It's hard to know exactly where to place Florida's win over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, at least when it comes to perspective. Will Muschamp has already decamped to Auburn and Jim McElwain did not coach the bowl game; interim head coach D.J. Durkin did. This was not a grand send-off for the deposed coach or a preview of what's to come. It was simply a win.
Maybe that's what Gator fans and the program needed after the slow-motion train wreck that was the last two years of the Muschamp Era. Even if it wasn't a dramatic departure from recent history. East Carolina outgained Florida, and badly, with 536 yards of total offense to 339. And aside from the fact that the Pirates had more yards, the Gators offense was the same inconsistent mess it's been for the past two seasons: Treon Harris and the soon-to-be-released Jeff Driskel combined to go 13-of-28 passing for for 171 yards, two touchdowns and an interception; the running game averaged 3.9 yards a carry (43 rushes, 168 yards, one touchdown). "Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football" also made the occasional showing with mental lapses, and Florida ended up with six penalties and three turnovers.
And the Gators made things more interesting than they should have in the end. East Carolina scored 13 points in the last two quarters to Florida's lone second-half touchdown, making the game uncomfortably close for the last few minutes. The defense held, to the extent that it held at all Saturday, to escape with a win -- but there were times when it seemed like ECU might at least have an opportunity to pull the upset.
In addition to officially closing the book on the Will Muschamp Era, the win closes the book on the SEC for the bowl season. Despite the portents of doom that some national pundits saw, the conference finished up 7-5, which would be a respectable record for any conference that wasn't being almost universally touted as the best in the game. The way that the league got there was surprising -- an undefeated, 5-0 mark for the East and a 2-5 record for the West -- but it gave the conference office something to work with.
SEC concludes bowl season by tying its own all-time NCAA record by a single conference with 7 bowl wins.
— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 3, 2015
So we head into the long offseason for SEC football, an offseason longer for some than others. There will be anxiety in some cities and optimism in others -- particularly in places like Knoxville and Arkansas, where there were signs of progress, and Gainesville, where there are new signs of hope. Though in the last case, it has very little to do with the trophy that the team will carry home.