2013: The Season from the Twilight Zone

In my mind, the Florida Gators’ season of 2013 will always be remembered as the season from the Twilight Zone. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The countless injuries to key players, the six turnovers at Miami, the losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern, the 0-for-November…all of this happening while Florida State has cruised past its regular season unblemished, with a potential BCS National Championship against Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes coming up.

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Down the road, this 2013 campaign of freak injuries and historic defeats may turn out to be the defining season of the Will Muschamp era in two ways. You hope this is a season that fuels a hungry and determined Gator Nation back to greatness in 2014. You also worry this is the season that showed why Will Muschamp isn’t ready to be a head coach at a school like Florida. For now this is simply the season that Florida finished 4-8, its first losing record since 1979, suffering seven consecutive losses and ending with a 37-7 thumping at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles.

You could say it started with the spring game, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate—there was no spring game, just an awkward televised practice in The Swamp because Florida couldn’t field enough healthy players to actually scrimmage each other.

It would turn out to be a cruel case of foreshadowing for the 2013 Gators.

Fresh off an 11-1 regular season, with realistic aspirations of an SEC Title chase, the Gators instead found themselves unable to field a team healthy enough to become bowl eligible. For the first time in over 25 years, football season in Gainesville has ended in November.

Perhaps the only thing that isn’t unusual about this season is the state of uncertainty in which the Gator fan base has found itself yet again. You felt it after the 2009 season when one of the best Senior classes in school history left shoes that were too big for any team to fill. You felt it after 2010 when Urban Meyer decided he couldn’t coach at Florida anymore. You felt it after 2011 when Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach ended with six losses.

Shoot, you probably thought that was rock bottom. I know I did. Oh, how we wish that was rock bottom.

The season from the Twilight Zone mercilessly took a team and a fan base that was on top of the world after a 37-26 bulldozing of FSU just one year ago, and dropped it off at the rockiest of bottoms. The capital city of the state of rock bottom. 20,000 leagues under rock bottom.

We know how it feels, but what does it mean? Where do we go?

Only the future will tell, but the past can certainly show you. Just take a look at the two teams playing for the SEC Championship this Saturday in Atlanta: Missouri and Auburn, a couple of teams that respectively had its worst season in years, with a combined 2-14 conference record in 2012.

A couple of teams that hit rock bottom just a year ago.

It won’t be easy. It’s never easy when you’re the University of Florida and you have a target on your back everywhere you go, even when you’re 4-8.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Next year Florida will travel to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa and Tallahasee. Its home opponents include LSU and South Carolina. And of course, there’s that date in Jacksonville against Georgia—a must win for Will Muschamp.

You can’t say for sure how many wins Muschamp will need to keep his job, but Florida will certainly have to be in contention for the SEC Eastern division if he wants to stay for 2015. The East will be as open as it ever has been—Georgia loses Aaron Murray, South Carolina loses Connor Shaw, and Missouri loses James Franklin.

Florida will return Jeff Driskel, who will have to battle for his job with Tyler Murphy and North Carolina High School phenom Will Grier, who was recently named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight time.

Grier will be among another outstanding class of recruits headed to UF—a class that could be elite if Florida can hang onto Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane. Cook, while still a UF commit, has stated that FSU is now his first choice.

One thing to keep in mind about the future of Florida football is the standard set by its predecessors. Players don’t come to Florida to go 4-8. They go to compete for championships. Know this, there is no question that Will Muschamp absolutely still believes in his locker room. It was apparent in the first half of the FSU game that this team will still give everything they have for Muschamp.

There will be many scores to settle next year. I believe a healthy Florida team with a revamped offense will right the wrongs of 2013.

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