Saturday, November 26, 2011

This game means nothing. And it means everything.

Despite the college football season nearing the end of its regular season, there is still plenty of intriguing on field action to be seen this week. There are still games that could determine the BCS Championship game but, perhaps more important to the majority of college football fans, it’s rivalry week. The week where, no matter how good or bad your team’s season has gone, it can all be turned on its head by the result of your final regular season game against your biggest (and more often that not in-state) rival. A perfect example of this dynamic is exemplified in one of my favorites rivalry games of all time. It took place in Gainesville, FL on this weekend in 1997. Florida was coming off its first National Championship but had suffered through a disappointing 3 loss campaign while Florida State had run roughshod over the ACC en route to an undefeated season and the #1 ranking in the country. Despite the game being played at The Swamp, few people gave the Gators a chance. Their offense had struggled so badly down the stretch that Steve Spurrier had resorted to rotating QBs on every other play. Seriously. Think about how ludicrous that is for a second. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the the QBs in this rotation was an overweight walk-on named Noah Brindise. Despite all this, Florida hung with the Seminoles all day, largely on the strength of a monstrous performance by Fred Taylor and an inspired defensive gameplan from Bob Stoops (in his final game as the Gators Defensive Coordinator). Still, with just over a minute left in the 4th quarter, the Gators found themselves down to FSU with the ball deep in their own territory. Then this happened:




I will never forget that game, or the scene on University Ave. after that game. Was the Gator season, which began with Florida as the #1 ranked team in the country, a disappointment? Absolutely. However, none of that mattered that day. We had ruined Florida State’s perfect season and dashed their National Title hopes. That’s what makes rivalry games so great. It all comes down to hatred. Hatred for the other school. Hatred for all the fans of that school that you see everyday. Friends, co-workers, and in my case, family. It’s bragging rights for the next 364 days. And believe me, those bragging rights matter. After that game in 1997, Florida didn’t beat Florida State again for the next 4 years. Those 4 years were miserable. Dealing with FSU fans is always a chore, but when they're routinely stomping you out and finishing in the top 3 in the country, well, then it's just unbearable. Just as last year was miserable, when FSU finally broke a 5 year losing streak to Florida and put the topping on the shit sundae that was the Gators’ 2010 season.

I had planned to write exclusively about the Florida-FSU game today, but then a “funny” thing happened…Urban Meyer decided to get back into coaching (allegedly) and accept the head coaching position at Ohio State University. If you follow me on Twitter (@BadNewsHughes), you’ve already read my quick take on Meyer’s new position, the reaction of many Gator fans, as well as my own personal reaction. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, here it is:

Urban Meyer is a football coach. As he said earlier this week, it is who he is. So anybody who expected a wildy successful, deeply competitive football coach to retire in his mid-40s and stay retired for the rest of his days was (and is) kidding themselves. Meyer was always coming back to coaching.



Now, did I expect him to come back to coaching within a year of his retirement at the University of Florida? No. Yet, I also didn’t expect Jim Tressel to get himself fired by Ohio State. Jobs like the Head Coach at Ohio State University don’t come along very frequently. Meyer knows this and knew he might never get the opportunity to take over a top flight program that wasn’t seriously down in the dumps again (kind of like Florida where, despite a couple mediocre seasons by Ron Zook, the cupboard wasn't bare and there was potential for a quick turnaround and ascendance back to the top of the SEC).

In Meyer’s mind (I’m guessing), he HAD to take the job at Ohio State. As I said earlier this week, I hold no ill will toward a man who came to Florida, revived a program suffering a slow decline and quickly turned it around to the tune of two BCS Championships and another BCS Bowl win in a span of five years. I, unfortunately, am not in the majority of Gator fans when it comes to my feelings toward Meyer. Most are some mixture of angry, bitter, betrayed and just about any other emotion you’d associate with a spurned lover. They point to his grounds for retirement (his health & his family) and find it laughable that his health could suddenly be so much better, or that his “year off” with his family (a year off that included plenty of time on the road working for ESPN) with his family was enough to satiate the need to “watch his kids grow up” as he stated last December. Do I believe Meyer’s health was failing? Yes. Even before his first retirement shortly after the 2009 SEC Championship, there had been signs that all wasn’t right with Meyer. It is my opinion that the emotional, mental & physical grinder that is coaching a top tier SEC program was too much for a man of Meyer’s competitive nature to handle. For example: Look at Arkansas and Bobby Petrino. The coach who just had his team’s doors blown off in Baton Rouge yesterday. Petrino led Arkansas to it’s first Sugar Bowl since 1976 last year, and within a game of the SEC Championship game this year, all while only losing 3 games. Total. Yet, somehow, neither team was even considered one of the top 2 teams in their own division. Another example is the 2009 Florida team. They won the Sugar Bowl, they won 13 games. Yet, they lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship and missed out on a chance to defend their BCS Championship. Despite a season that would go down as the greatest in the history of 98% of the Division I Football programs in America, Florida’s 2009 season was considered a failure by most fans, and more than likely, Meyer himself.

