My Glass if Half Empty

I’ve opened up a new blank document far too many times over the past week and a half. Each time, I’ve starred at my laptop’s screen wondering what would come out of my head and onto the ‘paper.’ And each time, the result was the same—nothing. No words, no thoughts, nothing to say. Just a blank document looking right back at me wondering what to make of the Florida Gators football team as much as I am.

Florida Gators Fan

Today was a different day. Any other season, it was would have been a day of hope. A day during the week leading up to the Georgia game and a rivalry renewed for another season. As our venerable friend Lee Corso would say, “not so fast.”

I’m not excited. I’m actually as close to the exact opposite as any one person can get. In effect, my perpetually half full glass of hope has spilled all over my desk, ruining my keyboard and destroying my just-win attitude in the process. I’m a forlorn Florida fan of the worst kind.

Let me say that losses happen. They happen in a variety of ways. They happen against an Alabama team that at this moment in college football history is superior in every way. They happen in a wild few minutes against LSU where a win was within reach a number of times before it suddenly wasn’t. But they’re not supposed to happen the way they happened against Missouri. The Gators managed to lose a game during which they allowed just 119 yards of offense to the Tigers. And not only did Florida lose, they lost by 29 points. There’s getting kicked in the stomach and then there’s getting kicked in the stomach, sucker punched in the back of the head, drug into the alley, and thrown in a dumpster.

That game—game six of the season I remind you—left far too many questions. The first of which is where exactly are the Gators improving? Florida should have done what it did to Eastern Michigan. It was fun to watch and, despite the opponent, raised our hope level a couple of notches. Then came Kentucky and an overtime thriller. But these Wildcats may have more fight in them than the Wildcats of old, so we can come up with enough excuses to accept the outcome. And, hey, a win is a win. Right? RIGHT??? Alabama is, well, Alabama. All hail thee Nick Saban. The Tennessee game brought another win-is-a-win feeling even as concerns mounted. Then back to The Swamp and LSU. A catch is made and we’re looking at 4-1. Issues aside, that’s 4-1 with one loss to the mighty Tide. I could have accepted that and continued to be my happy-go-lucky self. Glass half full I tell you.

But that catch didn’t happen. Things turned. The Tigers won and then a different set of striped beasts pushed us down the stairs we were playing too close to in the first place. 10 days later and the Gators are still stumbling down those steps, the bottom nowhere in sight. There’s talk of a new coach before Will Muschamp is even given the notice to clear out his office. There are looks to an old friend or two, new hot options, and even the NFL.

Where no one is looking is at Muschamp himself. With five games left, we’re looking to 2015 and a new leader. Let me say that again, with five games left it appears that Gator Nation has given up hope on the 2014 season and on Muschamp and has moved on. That’s sad on many levels, but it has come to that. Is it justified? In the eyes of some, yes. In the eyes of others, maybe not. But one thing is very clear, there are glaring issues that need to be fixed lest our beloved Gators fall further down the college football ladder.

In two days, the Gators will head to Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and a less-than-favorable matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs. Yes, I’m still calling it the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Yes, the Bulldogs are favored and should be.

I don’t have my usual hope at the moment. I’ve searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be found. Maybe it made the road trip to Jacksonville. That would be good—my hope there in the stands, wearing orange and blue, cheering on the Gators. I doubt it though. In reality, it’s probably hiding under my bed or in the woods behind my house waiting for the right moment to return. If we’re being realistic (which we obviously are, because I just said “in reality”), then that moment isn’t just around the corner. There are coaching holes and execution holes and scoring-more-points-than-the-other-guys holes. My love of the Florida Gators hasn’t diminished, but my hope for the remainder of the 2014 football schedule may have.

It’ll be there in spurts as we continue our approach toward Saturday. There will be moments of “why not?!?” and posts of pictures of games past. There will be a #justwin here or there and more than a few To Hell with Georgias yelled out. This is a great game and a great rivalry and I won’t let my melancholy ruin that. Then again, you may want to steer clear of me for the first few hours after the game depending on the outcome. I can only handle so much.

So we go into the final stretch. No more rain outs and no more bye weeks. Instead, five consecutive November games—two against hated rivals, one against a rival we can’t quite decide if we want to call a rival or not, another against an SEC East opponent that embarrassed every fiber of our being one season ago, and Eastern Kentucky. (If 2014 Eastern Kentucky becomes 2013 Georgia Southern, I’ll have a hard time watching another minute of college football this season.)

