Preview 2017: Florida Needs To Be Better Than Just Winning The SEC East
As good as Florida has been over the last few years, it needs to bust through and be even better.
Florida is in a weird place – and no, I don’t mean Gainesville.
It’s sort of hard to complain when the team goes to two straight SEC Championship games, even if the end of the last few regular seasons have been soured by ugly losses to Alabama and Florida State.
But even with the success, and even with the wins, things haven’t progressed enough since Jim McElwain took over. Yeah, 19 wins and two East titles in two years are great, but it just hasn’t been that … pretty.
It’s all well and good when the defense is playing as well as any in college football, the special teams are solid and the wins keep coming, but as Muschamp found out, there’s almost no margin for error.
If injuries strike, if the D isn’t quite up to snuff, if the special teams melt down, if the planets don’t align correctly, this can all go horribly, horribly wrong.
Or, the SEC East could start to get better.
Florida’s recruiting has been okay, but Kirby Smart has been crushing it at Georgia. Tennessee always gets its share of talents, and the rest of the division might be stronger with the pieces they have in place – Missouri and South Carolina are going to be better, and Kentucky is eventually going to break this long, long losing streak to the Gators – but that’s not the point.
Florida is supposed be outrecruiting – and outplaying – Alabama. Tennessee. LSU. Georgia. Everyone.
It’s supposed to not just get to the SEC Championship, but win it, and then get to the College Football Playoff.
But again, how do you whine? The Gators went to Baton Rouge in a must-win game, and held on with the goal line stand of the 2016 college football season to beat LSU.
Seven of the eight other wins were all double-digit blowouts – including victories over Georgia and in the Outback Bowl against Iowa – and as crazy as this might sound, from a theoretical standpoint, you could’ve made a case that the Gators would’ve deserved to get into each of the last two CFPs have they beaten Alabama for the SEC titles.
So, at least they’ve been in the position to do big things, but that’s sort of the problem. The style that’s been in place over the last several seasons has been just good enough to make Florida Outback/Citrus Bowl good, not College Football Playoff great.
Florida is playing a style of football that, yeah, can beat LSU on the right day, but it can also give Vanderbilt a shot in each of the last two years and almost lose to Kentucky two seasons ago.
And blown out by Alabama (twice), Florida State (also, twice), Michigan, and last year – in a when-this-doesn’t-work-it-really-doesn’t-work sort of way – Arkansas.
This season, the receivers are good enough to do more with the passing game, and transfer Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks will open up the attack up a lot more.
The offensive line can’t and won’t be any worse, and it’ll be a sin if it is with a loaded group of running backs able to pound away. The ground game just can’t be 113th-in-the-nation-bad again.
The defensive front has question marks in the interior at with its depth, but the back seven – even with the massive losses to the NFL – should be fantastic again, even if it’s not quite as talented.
Not to be blown off, the kicking game might be the best in the SEC with PK Eddy Pineiro and P Johnny Townsend both, potentially, All-SEC good, to go along with a return game that should be among the elite if star receiver Antonio Callaway can keep himself out of the doghouse.
So now it’s up to McElwain to take the team one step further in the progression.
Yes, have another great defense. Yes, expect the special teams to be amazing. And yes, get more out of the offense. Go from being 116th in the nation in total O to – say – around 50th, and keep everything else in place, and … boom.
Florida will be good enough to go to the SEC Championship for a third year in a row.
And lose to Alabama.