Becoming a Florida Gators Fan Again

Sports blogs have failed you. And this one is no different.

Years ago, when the first sports blogs appeared, the idea was simple: sports, from a fan’s perspective. You visited because you were intrigued and you returned because it felt like you were reading the thoughts of someone you could hang out with. Suddenly, your friends had a voice. Sports blogs were different than traditional sports journalism because of that voice. You didn’t see dry game recaps. No, you saw opinions. Opinions you yourself had or even those you vehemently disagreed with. But it was those opinions you latched on to and wanted more of. You wanted your rant to your dog after a heartbreaking defeat to be justified because someone out there somewhere felt the same way you did. It was a beautiful thing.

Florida Gators Football Fans

Then they became too popular.

Advertising. Networks. Partnerships. Sports blogs became the same large media outlets they had hoped to differentiate themselves from. Bloggers started to alter their writing styles to gain hits. They changed what they were writing about to drive page views. Opinions were still there, but they were lost in a sea of 100-word game recaps with post titles carefully constructed for SEO purposes.

During that time, many sports blogs became insanely successful and just as many bloggers made careers out of what was first a hobby. Let’s clear the air and say that not long after its inception in 2008 my goal was much the same with The Bull Gator. I wanted to be the next casual blogger turned buyout success. I too had lost sight of the reason I started TBG in the first place. But back to that in a moment.

None of this is a knock on those high-trafficked blogs and what they have become, even if it’s hard to call them blogs at this point. There are many of them I read weekly if not daily. My list of favorite writers includes a number of talented individuals that started as I did. They put in a lot of hard work to get where they are today and I’m genuinely happy for them. They have turned a hobby into something much more. There was a time when I wanted the same, but now I’m not so sure.

The point of all of this is to return to the reason I started TBG in the first place—because I’m a fan of sports, specifically college football and the Florida Gators. I and a group of friends would banter over emails chains that lasted days. We loved every aspect of college football and probably liked discussing it even more. We were simply fans, and then I started TBG.

TBG was an outlet for me to expand on my opinions. One of those friends once said “you should start a blog,” so I did. How many endeavors in the history of the world have begun that way? “You should see what’s across that ocean?” “You should make a rocket that will take people to the moon?” “You should definitely take that shot?” Okay, that last one is almost always a bad idea, especially if it’s after 2:00am.

So I went to Blogger, signed up, and TBG was born. It took a long time to find its focus and even today may not truly have one. I tried talking any and all sports. I tried focusing on the athletic programs of the two universities I had the pleasure of attending. I tried just one of those schools. I tried to be too much. I tried to be too little. Mostly, I tried. I wouldn’t say I failed, but I tried a lot that worked out and just as much that didn’t.

For the last few months, as TBG lay idle, I’ve thought about what its future held. More often than not, those thoughts came around to shutting it down and saying farewell to the world of blogging, but in the end that’s not what I really wanted.

What I wanted was to be a fan again. I wanted to share my opinions on the Gators. I didn’t want to rush to write a game recap as quickly as I could as soon as the final buzzer sounded. I wanted to write what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it. I wanted to go to games thinking about my love of the orange and blue, not worrying about how long it would be before I could get up a post about the latest injury, or highlight, or win, or loss. I wanted to be what I was in 2008 when I clicked the button that made the site live.

So today, I’m a fan again. A Gators’ fan. A fan that is seriously concerned over his choice of shirt and hat for the first game because superstition has set in. A fan that can’t wait to go to the bookstore and add to my all-too-large collection of Florida apparel. A fan that hopes with everything in his being that 4-8 was an anomaly we won’t see again. A fan that cheers during the good times and the bad times. A fan that spills his beer jumping out of his seat after a touchdown. A fan that paces in front of the television when the Gators are losing. A fan that truly believes it when he says “wait ‘til next year.” A fan.

I love the Gators in every way a diehard does. I’m angry at 4-8. I’m happy at the prospect of improvement. I experience the ups and downs of recruiting. I think Will Muschamp should be fired while at the same time think he needs more time. I blame injuries. I blame refs. I blame offensive coordinators. I blame myself for putting on a cursed shirt. I believe I can impact a game by yelling at the players from the comfort of my living room (my wife disagrees).

