Florida Preview 2016: Jim McElwain Winning Ugly, But Winning

Florida football outlook for the 2016 season. Jim McElwain came in and won the SEC East title in his first year. It might not always be pretty, but he’s getting the job done.

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The offense was awful, finishing 93rd in the nation with no passing game against the good teams and overall averaging just 368 yards per game. The defense picked up the slack with a tremendous season, finishing 13th in the nation against the run and 15th overall despite having to deal with Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida State.

Wait … sorry, that was 2014.

So Florida had no offense in 2015, a great defense, and pulled a few wins out of its Grier that it probably shouldn’t have – it was a very 2012 Will Muschampian campaign.

But new head coach Jim McElwain was able to come up with three massive victories over Tennessee, Ole Miss and Georgia – and was helped that road games against Missouri and South Carolina came against two miserable teams effectively without head coaches – on the way to the SEC championship game.

The suspension of QB Will Grier killed an offense that finished worse statistically than Muschamp’s did two years ago, but the defense maintained the same high level, and maybe was even a bit better considering it got no support whatsoever in eye-gougingly ugly games against Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic – and that was when the offense still sort of worked. The Gator attack generated just 15 points – eight of them in garbage time in the SEC title game – against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan to close things out.

So now Florida has to be a little bit patient. McElwain did what he could to cook something up with what Muschamp left in the cupboard, but the early success was a wee bit of a mirage considering the team really does need more offensive playmakers, could use a quarterback who isn’t from someone else’s garbage can, and now has the expectation of being in the SEC championship game again.

This is going to take a little more time, but it’s hard to live up to what the program and the fan base are used to.

Florida was fortunate enough to have two of the greatest coaches of all-time in Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer leading the way to two dominant eras – but that set the bar almost unattainably high. To make it even harder for any Florida coach, the Gators did it with Fun, and Gun, and Tebow, and Wuerffel, and a whole lot of flash and pizzazz.

But what Muschamp did can work. The formula of a killer D, great running game, and solid special teams is a good one, and you can win with it, but there’s no margin for error and there’s nothing really fun about it.

It’s not sexy going Wisconsin, and that’s not what Florida is going to be under McElwain in the near future. But not quite yet.

McElwain recruited a four-star quarterback in Feleipe Franks and brought in another passer in Kyle Trask, along with several four-star receiver prospects who’ll get their chances right away. They’re all going to need time, but thumping JUCO transfer running back Mark Thompson won’t. Get ready for another year of running, and great defense, and trying to find ways to win in a very un-Gator sort of way. But as long as the end result is another trip to Atlanta, that’s more than just okay.

Think about it this way. As horrible as last season’s finish might have been, and as insane as this might seem now, if the Gators had won the SEC championship by beating Alabama – acknowledged as the best team in the country by those who actually watched Clemson in the regular season – a very, very good case could’ve been made to put them in the College Football Playoff.

So now it’s up to McElwain to piece it all together again, even if it doesn’t always look right.

Seven games on the schedule are against teams that didn’t go bowling last season, and while going on the road to face Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida State won’t be easy, and facing LSU at home and Georgia in Jacksonville will be brutal, the defense will keep games close, the offense really will be a bit better, and now there’s a real, live kicker to count on in top recruit Eddy Pineiro.

Just get through this season, Florida fans. Year Three will be the real test for the McElwain regime, but if no one else is ready to step up and take the East, the Gators just might do it again.