I feel a dash of hope just writing this, despite its reached-a-point-of-no-return overtones. It’s the “wait, is the glass really half empty?” part of me. At the moment, I feel like it is indeed. Here’s to praying the next 48 hours bring me back to life.

The (Second) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The secret is out; I love college football. College football fueled my desire to start this site way back when on March 19, 2008. But, in the words of everyone’s beloved grandpa Lee Corso, not so fast. The first article posted to The Bull Gator was about college basketball. Okay, okay. That is not entirely correct; the first post was a welcome to the site that three people read—me, the affectionately-named One Eyed Willy, and my mom. But the first post of any substance was about college basketball. (Do not go back and read it; it is not very good.)

Patric Young, Florida Gators

In my mind, the most wonderful time of the year is and always will be college football season. A 4-8 record cannot stop me from believing that. There is a second place though and a good one at that. March Madness, the Big Dance, the NCAA Tourney, whatever you want to call it is great. For coaches, for players, for fans, for companies hoping to market the heck out of themselves, for sports in general, college basketball tourney time is a truly glorious time of the year.

It can (and does) get even better. When you are a fan of the nation’s No. 1 team, it is oh so much better. I will not be shy about that fact and at times will even become boastful over the next few weeks, assuming our top-ranked Florida Gators continue what has been a most wonderful stretch of victories. When your team makes the tourney, you are pleased. When they make a run, you are over the moon. When they enter as the prohibitive favorite to win it all, well, like the Grinch’s heart that day, your chest grows three sizes. If I played fantasy basketball, I would bet on the Gators for much more than the fact that I am a fan.

There is an obstacle between the Gators and the NCAA Tournament, sort of. Florida must first make their way through the SEC Tournament. A conference tournament championship will only solidify the Gators claim to the top overall seed, but it is far from necessary. We all would like Florida to carry momentum in to the bigger of the two tourneys, but a loss would not be the end of the world.

Wait, forget I said that.

Too many times in the past we have justified losses. Let us go ahead and stop that now. Yes, it is true a loss in the SEC Tournament would not destroy all hope of a Gators’ national championship, but it is also true that momentum can be a valuable commodity. Florida can go ahead and make it easy on everyone involved if they take care of business over the next three days and go in to the NCAA tourney with three more wins under their belt. Beat Missouri on Friday, take down the winner of South Carolina-Tennessee on Saturday, and win it all on Sunday.

That is all the Gators have to do. Get three more wins out of the way and move on to the next prize. Seems simple enough, and there is that pride creeping up. Expect it to be here for a while; it does not go away.

First things first, beat Mizzou. As always, Go Gators!

Florida Gators 67 – Tennessee Volunteers 58: Second Half Surge Leads to Victory, Again

Florida has this second half thing down. Tight first halves, followed by second halves during which the Gators march to victory after victory are becoming the norm. Florida did so again on Tuesday night, defeating Tennessee 67-58 in Knoxville.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Volunteers took a 34-33 lead into the locker room thanks to 62.5 percent shooting. Then the Gators tightened the reigns and pressed on defense. Tennessee’s hot shooting night quickly went sour as the Vols managed to shoot just 29.2 percent in the second half.

“…I thought we pressed predominantly most of the second half. We didn’t turn them over a lot, but it was just disruptive in terms of flow,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

The victory was the Gators’ 16th in a row and helped Florida improve its record to 22-2 (11-0 SEC). The Vols fell to 15-9 (6-5 SEC). The Gators have just seven regular season game remaining before the SEC Tournament. Up next for No. 3 Florida is a visit to No. 14 Kentucky.

The Gators relied heavily on a seven-man rotation throughout with all five starters and two reserves—sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard Kasey Hill—all seeing at least 20 minutes on the court. Freshman forward Chris Walker was able to get in for the third-straight game, but only saw five minutes of action.

Florida was led by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin who had 21 points and six assists. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was the only other player to score in double digits with 11. The Gators managed to pull off the victory despite shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor.

Florida Gators 78 – Alabama Crimson Tide 69: Gators Need Second Half to Pull Away

When Florida jumped out to an early 12-2 lead over Alabama on Saturday, it looked like the Gators were on their way to a blowout. That lead evaporated almost as fast as it grew and Florida would head into the locker room at halftime tied with the Crimson Tide.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The second half saw Bama give Florida much of the same as the Gators’ defense didn’t play up to it’s usual standards.