As that fan that I am once again becoming, I could not be more nervous about the upcoming season. 4-8. 4-8!!!!! It’s hard to think it let alone say it. There were so many factors that went into that record and so many excuses we could make for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Gators went 4-8 in 2013 and lost to Georgia Southern AT HOME! No, no, just no. I hardly had the energy to give out my signature line of “just win” last season because more often than not Florida couldn’t. To make matters worse, they started 4-1. That’s a whole lot of losing to end a season. I wasn’t a happy fan and if Twitter, Facebook, the Internet in general told the story, none of you were either.

But 2014 is a new season and with it comes a new offensive coordinator. Hope springs eternal in the life of a sports fan. The problem is that we hope for something along the lines of 10-2 when realistically 7-5 could signal a drastic improvement. And there is exactly where fans will divide. We could see a dramatically improved Florida team that does go 7-5. There will be the fans that seen that improvement and look toward 2015 and on the other side will be those fans that see 7-5 and don’t care what the Gators looked like to get there. To them the five losses are far too many, and they’re right.

That is too many losses. So is four, but I’ve always looked at it in terms of wins. For me, 10 wins is the mark. That’s what a program like Florida should hit season after season after season. The Gators play in an unbelievably competitive conference, you all know that, but based on so many other factors, they should be near the top of the SEC every single season. I want 10 wins, at least. I want it in 2014 even if I don’t think it’s realistic. I want it so my friends that like those other schools that will remain nameless shut up. And I want it so I’m happy. But mostly, for 2014, I want improvement. I want visible improvement to show the program is rebuilding and getting back to where it should be. And I think it will happen.

I do. Of my group of Florida fan friends, I’m the most optimistic one. It’s a fault, but also keeps me sane. I think. The glass is more than half full for me and I like it that way. 4-8 is behind us and all signs point to improvement in 2014. But again, that improvement may not show much in the final record. Maybe I just want to see good football. There were times, many times, last season where good football wasn’t present. There was a lot of bad, horrible, awful football. I can’t stomach even the thought of the loss to Vanderbilt. I was there that day watching who knows what. It was not good football and probably the farthest from it the Gators have played in quite some time.

That leads me to the bright spots. A healthy Jeff Driskel should fit into Kurt Roper’s offense. Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the nation’s best players. Dante Fowler, Jr. is a superstar in the making and someone we will be watching on Sundays for a very long time. And the running back position excites me as long as injuries and the fumble bug don’t hit. I like a lot about this team. I don’t believe it’s a championship team and I don’t think anyone else does, but if you look hard enough, turn your head to the left, squint, and tap your heels together three times, you might see that Florida is putting something together.

The first three games on the schedule could tell us nothing. September 20 will. A trip to Alabama that all too many have written off as a loss already. I’m not proclaiming a Gators’ win. I just want to see what happens. It will be a telling 60 minutes during which we’ll see where this team is and where they will go. Add LSU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, and FSU to the schedule and, well…scariest environment imaginable. And I didn’t even mention Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Hence the “7-5 would be a drastic improvement” comments.

Regardless of what will or won’t happen and my hope or lack thereof, I’m excited. Today is the most wonderful day of the year (you know, every day I get to spend with my wife and son aside). It’s the start of the college football season. I have a Gators’ shirt on, I set up a patio television for my pool viewing pleasure (it’s hot in Florida this time of year, people), and in a few hours I pick up my cousin at the airport. That last part is important because my cousin may be the biggest Gators’ fan that has ever lived that has stepped on the University of Florida campus exactly once.

The two of us will be at the game on Saturday, so if you see two men tailgating behind a black GMC Yukon that look too old to be college students, but too young to be true Bull Gators, stop by, say hello, and join us for a beer. My name is Joel, his name is Scott, and we’re Florida Gators’ fans. We’ll cheer with the rest of you on Saturday and on every other Saturday for the next few months. We’ll be obnoxious to opposing fans when the moment calls for it. We’ll question every play that results in less than five yards. We’ll complain and moan if Roper doesn’t rain down offensive fireworks galore from the very first snap. Through it all, we’ll cheer and we won’t stop. We’re fans of the orange and blue and excited to kick off another season with hope.

And before I go, I have to leave you with two things—Go Gators! And Just Win!

