REMINDER - this blog is written by a 30-year Gator fan but it is called "Gator Plain Talk" for a reason.
The University of Florida Gators underwhelmed Gator Nation, the SEC, and college football in 2011.
That pretty much sums up the first season under wannabee head coach Will Muschamp. The once-mighty Gators are nowhere close to still being in the ranks of the college football elite and unless major changes and improvements are implemented by the coaching staff during the off-season UF is in no danger of rejoining those ranks any time soon.
As bitter a pill as that may be to swallow for Florida faithful, well - as your mama always taught you "the truth hurts". Rather than provide a week-by-week accounting of what the tea leaves were saying was the impending implosion of the Gators, this blog took two months off to see what if anything UF could do over the fat part of the schedule. The Gators failed to live up to even a modicum of the pre-season hype. When push came to shove, UF got butt-kicked from one end of the SEC to the other. Let's examine how it happened.
1) The Abject Failure of the Dual Head Coaching Team. The much balleyhooed coming of MusChomp and Weis the Wise to continue the legacy of Spurrier and Meyer can only be described as a flop. No one seriously believed Will the Younger had the experience to be a head coach anywhere in the SEC let alone at Florida. But the common wisdom was the Big Man would be there to cover the -ss of his would-be boss and prevent him from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Oops. At best this uneasy partnership has had the look and feel of Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple and at times more like Dumb and Dumber. Their job was to stabilize the Gator program not to oversee its further decline. If this were a classroom Chomp gets D+ and Biggun gets a C- and that's graded on the curve. The other common wisdom was M-Chomp gets three years. Don't hold your breath. If 2012 even remotely looks like the embarrassment that is drawing to a close then at least the interim head coach actually has on his resume NCAA head coach, NFL and Super Bowl. Will Muschamp is a wannanee head coach in the best conference in college football and he had better get bright - and fast - or he'll be going through the same gates to watch the games as the rest of us in Gainesville.
2) Johnny Brantley the Dud and His Protector. If you want to sum up the fifth and final (thank god) season, two as starter, of this otherwise apparently fine young man you can do it in two words - underperformance and excuses. The problem is we're talking about the Florida Gators starting QB here. The first is of his own making and let's say again, one last time, what we've said many many times before. There has never been a QB as overrated as Johnny B. In three seconds you can rattle off the name of three true freshman QBs in the SEC who are far better, show more talent and composure, and produced better results than Florida's fifth year senior. The excuses were the cover provided all season long by Charlie Wide, the most ludicrous of which was the recent quip that Brantley will be playing at the next level. Are you kidding me? If there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that John Brantley III - like most of the tens of thousands of other NCAA athletes - will be going pro in something other than his sport. Adios, John. You are a great kid but you won't even be missed let alone remembered.
3) Munchkins in the Backfield. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps provided four years of hit-and-miss excitement for Gator Nation. From their precocious debut in 2008 during the Arkansas game, you just never knew when either of them was going to pop a run or return for a long touchdown. And therein lie the problem. Statistically, less than 1 in 20 carries ever resulted in a long gainer of the course of their careers. In between that meant a lot of 3-and-outs when they had the life snuffed out of themselves at the line after first the Meyer and then Chomp administrations insanely continued to dial up the dive play. Two GREAT young men, excellent football players, AND with the numbers to back it all up, but they unfortunately became all too predictable and accordingly easy to stop. WE WILL MISS THESE TWO and wish them all the best but it's time for the Gators to move on. If there is truly going to be a pro style offense deployed in Gainesville then the kind of running backs it's going to take have names like Mack Brown, Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer - built to take the pounding play after play and whose size alone are the difference between a 4 year gain and a 4 year loss, not the impossible to expect perfect blocking on every play. Good Luck, Chris and Jeff, in whatever you do and wherever you end up.
4) Charlie the Wide is no Gandalf the Gray. The bottom line is that he predicated the entire season on Johnny Be Bad and the two Flash Gordons and it didn't work out. Period. After that he had no Plan B. It's stupefying to even the dullest armchair QB (that would be me) why he didn't get Jordan Reed in the offense earlier and constantly. In today's NFL pro style, the offensive planets revolve around the sun which is tight end. He Who is Called The Best Offensive Mind In The Game didn't seem to be able to fathom that. Never mind that JBB couldn't hit a TE on a slant route to save his life, Wide had two other freshman QBs that could have done it all season long. Biggun has maintained all along "if I had just one more season" with Johnny B how much differently things would turn out. Well guess what? You never had that extra year. How much worse could 2011 have turned out had Wide abandoned Brantley as soon as it was clear he couldn't even cut bait let alone fish and gone to one of the youngsters? We'll never know that but what we do know is Charlie Wise is no offensive genius. And like Chomp he had better wake up and smell the coffee. If this is supposed to be a pro style offense then jolly well make it at least LOOK like one for pete's sake.
5) Dan Quinn Has NFL Experience. And there you have the entire problem with the Gator defense in 2011. There is this smoking crack myth floating in the world of college football that coaches with an NFL pedigree will make an instant and lasting impact on any college level program. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The same in that NCAA head coaching superstars rarely if ever make it at the pro level (just ask Nick Satan and Steve Superior) there is absolutely no guarantee that NFL coaches can bring a pro system to the college game and make it work. Quinn's nickname in playing circles is "DQ" but the last time I looked that stands for Dairy Queen which isn't far from the truth of how his great plan played out. The fact is Dan Quinn's defensive schema sucks. The once-fearedGator D line was so run overrun this year that to call it bush league would be a conceit. And don't blame the players. There was never a D-coordinator who inherited the kind and depth of talent that was puked all over Dan Quinn and he promptly p-ssed it away. You can hate DCs (and I do) like John Chavis and Kirby Smart but by-god at least they ARE real defensive coordinators. DQ couldn't make a pimple on the butt of either Bob Stoops or Charlie Strong ex-Gator DCs who have gone onto elite success in their own right. As far as this writer is concerned, there SHOULD be a first round draft pick for the Florida Gators this year - Mr. Dairy Queen can catch the NFL bus to any team that wants him back and free us up to go get a real DC.
Well, this will be the final entry for this blog in 2011. Whether the Gators win or lose to FSU this evening and no matter what happens in the bowl game in which UF will undeservedly appear it won't change any of what has happened. This baloney that to finish the season with two wins would propel the program forward and give it momentum headed into 2012 is just that - lunch meat. In closing, here is what you can take to the bank. At tonight's final game of the season there are a half dozen elite high school recruits making official visits which will determine whether in 2012 they suit up in Blue/Orange or Crimson/White. Fast forward now to National Signing Day and see how many of them choose UF or FSU. Whoever wins THAT game laughs last over what happens to the hapless Florida Gators in their final two games of the finger-down-the-throat 2011 season.
May it be our beloved Florida Gators. But if not - then remember where you read it first. Once a Gator, always a Gator. Go Gators - but go sooner than later, ok?