit of truth from Willy, I think it's time for a drink. Sigh.


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