Florida Gators Recruiting: Quarterback Treon Harris Flips from Florida State

Florida pulled off one of the biggest gets of National Signing Day, flipping quarterback Treon Harris from Florida State to the Gators.

Treon Harris, Florida Gators

Once hired as Florida’s new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper made Harris one of his top targets. Despite being committed to FSU, Harris was open to listening to what Roper had to offer. The quarterback seems to fit well into the offense Roper hopes to run and brings a different skill set to the position than early enrollee Will Grier.

Jeff Driskel will be the starter, but the junior has a history with injuries and, at times, inconsistent play. While many fans hoped Grier could come in and win the job immediately, the best course of action for the Gators was always to bring in two quarterbacks. Two transferred out; two are coming in.

Harris could actually be the one to relieve Driskel during the 2014 season as he may fit the offense better from day one. That’s not to say Grier is now on the outside looking in, but the best course of action for him may be to redshirt while the offense evolves. There are worse things than three quarterbacks all learning during the transition season to be ready for 2015.

Fans will instantly think back to John Brantley and Cam Newton and then to Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Keep hope that this time around, the two quarterbacks will have bright futures for the Gators.

The Super Bowl Giveth, The Super Bowl Taketh Away

Tomorrow, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will compete in the Super Bowl. Once the game is over, so will be football.

Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

For some of us, that may be a good thing. The Florida Gators posted a record of 4-8 during the 2013 regular season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won as many games despite having four more chance to add to their victory total. That’s eight combined wins for the teams I consider myself a fan of. Eight total wins and 20 losses. The end of the current football season can’t come soon enough for me.

I will miss it of course. I’m not completely dead inside. I will miss the victories, though few and far between recently. I will miss the anticipation and hope. I will miss those that stuck together in all kinds of weather. But there is plenty I won’t miss.

I won’t miss poor offensive play, and poor is a nice way to put it. I won’t miss injuries. I won’t miss coaching hot seats. I won’t miss the fan 20 years my senior that hates Jeff Driskel with a passion reserved for, well, I can’t really imagine where you find that kind of hate within you. I won’t miss losing two or three times as many games as you win.

Luckily, football never really comes to an end. Mere days after the Super Bowl is National Signing Day–a recruiting fan’s dream date. Following NSD, we gear up for the NFL Draft. During the summer, we talk recruiting and anticipation and hope begins to build again. All along, if you’re so inclined, you can bet on the upcoming season (find the latest odds online with Betfair). The games may end, but football doesn’t.

Tomorrow, the final game of the 2013 season is played. For us Gators, we have Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell and Jeremy Mincey to cheer for. One team will be wearing orange and blue, even if their quarterback could never beat Florida. We have 60 minutes of game time left. 60 minutes before the offseason truly begins and hope returns.

Florida vs. Vandy, Bowl Eligibility, and Awkward Hashtags

Twitter could be one of the worst things to happen to our society, or one of the best; there is no in-between. It allows us to find out at a moment’s notice that the Florida Gators are no stranger to injury, while also bringing trash talk to a new level. It also accounts for more moments of awkwardness than possibly any other medium, because as a not-so-famous (at the time) actress once said in a movie about another social network “the internet is written in pen, not pencil.” (That may have been paraphrased for reasons having to do with me being too lazy to look it up.)

What did Twitter bring us today? It brought us Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Franklin is the motivation type as many coaches are when it comes to Twitter. You won’t find much real talk when it comes to such figures. Instead, it’s all inspirational quotes, motivational sayings, or battle calls to rally the troops. But occasionally awkwardness rears its ugly (and humorous) head.

Put it this way, if you need a disclaimer every time you say something, you should think about saying it in a different way. When “opportunity is now here” quickly becomes “opportunity is nowhere,” it’s time for a new hashtag, even if it is oddly appropriate for the game about to take place this Saturday.

The opportunity for the Gators to secure a bowl berth is now here. That much is true; painfully so. When you’re nine games into the season and need a win against a Vandy team that beat a Georgia team that beat you in hopes of going bowling nowhere better describes things than now here. And that is exactly when we give out yet another large sigh and ugh ourselves into the fetal position. “Opportunity is nowhere, but hey look my vat of beer is now here!”

