Making the case for Florida

David Wunderlich makes the argument that Florida is the biggest wildcard in the SEC this season.  I disagree with the “biggest” label he uses – to me, that belongs to a LSU team that, if it fixes its problem at quarterback and Kevin Steele proves not to be an enormous drop-off at defensive coordinator, wins the SEC, but if not, could easily lose five games again this season.  But beyond that, how much of a wildcard can a team be with this much baggage to overcome?

It’s hard to fathom the wreckage that Jim McElwain has to sort through with the offense in Gainesville. This program was on the forefront of offense under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, but now, just putting together an above average unit would be a significant improvement. The past six years of defense-first Gator football have been like watching Alabama try to outscore teams with an Air Raid offense and no defense.

The last quarterback to have an above average season for the program signed in January of 2006, as did the last receiver to have at least 900 yards. The last time it had the same wide receivers coach from one year to the next was 2008-09, and it basically had grad assistants take the job in two different seasons. The offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach spot has turned over five times in the last six seasons, while the offensive line coach spot has turned over four times in the same span. It has alternately tried to run a spread option with a pro-style quarterback (2010) and a pro-style with a spread option quarterback (2012-13). It tried to build that manball pro-style scheme while signing four total offensive linemen across 2011-12. If there’s a mistake to be made with an offense, Florida has probably done it in the past six seasons.

Now I like McElwain (or at least I don’t dislike him, which is a helluva concession in my book for any Gator coach), but to expect him to walk in and effect a serious turnaround overnight on offense strikes me as bordering on the miraculous.  And that’s before you even get to what he has to work with on the offensive line, which is where David really has to stretch to make his point with this:

The offensive line is not in great shape, but it could turn out to be OK. There are three good options at tackle in talented sophomore David Sharpe, two-time FCS All-American grad transfer Mason Halter, and five-star freshman Martez Ivey. Senior Trip Thurman takes over at center, while converted D-lineman and redshirt sophomore Antonio Riles impressed coaches in the spring at one of the guard spots. That means UF might conceivably only have to start one freshman on the line, which is far better than things were looking months ago.

Could and might, the building blocks of any successful line.

So here’s what you’re left with to make a case for dark horse…

But if the offensive line stays healthy, Grier comes through, and the expertise of McElwain and Nussmeier build an offensive scheme that fits its disparate parts, Florida could be a divisional dark horse. The teams on the conference schedule that look a cut above it—Georgia, LSU, and Ole Miss—all have potential quarterback problems that could hold them back. If the great secondary makes big plays, Florida could have a chance to win all of its SEC games. It’s too thin, inexperienced, and unsettled to do so, but it could be in every game towards the end.

There are enough ifs in there to put Vanderbilt in a bowl game.

Florida plays five conference opponents that are ranked in the preseason.  If the Gators run the table and go 8-0 in the SEC, McElwain isn’t a head coach.  He’s a wizard.  Either that, or the SEC is a lot worse than everyone thinks.

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UPDATE:  A little more of a realistic view from Bill Connelly, with this conclusion…

The upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 gives the Gators a 56 percent chance of going 6-6 or 7-5, a 14 percent chance of doing better, and a 30 percent chance of doing worse. I could see eight wins, but 2015 is about 2016 and beyond.

Figure out what you’ve got on offense, figure out your next generation on defense, win a big game or two, and win the fans back.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Making the case for Florida

  1. DC Weez

    The Gatas are too thin in too many positions. That doesn’t bode well for a promising season. Thanks Agent Muschamp!

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  2. Uglydawg

    “There are enough ifs in there to put Vanderbilt in a bowl game.”
    You have a way with words.
    And I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph..if Florida goes 8-0 then the SEC’s in trouble.
    But that ain’t happening.

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  3. “It’s hard to fathom the wreckage that Jim McElwain has to sort through with the offense in Gainesville.”….now add to that the departure of Boom, and that is the recipe for the most perfect Lizard team in years.

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  4. If we learned anything at all from 2014 it is that UGA should never underestimate FU.

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  5. Reservoir Dawg

    Don’t ever play Cards Against Humanity with MacElswain…

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  6. I sort of agree with him that Florida is the biggest Wildcard but only in the East. I know that there are tempered expectations in Gainesville but McElwain had better get them to .500 and a bowl game this year for several reasons:

    Gator fans are already restless and a sub-500 year will not convince them that program is on a correct trajectory. Most UF fans are there because of the success of Spurrier and Meyer, McElwain was not as much of slam-dunk choice as those two were. Both of them brought in innovative offenses after taking over from a “defensive” based HC. McElwain is an offense based HC but his system is not nearly as dynamic as the OBC and Señor Urban. If you don’t improve QB play, don’t get more offense, and fall below .500, then the Gator fans will let Jeremy Foley know he made a mistake.
    Recruiting is not nearly as automatic as it was during the Urban Meyer heyday. It was not a great recruiting year for the new coach in 2015 but you can chalk it up to being behind with a new staff. However, it doesn’t look like FSU is going away anytime soon under Jimbo Fisher and they are recruiting well. UGA, Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, etc have all been poaching players from Florida since the final years of Meyer and it continued with Muschamp. If you trend downward during this season it most likely will continue in recruiting.
    Finally, I think Foley has probably about 2-3 years left as AD. He took over as AD in ’92. He is 62 years old. Certainly, he is capable and young enough to be AD for another 10 years but 25 years is a nice round number as is 65. I think he could retire from UF around then and still move to another collegiate athletics position (head of a revamped NCAA?). But I doubt he leaves without guaranteeing the guy he brought in to coach football either has the program humming along. I suspect that if he has any doubts that McElwain is the guy based on early returns, then Foley will not hesitate to change him.

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  7. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    Let’s assign some probabilities to the Wunderlich components of Gator success and, to be charitable, let’s say each is a 50-50 proposition.

    O Line healthy p = .5
    Grier comes through p = .5
    McElwain builds offensive that fits its parts p = .5
    Secondary makes big plays p = .5

    For it all to come together, that’s .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 which is 0.0625 or 6.25%. In English, not very likely.

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  8. SouthernYank

    New Mexico St – W
    ECU – W
    @Kentucky – ?
    Tennessee – L
    Ole Miss – L
    @Missouri – L
    @LSU – L
    Georgia* – L
    Vanderbilt – W
    @South Carolina – L
    FAU – W
    FSU – L

    4-8 or 5-7

    TRAIN WRECK

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  9. Spike

    May they lose every game. Hey, a fella can dream can’t he?

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  10. Uglydawg

    Team under the radar? Maybe, really, Kentucky.

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  11. Ed Kilgore

    Gator fans are being pretty realistic about McElwain’s first year, or so I surmise from a few friends plus Alligator Army. What troubles me is that the fans seem willing to give up their current streaks against KY and TN if they can just beat the Dawgs. I can only hope said Dawgs have been thoroughly motivated by embarrassment over the terrible performance in Jax last year. I doubt our guys will be allowed to underestimate Florida again.

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    • Dawg19

      I have waited a long time for Georgia to put a real beating on Florida. 2007 was the closest thing to it since 1997.If they’re not prepared to do it after last year’s debacle, I’m not sure I’ll ever see it again.

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  12. “There are enough ifs in there to put Vanderbilt in a bowl game.”

    Got a kick out of that.

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