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Reassessing Florida's Season So Far

The Gators' first loss provides a chance to evaluate them without the glow of an undefeated record.

Sam Greenwood

On the surface, the Florida-Georgia game doesn't need much post game analysis. If one team turns the ball over six times, it deserves to lose and probably will. That's all there is to it.

However, the loss gives the opportunity to step back and do some critical thinking about where the Florida team is at.

Over the past couple of weeks, it began to get some comparisons to the 2006 team. It grinds out wins with mostly defense and special teams and merely adequate offense. Like that team, this one will not finish the season unscathed. However, the comparison does bring to mind the macro point that winning a national championship requires some good luck. That '06 squad finished the regular season 11-1 and went on to win the national title. This one could finish 11-1 and not even win the East. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway, it is remarkable how far defense and special teams have carried the team so far. Underwhelming as that 2006 offense could be, it was nothing like this one.

Florida doesn't have a single wide receiver that can reliably get open one-on-one. The only tight ends that can block worth anything are true freshmen who aren't threats in the passing game whatsoever. The lead running back is a tough rusher, but his inexperience from having seldom played (despite being a senior) has caused him to be a liability in pass blocking and picking up blitzes especially. The offensive line experienced, but it's not great. No one on it will go on to play a decade in the NFL. The quarterback is young, is kind of a square peg in a round hole, and gets little help from his passing targets. And oh yeah, the team is on its third offensive coordinator and scheme in three seasons.

It's semi-miraculous the team is at 7-1 given the rough schedule. Of course, the team has had a lot of good fortune this year, something that they ran out of Saturday afternoon.

Texas A&M missed its chance at a tune up game before Florida due to a hurricane. Tennessee dismissed its best receiver before the season. UF faced a Kentucky team without by far its best quarterback, and LSU hadn't discovered Jeremy Hill yet by the time the Gators beat the Tigers. It got South Carolina without a healthy Marcus Lattimore and had worlds of good turnover luck in that one.

This time, Georgia got the good personnel luck with Jarvis Jones coming back from injury. He then proceeded to personally disrupt nearly everything the Gators' offense tried to do. Florida had the turnover luck turn against it. The dumb penalties that the Gators could compensate for in past games bit them badly this time. Their good luck hasn't entirely run out, as FSU's top running back Chris Thompson went out for the year with a knee injury, but almost no team gets every break in every game. This past weekend was UF's turn to get a lousy roll of the cosmic dice for the first time all year.

And with all of that said, Florida still had opportunities to win the game. This was not an ugly blowout where they did not have a chance.

Georgia and South Carolina were the SEC East favorites in the preseason. LSU was one of the preseason favorites in the West (though it hasn't been quite as good as predicted). Florida has shown itself to be not significantly better or worse than those teams this season. That fact shows what kind of significant progress the team has made in Will Muschamp's second season. As the roster continues to get rebuilt for the systems in place, more improvement should come along.

This Florida team is ahead of schedule. It looked like maybe an 8-4 team two months ago. Now, it appears to be a 10-2 or 11-1 outfit heading into the season's final month. Saturday's loss to Georgia was a crushing one for a couple of different reasons, but the bigger picture is still an encouraging one. If the team is this successful with this many problems, it has a shot at true greatness down the road.