Opportunity is nowhere because the Gators are 4-4. It’s nowhere because a bowl isn’t a guarantee. It has been too many years since Florida last missed bowl season and too many to even think of a losing record. Opportunity passed us over and moved on to the next man standing. (With Oregon’s loss to Stanford just one night ago, that man may be Florida State. Say it with me again without vomiting just a little in your mouth—“UGH.”)

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No. 6, Tyler Murphy, LSU, and My Never-Ending Love of the Florida Gators

Yes, I am alive. And yes, my love of the Florida Gators hasn’t died. It has just been dormant on this one particular display vehicle. While active on other mediums, The Bull Gator site has been left out in the cold. My name is Joel and I haven’t posted anything on this site in 63 days.

Tyler Murphy, Florida Gators

In that time, the Gators have marched (if that’s one way of putting it) to a 4-1 start behind an elite defense, an impressive after-thought turned hero of a quarterback and a schedule that’s about to take a turn into the realm of increased difficulty. I’d like to say I’m pleased with the season so far, and I am, but I’m also cautious and worried about what’s right around the corner. The defense gives me hope, while the offense has my wondering if it can keep up with the scoring prowess of some of the teams on the horizon.

As the Gators continue the 2013 season, I’d like to say my contributions to the blog part of The Bull Gator network will increase, but I honestly can’t promise that. Oddly enough, my first season as a football season ticket holder coincides with the lowest post output since this site’s inception. But the love is there and is never-ending. To use a phrase that honestly makes me laugh just a little every time I hear it, I bleed orange and blue.

For now, I’m back if for one post in the middle of a season with plenty to look forward to. Enjoy the thoughts of someone that has been observing from the sidelines (or, more accurately, from 21 rows up).

Speaking of hope and looking forward, I ever so briefly looked forward to what No. 6 would bring to the Gators this season. His contributions were limited and are now over as it stands for 2013, but that quickly brings me to another No. 6 and a player that is fast becoming one of the nation’s best.

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We’ve Made It to August; College Football (and Hope) Commence

We wait far too long for college football to begin. The fan starts to wait the moment the national championship game comes to a conclusion. There are other sports to fill our time, but they don’t fill the void. They are stopgaps and as much as we love them, we always come back to college football. (Unless you’re a college basketball fan first, but then I can’t explain your existence.)

Jeff Driskel Florida Gators

There are countdowns upon countdowns–100 days, 50 days, 1 month. The real one begins in August. Fall camps have started and games are on the horizon. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year. Or it would be if it weren’t for this infernal heat. I love Florida and all it has to offer (even its copious amounts of crazy), but even I have my limits when having to walk outside in a button-down and khakis. My Canadian blood curses me every time. (Insert obligatory Jesse Palmer mention here.)

So here we are–August. It’s full of practice reports, predictions, trash talk, and apparently appendectomies. You don’t want to enter August with the news that one of your players will miss a few weeks of practice due to the removal of his appendix. You don’t want that player to be your starting quarterback. You don’t want the quarterback to be the only one on the roster with experience because that other guy now calls one of the Carolinas home.

It’s an entirely different article in itself, but this is the year of Jeff Driskel. Not in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, as Leak had on his way to a national championship in his final season. But in the way that Driskel could be made or broken during this, his junior season. Driskel could be on his way to that Chris Leak year. He could also go the way of a, let’s say, Terry Dean. For those keeping score at home, 2006 Leak > 1993 Dean. So maybe just maybe it is in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, or maybe Driskel is one season away from that 2006-type run. On the other side of the coin, maybe there is a youngster in the wings waiting to pounce and take over.

(To be clear, Dean was not a bad quarterback by any stretch of the imagination. However, there was someone else on the depth chart that became the legend Dean did not. Driskel could end up with a historical significance very close to that of Dean’s–a serviceable QB on teams with heaps of talent. That’s not an awful thing, but it’s also not what we want and most likely not what Driskel wants. While the Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow spots are reserved for, well, Wuerffel and Tebow, Driskel has a shot at putting himself alongside someone like a Leak. It’ll take a leap of sorts and even more than the heaps of talent the Florida Gators may already possess, but let’s be clear that 2013 Driskel would much rather resemble 2006 Leak than 1993, or even 1994, Dean. It’s more than just the individual numbers, it’s the end result of the season.)