The Big Ten, while a storied conference, doesn’t present that same set of obstacles. There are no LSUs, Alabamas, Georgias or Tennessees or Auburns. If you’re at Ohio State, you have the best facilities, the most money and the most cache of any program. By far. You have to worry about Wisconsin and, possibly (depending on Brady Hoke’s rebuilding job) Michigan as challengers to your elite status. Meyer’s walking into a very favorable set of circumstances. As long as the NCAA doesn’t absolutely nuke the football program for the transgressions of the Tressel Era, Meyer will have the Buckeyes competing for a BCS Title by the time stud freshman QB Braxton Miller is a senior. And when that happens, there will be thousands upon thousands of Gator fans who hate him every step of the way.

One factor in the overly bitter reaction of Florida fans to news of Meyer accepting the Ohio State job is the disappointment of the past two seasons. Florida fans, like most fans of top SEC programs, are very spoiled. Few, if any, fanbases had it better than Florida from 2006-2009 (4 National Titles in football and basketball). Then last year, the wheels came off. Big time. It started with the loss in the 2009 SEC Championship game and continued all throughout last year as we saw a top 5 preseason ranked football team struggle through a 5 loss season while seemingly completely rudderless on offense. It certainly didn’t help matters that our former backup QB Cam Newton was busy leading Auburn to a BCS Title and a Heisman Trophy of his own. Don’t think for one second that Gator fans aren’t a little extra salty about all this as a result of yet another very subpar seasoning 2011, as well as a general feeling that Meyer may have left the cupboard a little bare and ran out of town to avoid tarnishing his stellar legacy and overall career record.

Despite all the news surrounding Meyer this week, his former school still has a game to play today. Against their biggest in-state rival. And though this game may not have the same cache attached to it nationally as it often has in the past, it’s still plenty big in the Sunshine State, for a variety of reasons. Sure, bragging rights are on the line but it goes deeper than that. While Florida’s season has been disappointing by any standards, it was FSU that was picked as a top 5 team in the preseason. After a promising start, that has all fallen to the wayside, finally hitting rock bottom last week in the form of a 14-13 home loss to Virginia. If Florida were to win this game, both FSU & Florida would finish the season 7-5, something that would certainly not go unmentioned by Gator fans over the next 364 days. Second, at perhaps more importantly, is the impact this game has on recruiting. It’s no secret that the state of Florida is the most fertile recruiting ground in all of American. It's also no secret that these two schools compete for most of the same players year-in, year-out. This year is no different. In fact, 12 of the top 100 HS players (according to Rivals.com) will be attending tonight’s game in The Swamp. If winning this game helps sway even a couple top tier prospects to Florida or FSU, it could dramatically effect the future fortunes of two programs with just as many questions as answers going forward. The immediate future of these two programs is still very much up in the air and there will be 18 year old high school seniors in the stands tonight with the power to dramatically effect these futures.

