With win over Georgia, it’s official: Mac has brought the Gators back

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This past offseason, I adamantly stated that Jim McElwain needed two years to get the Gators’ program back on track thanks to the mess Will Muschamp left him, and that we as fans needed to give him two years of leeway.

Looks like we can throw all that out, though. All the talk about two, three year plans of getting Florida back to national relevance is now just a funny memory. Because by beating Georgia, and thus overcoming a hurdle that has tripped the Gators up in three of the four lost years under Muschamp, he has the Gators squarely in the thick of the national championship chase as we move into November.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming this August. I know I didn’t.

Whatever doubts remained about McElwain’s ability to lead a football program vanished this past weekend. There were admittedly some questions about whether he could continue to win games after the devastating loss of Will Grier, and whether he and Geoff Collins could get the defense turned around after getting ripped up by a good but not great LSU offense. And while Florida’s 38-10 blowout over Ole Miss proved that he could indeed coach himself to a win in a big game, he still hadn’t won the really big game yet.

Until this past weekend, when Mac won the biggest regular season game he’ll ever coach in.

Georgia is, without a doubt, Florida’s biggest rival because of the SEC East implications that the Florida-FSU rivalry doesn’t have, and I will defend that against anybody. History says that the loser of the Florida-Georgia game is always, without fail, going to suffer some sort of consequence. Whether that was Florida destroying Georgia’s national championship hopes in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008 or even 2014 to merely ruining their SEC Championship dreams like in 1992, 2008, 2010 or 2014, Georgia’s got an anguished history in this game. But that’s not to say they haven’t ruined plenty of Florida’s seasons, too: losses to Georgia in 1985 and 2012 directly cost the Gators perfect regular seasons, and the losses in 1966, 1997 and 2007 killed three more possible national championships (even with two losses heading into that 2007 game, Florida was ranked #9).

There’s no denying that beating FSU is a must. I hate the majority of that fan base. And it makes recruiting in the talent rich state of Florida so much easier. But other than a brief period in the mid 1990’s, that game has, historically speaking, been irrelevant. You can lose that game and still win the national championship. See the 1996 season for further clarification. And although most Florida fans remember the 1994 season as the year of the devastating non-loss in Tallahassee, guess what? The Gators still won the SEC and reached the Sugar Bowl (where yes, they lost to FSU in a rematch… but the point is, they got there.) More recently, even when this game features two top ten teams, there’s no guarantee a loss will hurt either team; Florida’s 37-26 victory in 2012 merely meant that FSU won the ACC and the Orange Bowl with two losses, and not one.

McElwain will soon learn why beating FSU is of similarly high priority if he hasn’t already, but by guiding his adversity-riddled team to a win over Georgia, he’s checked off three boxes that coaches are judged by. One, he beat Georgia. That in itself is worthy of praise. Two, he’s proven that no matter the circumstances surrounding his program, even as dire as his star quarterback getting suspended for the year, he’s able to coach around that and guide his team to a victory over a solid team in a huge rivalry game. And three, he’s secured the Gators’ first SEC East title since 2009- unless you’d care to go about explaining how a Vanderbilt team that lost to Western Kentucky is going to win its last four SEC games (two of which are against Texas A&M and Florida).

Ever since the SEC split into two divisions and formed the SEC Championship Game in 1992, the goal at Florida has always been to win the division and reach that SEC Championship Game. Will Muschamp not only couldn’t do that in his four year tenure, he seldom even got close to it. There aren’t a whole lot of Gator coaches who coached since the installation of that game (Spurrier, Zook, Meyer and Muschamp) but the ones there were are the standard McElwain must be compared to. And he’s off to a flying start, since he’s about to become the first Head Gator to guide his team there in his first year (to be fair, there was no SEC Title Game in Spurrier’s first year in 1990, but Florida would have been ineligible for it anyway due to NCAA sanctions).

So if you’re looking for a quick conclusion to describe Florida’s 2015 season, here’s one: the Gators are back. They’re back to the top of the SEC East, they’re back in the national championship hunt, they’re back to being enjoyable to watch and they’re back to being a relevant football program.

Had Florida lost to Georgia, the Bulldogs would have controlled their own destiny to Atlanta with only Kentucky and Auburn left to play. The season would have still been considered a rousing success, of course, but it would have left me feeling like McElwain still had more to prove in ensuing years, as he would be 0-2 with Treon Harris as the starting QB and 0-1 against Georgia. After beating Missouri, this was the last game I could have possibly foreseen a loss, and one that would be somewhat damaging to the sterling season McElwain’s club has had so far.

This team is destined for greatness. 11 short months after I was worried that Florida would lose to Eastern Kentucky, I’m now at the point where I can confidently say the Gators should run the table in November and have a legitimate chance to win the SEC Championship Game. And we have one man, above all others to thank for bringing us back to the point where we as Gator fans can all feel this way.