There will be others to watch on offense, and defense as well. The Gators are sure to produce a star or two or ten, but there is also the opportunity for disappointment. We don’t take disappointment well here in Gator Nation. We never have, but we used to be better at it. Actually, that’s not true at all. The truth is that we used to be quieter about it. All fanbases did. Before the Internet explosion and message boards and Facebook and Twitter, we complained to our close personal circle of family, friends, etc. Today, we live in a world in which we complain to everyone. Disappoint came against Georgia and again against Louisville last season, and we let the world know about it.

It could come again this season. While an undefeated season is a possibility, it’s not likely. I would venture a guess that no one out there fully expects an unblemished record. As much as we all may hope for it, we are realistic and think 11-2 is entirely possible again. If those two at the end of that record come, you’ll be sure we’ll talk about them. There’s nothing wrong with that–every fanbase does it (even if at times it feels like we may do it more)–but for now we ignore the possible disappointment. We ignore it because it’s August and we have hope.

Hope is a dangerous thing in sports, but it’s also what makes a fan a fan. Every season I have hope; some seasons more than others, but hope all the same. But look at it this way for a moment: I was 33 years old at the end of the 2012 season. In those 33 years, the Gators won three national championships. Not a bad percentage at all (unless you’re Alabama of recent years), but three ultimate prizes in 33 years. In that same time, FSU took home only two trophies and Tennessee managed only one. Yet, we fans have hope.

Hope despite a quarterback with a future that could go in either direction. Hope despite a largely new running game (although, let’s be honest, we’re all pretty excited about it). Hope despite a group of receivers that need to step up possibly more than any other unit on the entire squad. Hope despite plenty of new starters and faces on defense. Hope despite a talented kick returner lost for the season.

I, personally, hope for Driskel’s progression. I hope for big things from Matt Jones and an explosive rookie campaign from Kelvin Taylor. I hope for a go-to receiver or two. I hope for a dependable offensive line. I hope for a frightening defensive line. I hope for consistent tackling from the linebackers. I hope for All-American seasons from Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. I hope to finally be able to spell Loucheiz correctly on the first try. I hope for 10 wins, at least. I hope for an SEC Championship Game appearance. I hope for a season to be proud of. I hope. We all do.

Orange and Blue Debut Becomes Glorified Practice; Are the Days of a Spring ‘Game’ Gone?

The Orange and Blue Debut was more spring practice and less spring game this time around, and it may be a sign of things to come.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

Under former head coach Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators’ annual spring game took on a differing look depending on the whim of the coach. In mid-game, if Meyer wanted the field goal unit to keep kicking and kicking and kicking, they did just that. Under current head coach Will Muschamp, not much has changed. Gone may be the days of a true game and here to stay may be a glorified practice designed to end the spring in front of Florida fans in The Swamp.

There were reasons for the altered format and it had mostly to do with injuries. A depleted offensive line only allowed the Gators a practice environment. Without the ability to run out two full units, Florida turned the spring game into a scrimmage at times and a practice session at others. It came down to whatever works and whatever you can do with what you have.

There’s little to take from the Gators’ spring game, and even less so if it truly becomes a practice session like it did on Saturday. For every spring star that doesn’t bring that talent with him to the fall, there is a player that is relatively quiet during the spring semester only to break out when the games that count begin. Feel free to be disappointed now or overly excited at the prospect of a breakout star, but keep most of whatever it is you are thinking bottled up until August 31.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how much quarterback Jeff Driskel has improved. The passing game has to develop; that much we know. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease may find himself looking for work elsewhere if it doesn’t. It starts and ends with Driskel as he will enter the 2013 season as the undisputed leader of the offense. That wasn’t the case before the 2012 season. An 11-2 record may have given the soon-to-be junior some confidence heading into 2013, but now he needs to make the plays to go with it. Driskel can use his running ability to his advantage, but with a talented stable of running backs, he may not need to. He needs to develop as a passer and stretch the field. We’re all waiting for the fireworks to come back to Florida’s offense. And we’re long past waiting patiently.