The final reason this game still looms so large is legacy. A win over FSU (or Florida depending on your view of things) can forever change the way a player is viewed by their fan base (see: Outzen, Marcus). And I believe that John Brantley deserves a win over FSU. Brantley is a Gator legacy (Dad played linebacker and was a captain at Florida in the 70s, his Uncle was a starting QB at Florida) who chose to come play at Florida despite the system Urban Meyer runs being as ill-suited to his strengths as a QB as any system in college football (save for maybe Georgia Tech). He patiently waited behind Tim Tebow for 3 years. And then…everything blew up. He became the Gators fan’s whipping boy during the tragically terrible 2010 season despite the fact that he was hardly the only problem. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was battered every single game by SEC defenses due to a porous O-Line and a system which asked him to run far too many option plays for his particular skill set. Brantley has his flaws, no doubt, but he’s taken more of a mental, physical and physcological beating than any player I can ever remember at the University of Florida. Even this year, he nearly lost his leg to Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw. An injury so sever that it would've caused many QBs to miss the rest of the season. Yet there he was, only to return 3 weeks later starting for Florida against Georgia. Even today, he's still barely able to jog. His ankle is so bad that he’s been forced to work almost exclusively out of the shotgun (or the pistol in recent weeks) because he’s unable to drop back on his badly damaged ankle. I guarantee you he’ll end up having surgery on that ankle once the season ends. And all this doesn't even begin to address the innumerable amount of brutal hits he’s taken due to yet another underperforming offensive line and a sadly pedestrian group of WRs. Put simply, John Brantley has been a warrior for the University of Florida through some of the roughest times the football program has seen since the late 1980s, Yet, he’s never complained. Not once. He deserves a chance to walk off the field of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with the home crowd showering him with applause. He deserves a chance to have his “One Shining Moment” (wrong sport, I know). And I’ll be watching, hoping, & praying that he get it tonight.

Go Gators!

50 comments:

T.J. said...

Was just able to tweet the link to this post while on a laptop in the passenger seat of the car. Modern technology is the tits.

Marls said...

Speaking of which, tits is what this post needs more of.

Marls said...

I guess that should be "tits are". Sentiment remains the same.

Jerry said...

Nice post. I've been looking forward to this game since the Gators were eliminated from doing anything interesting this year, which sadly was at least a month ago. A win here could salvage the season to some degree. It's nice to always have something to look forward to at the end of the year regardless of how bad the season is. College football - it's not all about the national championship.

Agreed about Meyer. I thought he'd take a few years off, but one could make an argument that tOSU is the best job in the country. There's nothing coming along better than that.

Danimal said...

Dukes bitches.

Mark said...

I too have been looking forward to this game, especially since FSU has looked increasingly vulnerable as the season's gone on. Matching 7-5 records would do my psyche well heading into the offseason.

It would also, obviously, be a huge win for Muschamp. Keeping him above .500 for the year as well as getting his first win over his biggest rivals.

Marls said...

Congrats Dan.

This is why I don't understand the JMU plan to go to FBS. Why give up the excitement of playing at the highest level of FCS year in and year out in exchange for being an also ran in Conference USA? It makes even less sense as we move towards the mega-conferences' total control of FBS where there will be even less of the pie teams on the outside looking in.

Mark said...

I don't know JMU's reasoning but I would bet it's about money (as most things are). Once they're Div-1 they can collect more money with 3-4 big away games against BCS conference schools than they make in an entire season now. I know they play some big schools now, but they'll have far more opportunities when they count towards a school's bowl eligible win total.

Jerry said...

Watching Auburn is a lot like watching Florida. And that's not a compliment to either of them.

Marls said...

Mark, I agree that it is likely all about money, but I would love to see if the $$ really make sense in the end. They will get some additional paydays, but the added travel, scholarship, ect. expenses add up. Additionally, if hey turn into a middling FCS team, their attendance will suffer. Finally, as we consolidate into 3 mega conferences I'm not sure how much of the FCS TV pie will be left for the other schools.

I think JMU visions of being the next Boise State will result in them being East Carolina at best.

Mark said...

You're right, Jerry. The Auburn-Florida game I went to earlier this year was one of the uglier college football games I've ever personally witnessed.

Mark said...

All very valid points, Marls. And if JMU envisions themselves as Boise State East, well, they're bats hit insane. Way too much competition for that to happen on the east coast.

rob said...

that's a lot of words. well done. hate is the rocket fuel of college sports rivalries. love it.

tribe sucked large bison balls this afternoon. this team has no chemistry at all right now, and the perimeter players look lost.

Igor said...

I love the I-AA postseason, even when the Tribe sucked too bad to be in it.

ODU knocked off Norfolk State in a huge crosstown match-up today. Whole town went wild, and it was good fun. Next up for the Monarchs, the Eagles of GA Southern. Good stuff. Good luck to Dan's Dukes as well, who face North Dakota State.

