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.