Speaking of the running backs, the starting job belongs to Matt Jones and that’s a good thing. Jones came on strong in limited action as a freshman, ending the 2012 regular season with his coming out party in the victory over instate rival Florida State. Jones has distanced himself from the pack during spring practice, but there’s still talent behind him. Mack Brown has stuck around and hopes to earn carries and then there’s the player we’ve all been waiting for years to see in a Gators’ uniform. Kelvin Taylor didn’t disappoint on Saturday and we all hope he has many more successful Saturdays in his future.

Like Taylor, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson enrolled early and was able to participate in spring practice. Unfortunately for Robinson, he missed eight practices due to a high-ankle sprain. Despite not being entirely healthy, the freshman was still able to show what he can bring to offense on Saturday. And fans weren’t the only ones impressed by Robinson. Muschamp is ready for Robinson to step in right away and cornerback Jaylen Watkins had the following to say:

“He got an injury and instead of backing down, he took on the challenge to go into the training room and get better and pushed out there while he was hurting. Today he was limping and still making great catches. When you see a guy like that, you know he has something great.” – Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida Gators

The spring has ended for the Gators and now the true wait begins. We have more than four months before we see the orange and blue in action again and all we have until then are the memories of the spring game that wasn’t a game at all. That leaves us plenty of time to discuss debate the good and the bad we expect to see from the Gators in the fall. It may be premature, but it feels mildly appropriate to break out the first one of these for the 2013 season now–just win.

Transfer News: Florida Gators Bid Farewell To Jacoby Brissett, Chris Johnson

We all knew this was coming. As much as we may have wanted a talented, highly-recruited quarterback sitting behind Jeff Driskel for the next two seasons, we knew that QB wouldn’t be Jacoby Brissett. The sophomore quarterback has now made it official, he will leave the Florida Gators, transferring to another school.

Jacoby Brissett - Florida Gators

This really is the best decision for Brissett. The ball had been given to Driskel and he wasn’t losing it any time soon. While Driskel took his lumps during the 2012 season, he also had moments that made us excited for 2013 and beyond. His stats won’t jump out at you, but 10-2 as a starter is something to build on. And because it has become obvious that Will Muschamp and Brent Pease will build behind Driskel, Brissett had to leave.

There are no hard feelings coming from this side at all toward Brissett. He went to battle against Driskel and lost. Now he has decided to move on. There will always be the “what could have been,” but it’s that case with any departing player. We (and by we, I mean me because many are split on this) wanted to see more of Brissett’s arm, but not necessarily at the expense of the overall package Driskel brings. They are two different quarterbacks and the coaches have to build the offense around one. So farewell Jacoby, we truly wish you luck.

Also announcing his intention to leave was one-time defensive back and current running back Chris Johnson. While Johnson was a special teams standout at times, he wasn’t able to crack the lineup on either the defensive or offensive side of the ball. Johnson had a less-than-memorable end to his Gators’ career after being ejected from the Sugar Bowl.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Five Final Sugary Thoughts

In less than five hours, the Florida Gators will hit the field one final time to close out the 2012 season. Their opponent–the Louisville Cardinals–is an unfamiliar one, and the place–the Sugar Bowl–hasn’t been as known to the Gators as one would have hoped in recent years. The two teams face off with that pride thing on the line, but also much more. For the Gators, it’s a chance at an unlikely 12-1 season and a BCS bowl game victory one season before many thought it was possible.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

As we head into tonight’s game and the Time That Forgot College Football beyond it, here are five final thoughts on the Sugar Bowl.

1. Charlie Strong being a former Florida Gators’ assistant coach does not give Louisville an advantage. Okay, so having Strong as a head coach period might–the man is very good at what he does–but he didn’t leave Gainesville a year ago. He left long before the current staff and system was in place. This is his third season with the Cardinals. Do the math. Will Muschamp is in his second with the Gators and it feels like offensive coordinator Brent Pease only just got here. Strong gives his team many advantages, but familiarity with what the Gators do today isn’t one of them. Sure, he’s familiar with some of the older players and even had a large part in bringing some of them to the University of Florida, but that is vastly different than someone that may have left just one season ago.

2. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is that good. In only his sophomore season, Bridgewater is already one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He ranked seventh in the nation is passer rating–161.6–and sixth in completion percentage–60.0%. The sophomore is constantly improving. Even in Louisville’s two losses, Bridgewater’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 5-to-2. The Gators’ secondary will be on alert. This kid can throw the ball.