Mark said...

Despite my obvious Gator leanings I don't think Florida wins tonight. Home crowd should help but Florida doesn't consistently win at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. But they also don't create explosive plays on offense or cause turnovers on defense. So there's that.

rob said...

holy trent richardson

rob said...

florida state is awful - they'd be 4-8 with an sec schedule. gators win handily.

Danimal said...

I expected more in this tech Uva game.

On the Jmu topic I would like to have more intimate knowledge, or really just knowledge, of the fcs vs. Mediocre mid-major conference. You have to believe that a lot of people whose livelihood revolves around ncaa athletics and in this case jmu's, have evaluated this at length and for a long time. Ok.....commence Jmu jokes now.

Danimal said...

Fla state has a top 10 defense. Florida's offense not so good. I think it will be a close game but not necessarily a well played one. Gators by 2. And Stanford by 17.

Danimal said...

you guys may have seen a reference to this on twitter...the wife of auburn's offensive coordinator in an interview. she's a wee bit kookie. and i would imagine banned from speaking in public forever and ever. and ever.

http://tinyurl.com/8xt46an

T.J. said...

Hello from I-95 in Maryland. I can comment of course because I'm not fucking moving. Ugh.

Danimal said...

teej has been in the car all day long. you should check out one of those airplane things.

Mark said...

Attention John Brantley: You can't just want to win.

Danimal said...

brantley is awesome at throwing interceptions.

Jerry said...

When I said I was looking forward to this game, perhaps I had forgotten how painful it is to watch this year's Florida team. Or last year's really.

Jerry said...

Bad QBs, bad OL, bad WRs. You're fucking Florida. Come on.

Jerry said...

Teejay, you should've left this morning. It was a relaxing 3.5 hour breeze from central Jersey.

Mark said...

Jerry's last two comments speak for me as well.

Jerry said...

The WRs are the most infuriating. Their WRs have been crap for years now. It's been a problem since Harvin left and it shouldn't be hard for Florida to get WRs.

Danimal said...

A Stanford 3 and out followed by an nd 3 and out. The nd 3 and out included 2 false starts, 2 near pick sixes and one qb injury.....Rees currently out and being backed up not by Crist.

Danimal said...

I love Keith Stone.

Jerry said...

Robert Griffin just got knocked out cold while sliding. That's as bad as it gets for Baylor fans. They might as well just storm the field and fight everybody on Texas Tech.

Jerry said...

Now he's back in the game running for a TD on the spread option. Nice to see the coaches having the best interest of the players in mind there.

Danimal said...

rees turned the ball over inside stanford's 20. i don't even get angry anymore.

Jerry said...

My recommendation is to keep an eye on this Baylor game. 31-28 with a few seconds left in the half.

Jerry said...

Hahahahaha -- that ND quick kick was glorious.

Mark said...

Bad scene in Gainesville right now.

rob said...

met steve buckhantz at the tribe game today - seems shlara and he are friends. resisted the urge to give him a 'no! not possible'.

Danimal said...

did anyone else just hear what bob davie said about elam?

Mark said...

What did he say?

Danimal said...

Was telling story about elam's older brother? Was he recruited by urban? Didn't catch it all....but davie ended story by saying, "that is one good brother" or to that affect.....definitely "brother"

T.J. said...

Can I assume ND is down at least three TDs by now? It is 10pm ET after all...

T.J. said...

So...yeah...Maryland football, eh?

T.J. said...

Based on my twitter feed, Will Muschamp was not happy with that last pick six. AT ALL.

Jerry said...

Well...from a recruiting perspective Florida is making a strong case that there are some positions available on the offensive side of the ball.

Jerry said...

How does every Big 12 team except Kansas score 40 points a game and Florida can barely get 40 yards?

T.J. said...

Allrighty then...Jim Boeheim, prepare your resignation speech. If these reports about Bernie Fine's wife are true, Boeheim sealed his fate with his strong words a week or so ago, as many of you noted in this space.

T.J. said...

Oh, the reports I'm talking about - supposedly Fine's wife suspected Bernie was bad touching. In 2002.

Mark said...

And Fine's accuser apparently had a sexual relationship with Fine's wife too. This is all very, very strange.

T.J. said...

Riiiiight, I failed to mention that super f'd up detail.