“If you play defense the way we did tonight, you’re not going to win. Thank God we had some offense today that helped us,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

That offense came in the form of 62 percent shooting from the field and a second-half surge that saw the No. 3 Gators improve to 21-2 (10-0 SEC) on the season. The loss dropped the Anthony Grant-led Tide to 9-14 (3-7 SEC).

For the first time in over two months, all five Florida starters scored in double digits. The Gators were led senior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 16. Senior center Patric Young added 11 and a highlight-reel block.

The Gators set a season high with 22 assists, but according to one Florida player, you aren’t going to hear Donovan praise them for that.

“Coach D is not going to tell us about that. As a coach, he wants us to see what we did wrong and get better from that. I think this game can help us learn. It better. Other teams are going to watch this film and see how we broke down and they’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior forward Will Yeguete.

The Gators have Sunday and Monday off before traveling to Knoxville, TN on Tuesday to take on 15-8 (6-4 SEC) Tennessee.

Florida Gators 68 – Missouri Tigers 58: Gators Victorious in Chris Walker’s Debut

A strong second half powered Florida to it’s 14th-straight win. The Gators defeated Missouri 68-58 in freshman forward Chris Walker’s orange and blue debut.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

As expected, Walker was brought along slowly. The freshman was on the court for just seven minutes, but played well enough that he will be sure to be seeing more time soon. Walker finished with four points on two dunks that brought the crowd in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to its feet. Walker also added two defensive rebounds, two blocks, and two personal fouls.

“Just happy he can finally get on the floor and contribute a little bit,” head coach Billy Donovan said.

While all eyes were on Walker, Florida’s best performances of the night came from guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbekin played 36 of 40 minutes and finished with 19 points after going 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. Frazier II added four three-pointers and finished with 14 points.

While freshman guard Kasey Hill has yet to find his scoring touch since returning from injury in December, he showed marked improvement in distributing the ball. Hill finished with six assists to only one turnover in 21 minutes on the court.

In addition to its 14th-consecutive win, the Gators won their 28th in a row at home. That’s a school record Florida hopes to keep building on.

At 20-2 (9-0 SEC), the No. 3 Gators are two games ahead of 17-5 (7-2 SEC) Kentucky. With Walker added to the mix, Florida has a strong chance of holding on to that lead over the No. 18 Wildcats. The two teams face each other for the first time on February 15, but first up for the Gators is 9-12 (3-5 SEC) Alabama on Saturday, February 8.

Florida Gators 69 – Texas A&M Aggies 36: Win Streak Reaches 13

Is there a sport in which the saying “defense wins championships” doesn’t apply? If so, it’s not college men’s basketball and that’s a good thing for the Florida Gators.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

On Saturday, Florida defeated Texas A&M 69-36. The win was the 13th in a row for No. 3 Florida and that streak could continue for quite some time. The 19-2 (8-0 SEC) Gators only have two games remaining on their regular season schedule against ranked opponents. Both of those contests pit Florida against Kentucky. It could be smooth sailing for the Gators between now and the NCAA Tournament and this team is good enough to make some serious noise come March.

Holding the Aggies to less than a point per minute is impressive; holding Texas A&M to less than 26% from the field may be more so. Not every game will go this way, but the Gators’ defense is an unmatched strength in the SEC. While there is talent elsewhere in the conference, Florida is benefiting from a down year all around. That’s not to take anything away from the Gators, but were at that point that anything less than both a regular season SEC title and conference tourney title would be a disappointment.

Florida was led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II who led all scorers with 21 points. Only sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith joined Frazier II in the double-digit scoring club, but that didn’t matter much as not a single Aggie scored more than seven points.

Finney-Smith was one rebound away from a double-double, while senior center Patric Young was one point away from the same. Young led all players with 14 rebounds. Senior forward Will Yeguete also had a double-digit rebounding outing with 10.

Despite the big win, head coach Billy Donovan was ever the realist. “We haven’t even played half our league games yet,” Donovan said.

He’s right of course, but it’s exciting to see this team seemingly improve with every game. It’s scary to the rest of the nation that the Gators are about to get even better. On Tuesday, against Missouri, highly-touted freshman forward Chris Walker will finally make his debut.

Tim Tebow Joins ESPN, SEC Network as College Football Analyst

Tim Tebow is back, sort of. The former Florida quarterback has joined ESPN and will be a college football analyst for the SEC Network. Tebow will appear as a member of a new pregame show–SEC Nation–that premieres on August 28, 2014.

