Return Of The Chomp?
By: Robert Craft
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
The Florida Gators are under new management for the fourth time in the last decade. That much turnover can be necessary and detrimental to a program.
There’s not much debate that Florida needed to move on from Will Muschamp in 2014. Or that Jim McElwain’s self-destruction and death threats didn’t warrant a change.
Dan Mullen’s recruiting incompetence was written off because the team was winning. He was the first head coach in UF history to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons. In the end, it became clear that the direction of the program under Mullen was going the wrong way — and just on the trail.
Billy Napier was hired to rebuild the Gators. He was tasked with reviving UF recruiting and getting talent back to Gainesville. He called college football a “talent-acquisition business” and began by building the biggest support staff UF ever seen. The Gators hauled several blue-chip recruits like Kamari Wilson, Shemar James, and Chris McClellan.
The team also has Anthony Richardson returning, who should give the Gators a chance anytime he’s on the field.
The Gators only leave the state of Florida three times in 2022. Their home schedule is fantastic. Utah, LSU and Kentucky are all great games to host in The Swamp.
With that being said, the opponents are strong. The Gators draw, somehow again, Texas A&M from the West. UF has played the Aggies three times since they joined the SEC and 2022 will be the fourth matchup. Meanwhile, Florida has played a former yearly rival in Auburn just once in that same time period.
The Gators also begin a home-and-home series with Utah. The Utes are the reigning Pac-12 Champions. Utah returns 60 letter winners and 17 total starters in 2022.
Billy Napier prescribes to a motto of “put the ball down and let’s play” but it would be easy to put the ball down against a small directional school rather than a loaded defending conference champion.
The Gators have also lost twice to Kentucky in the last four seasons. Mark Stoops has built that UK program for a decade. What was once an assured win, is now a presumed toss up.
Every year the SEC is tough. This year, will be a very difficult one for the Gators, thanks to their tough season opener and road trip to College Station.
Optimistic: 9-3, with three straight wins to end the year and all sorts of hype heading into 2023. Anthony Richardson proves to be the perfect dual-threat quarterback in Billy Napier’s system.
Tailback Lorenzo Lingard looks like the 5-star who signed with Miami out of high school, same for wideout Justin Shorter.
The Gators’ defense takes a big step forward without Todd Grantham calling the shots. Gervon Dexter emerges as the best defensive lineman in the conference.
Pessimistic: 5-7 and no postseason appearance in Year 1 for Napier. Florida opens the year 0-2, with home losses to Utah and Kentucky. After dismantling South Florida, the Gators lose at Tennessee for just the second time in 18 years.
They stumble at Tallahassee against Florida State to end the season. Richardson is up and down — or worse, gets hurt again and Jack Miller isn’t up to snuff. The lack of explosiveness at receiver is problematic all season.
The front-seven once again struggles to stop the run. Penalties, team character and chemistry remain lingering issues despite the coaching change.
Realistic: 7-5 with one signature upset against either Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee or Texas A&M.
The Gators certainly could go 0-2 to start the year, but I see a split. While the roster has depth issues (particularly at receiver, defensive line and linebacker), there’s a lot of quality talent in Gainesville.
The pass rush, led by Brenton Cox Jr., is fierce, and cornerback Jason Marshall is one of the better defensive backs in the SEC.
Richardson has flashes of brilliance and frustration, ultimately leading him to return to the team in 2023.
Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall has a solid season but is not the band aid solution to Florida’s receiver problems.
Key Points: Starting out against Utah isn’t a given at home, and finishing up at Florida State in Tallahassee will be tough.
In between there’s a road game at Tennessee, LSU – as always – is on the slate, and then there’s the killer two-week stretch against Georgia and at Texas A&M.
It’s Florida. It’s going to be a problem for the other teams in those tough games, too. It’ll work its way to eight wins in an improved year, but factor in three losses somewhere in the mix to go along with one 50/50 game.
Seven wins will be okay, eight will be fine, nine or more would be terrific, but …
It’s the Florida Gators. It’s time to start winning more.