That man is Coach McElwain. And while there’s certainly still a long way to go this season, McElwain has already accomplished what he said he wanted to. He’s restored the order.

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7 thoughts on “With win over Georgia, it’s official: Mac has brought the Gators back

  1. OK, I get it… Yes, Coach Mac has earned all the praise, and then some… and then some more. BUT.
    Let’s temper things with a quick reality check. Had it not been for the now 11-year curse put on the vols, UF would’ve (and soooo should’ve) lost that game. Throw in the sloppy performance against ECU (remember the pirates were driving to tie it up late when fate stepped in) and one more busted coverage at UK couldve changed the outcome of that one too. If not for a few bad bounces, UF might have been in the 4-4 range instead of 7-1. Yes, I know I know.. .coulda shoulda woulda. But, the fact remains the Gators had opportunities to fall down. They didn’t, which again is a testament to Coach Mac’s ability to bring back the Mojo with our beloved boys in Orange & Blue.
    My point is, let’s temper things just a little bit. The Gators are destroying everyone’s expectations, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’m not convinced yet that they’re all the way back, though. Not yet. They’re oh so fun again to watch, but they aren’t consistent enough for me to be that comfy with where they are. The O-line is playing above themselves for the most part. And the backup-now back-in-the-starting role QB is managing the games nicely enough. But, I have a strong feeling that won’t BE enough come December. Something tells me the Tide will be lining up opposite the Gators in Atlanta, and I’m seeing them growing stronger as the season winds down. Something tells me they’re going to punch LSU square in the mouth Sat night and make a big statement, to the Gators and the playoff-voting world, and run the rest of the table while Ole Miss stumbles.
    All things being equal, Alabama should handle this UF team.
    And that right there is why I’m not convinced so easily that “they’re back”. Not until I fully expect UF to beat the hell out of their opponent, no matter who it is, will I consider the Gators “back”. That not only includes our reg season opponents, but our SECcg foes and the unlucky bastards that have the misfortune of playing the Gators in January. We haven’t reached that point, not yet.
    Did we consider UF “back” when they went 11-1 in 2012? Nope, at least I sure didn’t. That’s because we weren’t in blind love with the new staff. We could see the flaws, and we didnt know for certain whether a given Saturday would be the one where they got exposed. Granted, the 2012 team’s flaws were more obvious than in 2015. But, flaws are there. We just haven’t had them crammed down our throats, yet.
    I’ll stick to my belief that they’re on the right track, and are light years ahead of where everyone thought they’d be. But, they aren’t there yet. They aren’t “back”. I’m just going to continue enjoying watching them on their journey back, though. Because, it sure is fun to see!

    1. We didn’t consider the Gators back after 11-2 because we didn’t beat Georgia and we lost our bowl game. We fucking sucked in both those games. And even in games we won, we didn’t look great. In fact, I can remember exactly three games in 2012 that made me truly happy: SC, LSU and FSU. Every other game featured some sort of ugliness. Why was Bowling Green in the game until the fourth quarter? Why did we need a blocked punt to beat Louisiana? Why could we generate one and only one offensive touchdown against Jacksonville State?

      These days, we’re bludgeoning the teams we should proportionately with the possible exception of ECU. Tennessee despite their record is a solid team. Kentucky on the road is tough. Taking down the two time defending East champs on their home turf by three scores is acceptable. And even though our offense wasn’t great against Georgia, there were flashes of promise… in a game we won by 24. This year just feels different to me.

  2. I agree that the program is back, and it is due to coaching. I’m not convinced an Alabama team could handle this Gators team as FlaGators1990 said. We would certainly have extreme difficulty moving the ball on offense, but Bama’s offense would have the same difficulty moving the ball against our defense. I think it would be a very close and winable game.

    The one thing I disagree with in this article is the fact that you think we can lose the FSU game, and still be in the national title hunt – that’s simply not true. You cite 1996 as your source, but that was a completely different time back then. Back then, the earlier bowl game outcomes effected who played in the later bowl games, and ultimately for the national title. Bowl games were a lot more entertaining to watch back then, because they had a direct effect on the national title game. That’s not the case today. All the match ups are set before the bowl season begins, and a 2 loss Gators team (even an SEC champion team) would not get into the Final 4 playoff spot. So the FSU game is immensely important, and can’t be discarded….

    1. Maybe you meant something different but it is not accurate to state that early bowl games impacted what teams played In later bowl games. All bowl game participants were selected before any and all ball games were played.

      1. Yes, you’re right about everyone being selected to a particular bowl game, but let me clarify. The outcomes of earlier bowl games affected the rankings of teams in later bowl games. We won the 96 championship because ASU beat Ohio Stae in their bowl game. The Sugar Bowl would not have been the championship game that year.

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