Tim Tebow, Florida Gators

Tebow won’t be restricted to appearing only on SEC Nation. As a member of the ESPN team, Tebow will also appear on the main network itself and also contribute to ESPN Radio and various other college football-related platforms. He won’t have to wait until August 28 as he’ll make his first appearance on January 6 as part of ESPN’s coverage of the national championship.

The former Gators’ star expressed his excitement over the opportunity while mentioning he still has a certain goal he hopes to accomplish again.

“When I was 6 years old, I fell in love with the game of football, and while I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be a part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC,” said Tebow.

The biggest question surrounding Tebow as an analyst will be how critical he can be. Always known as a leader during his time as a football player, Tebow also defines the nice guy persona. Whether he can be critical of teams, coaches, and even players remains to be seen. For instance, what does he say if the Gators’ offense struggles as it has in recent years? The guess is a fair analysis, but we’ll need to see it for ourselves to determine if this is a career for Tebow or just a short-term gig.

In case you’re wondering if we’ll ever see Tebow in the NFL again, well, that’s up in the air, but his contract with ESPN allows him to pursue the opportunity if it arises.

First Half Lead Evaporates as the Florida Gators Lose 5th Consecutive Game

The Florida Gators won the first half on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks 14-6. Two weeks ago, they won the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs 17-0. The real story, however, lies in the other halves of each of those games. For the second time in the last three games, the Gators couldn’t put together 60 minutes of football and as a result now sit at 4-6 after a fifth-straight loss.

Skyler Mornhinweg - Florida Gators

There was hope in this one. It wasn’t the hope of coming from behind for a change. No, this time around, there was hope because of the lead the Gators had put together. Florida’s offense looked like it had pulled all of the pages out of Navy’s playbook. There was motion everywhere and handoffs left and right to backs going in every possible direction. And for a few moments it actually seemed to work.

Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor had a season-high 21 carries, a season-high 96 yards, and (you guessed it) a season-high two touchdowns. He looked, as he has for most of the season even when running behind a pieced-together offensive line, every bit the star he was projected to be. In a season where good feelings have become a thing of the past, Taylor is a bright light guiding us to a promising future. He was fun to watch when he was in high school and he’s fun to watch in orange and blue.

But all good things must come to an end and Taylor’s productive first half gave way to a second half during which South Carolina’s defense tightened. Not having to worry much about the Gators’ passing game, the Gamecocks could key on slowing the running game. That defense did its job, shutting out Florida for the final 30 minutes. In reality, the Gators last score came with 10:51 remaining in the second quarter. 19:09 – 14 points; 40:51 – 0 points. The seemingly hot start cooled rapidly.

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Year Four of Will Muschamp is a Certainty, But First the Gamecocks

Will Muschamp was given a vote of confidence this week—he will be the head coach of the Florida Gators in 2014. Both athletic director Jeremy Foley and University of Florida president Bernie Machen have come out in support on Muschamp; Foley going as far as to say he is 1,000% convinced Muschamp is the right man for the job. Debates will rage on, but are now as pointless as are those regarding possible future coaches. Will Muschamp will return, as far as we know.

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

With the votes of confidence from Foley and Machen, Muschamp can focus on what is sure to be a tough run of final games. The regular season, and in all likelihood the entire season, comes to an end on November 30 with a visit from the currently undefeated Florida State Seminoles. One week before that, the Gators host Georgia Southern in what at one time was thought to be an easy victory. Easy victories have become a thing of the distant past. Prior to both of those games, there is Saturday’s trip to Columbia, South Carolina to face an old friend and another ranked opponent.

I will always have a feeling of admiration for Steve Spurrier, and maybe that makes me a different sort of Florida fan. There are those, and they still seem many in numbers, that despise the man that once led the Gators to glorious moment after glorious moment. After all, he left the Gators and that is the sin of all sins. You don’t win and win plenty at the University of Florida and then leave for a new opportunity or because the pressure was too much. The Gators have had two national championship winning head coaches do so, and many fans are not pleased about it and never will be.

There are some of us, though, that have moved on. I don’t blame Spurrier for leaving; I praise him for what he built. You can argue that the Florida Gators were destined for greatness regardless of the man that led them there. The school is large enough and the state in which it resides is plentiful of star high school prospects. While the 1970s had low points, the 1980s had high ones before Spurrier arrived. In 1990, things changed though. Spurrier returned to Gainesville and took the Gators to new heights. No one can predict what would have happened if he hadn’t, but I like to think those 12 seasons and 122 wins helped pave the way for SEC titles and national championships after Spurrier had long left the orange and blue.

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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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