Florida Football: Realistic Expectations for the Gators' 2014 Season
It’s difficult to draw a pulse for realistic expectations for the Florida Gators this season. Yes, this is an extremely talented team with overwhelming upside and could end up legitimately competing for an SEC East crown. But following those thoughts, last year’s 4-8 record and no bowl appearance smacks you in the face.
Do the Gators really make an Auburn-like jump and go from worst to first in one season? Do things stay the same as last year and Florida fans take to the streets? Maybe somewhere in between?
Finding a happy medium isn’t always easy and can be even tougher for a Florida fanbase that usually has high expectations for its team.
With that said, here are five realistic expectations that should keep Florida fans happy if they are met.
0 Nonconference Losses
Thoughts of last year’s loss to Georgia Southern can still wake you up out of a dead sleep. It’s still puzzling how the Gators almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012.
How about blowing out all of the nonconference teams this season, huh?
It really isn’t that difficult and isn’t asking for much. Florida plays Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky this season. When you tally all three teams’ wins and losses from last season, you end up with a brutal 9-27 record.
Anything else to say about this?
Three victories have been gift-wrapped and delivered under Florida’s Christmas tree before December.
This year’s team cannot blow this minor, reasonable expectation.
Top-15 Defense in the Nation
The Gators had the eighth-best defense in the country last season, allowing just 314.3 yards per game. Keep in mind, that was with players dropping like flies due to injuries, several first-year players seeing considerable playing time and an offense that couldn’t keep them off the field.
Still, the defense rose to the occasion and finished in the top 10 in total defense. Incredible.
Now, a lot of those players such as Vernon Hargreaves, Jonathan Bullard and Marcus Maye are grown up. There’s a bunch of young talent expected to emerge like Jalen Tabor, Bryan Cox and Jeremi Powell. Oh, and most importantly, the offense should be able to stay on the field longer than 25 seconds to give these kids a chance to rest and remain dominant.
The Gators will have one of the top defensive lines in the country and a secondary that could possibly feature the best cornerback tandem in the land.
Anything less than a top-15 defense in college football would be considered a failure.
A Balanced Offense That Puts Points on the Board
Forget trying to predict rankings when it comes to the offense. Fans can only hope the team can move the ball longer than the length of a school bus and actually finish drives off with touchdowns. Florida fans don’t need to be reminded anymore that the offense ranked dead last in the SEC last season. Oops.
Anyway, Kurt Roper's spread attack is going to fit quarterback Jeff Driskel like a glove. It’s also going to open up the running game, which will then allow better and easier passing lanes.
At Duke, Roper's offense finished no worse than sixth in passing yards in the ACC. The running game improved to fifth in the conference last season once he was given a dual-threat quarterback.
It’s no secret that Florida has much more talent than Duke. Kelvin Taylor has All-SEC potential at running back, Demarcus Robinson is a playmaker at wide receiver, and despite what folks may think, Driskel has a better skill set than Anthony Boone.
Nobody is expecting the Gators to turn into Baylor or Oregon: just a respectable offense that can put drives together and cross the goal line more than once a game.
Eight victories would double what the Gators won last season and is a reasonable number to expect from this year’s team.
Since we already established the Gators shouldn’t lose any nonconference games, that’s three victories right there. Now is when the tough part comes around.
Games such as at Alabama, vs. LSU, vs. Georgia, vs. South Carolina and at Florida State are five matchups the Gators could realistically lose. Since we’re not quite sure how much this team has improved from a year ago, and those teams are better on paper (right now), I’ll say Florida wins one of those five games. The other games against bottom feeders in the conference aren’t cakewalks, but Vanderbilt, Kentucky and others really shouldn’t pose much of a threat, assuming this squad has made the proper strides.
Of course, Florida should strive for better than an 8-4 record, but given the nightmares last season provided and the tough luck with the schedule, eight seems like a solid number of wins for a bounce-back season.
Besides, Florida has reached at least eight wins only once since Urban Meyer left town.
A Bowl Victory
The Gators have not won a bowl game since 2011, and while that may be nothing to most universities, Florida is still one of the prestigious college football programs in the country. It needs to retain its elite status. The Gators aren’t a team that misses bowl games, and they usually do fairly well when they qualify, winning six of their last eight bowl appearances.
In other words, winning a bowl game should always be a realistic expectation for Florida fans. Florida isn’t Duke, a team that’s just happy to be a part of the festivities. Florida also isn’t Texas, a program that will allow mediocrity for several years before coming to its senses.
Save the talk about how the offense still needs time to come together and how tough the schedule is going to be. This is Florida, and there is more than enough talent to get the job done.
The Gators need to win their bowl game to cap off a successful season.