Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd
The No. 20 Florida Gators are staring straight into yet another season without an SEC title game appearance, their third in four years under head coach Dan Mullen. That much was made clear after the team lost last week to a then-unranked Kentucky team, 20-13, a game that Florida had no business losing to begin with.
Note: following Kentucky's victory over Florida, the program moved up to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 rankings.
With two losses - Alabama being the other - Florida is in a situation now that would require help in order to win the SEC East. Not only will the program need to upset the Georgia Bulldogs, but they'll also need the Bulldogs to lose another one of its games.
Florida would also need Kentucky to lose at least two SEC East games in order to best them within the conference as well, considering the Wildcats now own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Simply put, Florida needs serious help at its only Oct. 6.
Because of that, the repeat of yet another New Years Six bowl bid is the most likely scenario for Florida.
Fans, of course, are convinced the team has peaked, that the best the program can accomplish under Mullen is a New Year's Six bowl game, that once held a more prestigious place on the football schedule prior to the advancement of the College Football Playoff.
For Mullen, however, that sentiment is silly: The team and program is doing just fine in his eyes. After all, the Gators made the SEC Championship game just last season, he said on Monday.
"I mean, this year’s independent of itself, you know, a lot of different factors go into things from one year to the next," he said. "There’s a lot of football still to be played this year, so we'll see how this year plays out.”
That's not inaccurate. A lot can change between now and Dec. 4, when the SEC Championship game is slated to be played this year. Florida still has to play the remainder of its schedule, and that includes seven matchups, and games against LSU (Oct. 16) and Georgia (Oct. 30).
Still, the fanbase has harped on the idea that Florida isn't able to get it done in big moments. Since Mullen took over the program in 2018, Florida has finished with at least two losses, and dragged their way into Atlanta last season with two heart-breaking losses with a major victory over Georgia sandwiched in between.
There isn't, however, a sense of urgency missing from the program to get things right, and fast, Mullen says.
“Not at all," Mullen said when asked if a sense of urgency was missing from his program. "Not in any way, shape or form - promise you that.”
In the end, Mullen says, this season is completely independent of any other season, with highs and lows defining both. Neither will be combined and while there are players and coaches that were part of both, it doesn't make them less independent of each other.
"For us, we talk about it. It’s a long year," he said. "There’s a lot of football still to be played out there. I can’t tell you, we’ll know what this year is gonna be like and what this team and the results of this team is gonna be like when the year ends.
"There’s a lot of factors that are going to go into success during the course of a year. And a lot of factors that go into you not being successful. At the end of the year, you’ll see both.”
Certainly, there is hope the team can rebound, the season isn't completely over, but the sense of urgency has to remain. As for Mullen's players, they are seemingly following their head coach's lead, not overly concerned about the loss, and understanding that there is a long season still ahead.
"I mean it's not the end of the world for us; we have a lot to play for," Gators quarterback Emory Jones said on Tuesday when asked about the team moving forward to compete for the SEC title.
"We do a lot of big things still. And I mean, that's all we're trying to do, honestly, just, I mean just improve from all of the things that we've done bad, and then just move on from it and continue to get better week-to-week."
Simply, move on. Of course, that involves learning from the mistakes made during the previous week.
For Jones, who has been under much public scrutiny this season due to his up-and-down play, especially via social media, the QB doesn't concern himself with what others may be saying. Instead, he focuses on what he can control, and that's his ability to move forward and know what's going on within the building.
“I never really let any of it get to me. I know what really is going on in this building. I know what’s really going on on the field," Jones said, and according to him, no one on social media knows what's going on, on the gridiron anyway.
"Nobody that’s saying anything on social media or anything knows any plays we’re running, barely knows any defense or coverages, or anything the defense is running, so they really don’t have the understanding of really anything that’s going on on the field.
"So, I mean, I just stay to myself about all that. I never let anything like that get to me.”
As the team gets set to take on Vanderbilt, much will be made about the Gators' long-term trajectory, as it should be. Sure, the team might best the Commodores, but as it gets set to take on LSU and Georgia in back-to-back weeks, the overall feeling is of yet another disappointing year.
After the team's loss against Kentucky, there's not much anyone can say to the contrary.
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