3. The Gators’ sophomore quarterback–Jeff Driskel–hasn’t climbed as high as Bridgewater as quickly, but he has rather efficiently led Florida to an 11-1 record. Driskel may not wow you for 59 minutes, but then suddenly he does. He wasn’t asked to throw nearly as much as Bridgewater–216 to 387–but he showed signs of improvement over time. The passing yards aren’t there, but neither are the interceptions; Driskel only threw three all season. As the offense evolves, so does Driskel. He may never be a 3,000-yard passer, but in 11 starts in 2012 (come on, let’s just go ahead and give him the start for the Bowling Green game), he went 10-1. I’ll take it.

4. On that note, many of you will say “well, it was the defense, not the offense.” For the most part I won’t argue with you and because of that I’ll give a shout of to that side of the ball right here. Jon Bostic, gone. Sharrif Floyd, probably gone. Omar Hunter, gone. Matt Elam, probably gone. Those are just a few names. Just a few of the standouts on this year’s defense. Some of the stars will return, but others won’t. For some, this is it. This is their final game in a Gators’ uniform. Play for whatever you want to play for tonight, but make it count. Do it one final time and prove to the nation again just how good you can be.

5. And finally, enjoy it all. This isn’t just to the players, but also to us–the fans. This isn’t the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl. This is the Sugar Bowl. It’s one of the big ones. It’s one of the ones many Florida fans feel the Gators belong in. We want this every year, so don’t look over it when it comes as a surprise. This is what we want to see from our Gators. We want 10+ wins, we want to beat Florida State, we want to be in the top five and we want bowl games. When a national championship isn’t in the picture, this is what we want. Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow starts the long, cold, dead period.

Mike Gillislee Caps Off Florida Gators Career With Magical Season

Okay, so I admit using the word “magical” is a little much, but do you expect any less from me? First of all, it’s 6:00 in the morning as I write this. Second, I have a five-month-old child, which is basically the equivalent of having a drunk person that has lost the ability to speak in your house at all times. And finally, we all really do want to believe it was magical.

Mike Gillislee - Florida Gators

Mike Gillislee set lofty goals for himself entering the 2012 college football season–1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns–and while the Florida Gators’ senior didn’t reach those goals, he did hit a milestone we’re all proud of. Gillislee capped off the regular season with 140 yards on the ground and two touchdowns against the Florida State Seminoles to give him 1,104 yards and 10 TDs on the season. Not only did he become the first true Gators’ running back to break the 1,000-yard mark since Ciatrick Fason did in 2004, but he also became the first to carry the ball 200 times or more and rush for 10 or more touchdowns since Fason. Tim Tebow did both and Trey Burton and Percy Harvin found the end zone 10 or more times, but Gillislee is the first running back to do it since Ron Zook patrolled the Gators’ sidelines. And now is as good a time as any to quickly move on from Zook and forget I even mentioned him.

Back to the wonders of the Gators’ rediscovered running game. Gillislee was a bright spot in a season that was about as odd as odd can be. But, as we saw against Florida State, he wasn’t alone. Overall, there weren’t many wow moments to the running game outside of Gillislee, but that’s also because Florida decided early on that he would be the go-to back as long as he remained healthy. Sure, Jeff Driskel has his moments and Burton had a few of those plays that made you believe in his aura once again, but the running game belonged to Gillislee. Although, we did see glimpses of the future and it made us smile.

For Gillislee though, we don’t know what that future is. He has one game remaining as a Florida Gator. It’s easy to imagine him getting plenty of carries against the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl. He was the workhorse all season for an 11-1 Gators’ squad and both Will Muschamp and Brent Pease will want him to go out with a bang. Maybe not a Tebow-sized exit, but a good one all the same.

That game will bring an end to a career we hoped for more from, but got all we ever wanted during one final season. Years prior, we imagined a final season during which Gillislee would finally become the number one running back. Saying he didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. When the offensive line stepped up its play, Gillislee was great. When they were average, he was above it. When they were down, he was still the shining spot. Yes, he had better games than others and some that were nothing to praise, but we’re looking at the overall picture here.

We congratulate the Florida Gators on their successful 2012 season, but we single out Mike Gillislee. There are many reasons we’re looking forward to the Sugar Bowl, but watching Gillislee one final time is very high on the list.