On Dec. 5, 2009, the Florida Gators' football program was left for dead.
They were done for good in the minds of college football fans not partial to the orange and blue. In many views, they didn’t belong at No. 1. They were finally exposed as a fraud of epic proportions, and the loss to Alabama did nothing to boost the morale of many Florida fans.
It was that kind of a season.
From the time the Florida Gators hoisted the crystal ball at the beginning of 2009 until the conclusion of Wednesday’s signing day, it has been a roller coaster ride that nearly ended in disaster and could have set the Florida football program back further than the Ron Zook years.
The entire downhill slide of the season started when Florida was discredited for not beating Tennessee by at least 50 points. Florida fans wanted blood and settled for a win. A certain coach started claiming that the 10 point loss to Florida was a "moral victory."
Florida was constantly told that it was not the best team in the country week in and week out, and it showed. Playing as the hunted instead of the hunter is a huge difference. They played tight the entire season and were barely a shell of the harbinger of a death squad that ran roughshod over the 2008 season.
The University of Florida, Urban Meyer, and everyone associated with Tim Tebow was defamed by everyone with medical "knowledge" for even considering to play him after the concussion he suffered against Kentucky.
Furthermore, Urban Meyer was criticized up and down for two weeks about keeping Tebow in a blowout game, risking, and ultimately, having, his best player get injured. The fallout from Tim Tebow’s concussion was so great that people didn’t even consider other quarterbacks who played the same weekend of Tebow’s injury:
Jeremiah Masoli of Oregon: Last pass came with 0:20 left in third up by 36
Greg McElroy of Alabama: Last Pass 10:02 left in fourth up by 28
Colt McCoy of Texas: Last Pass 8:50 left in fourth up by 40
Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State: Last Pass 1:22 left in fourth for a touchdown to go up by 30
Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech: Last Pass 12:54 left in fourth up by 17, the next play was a touchdown to go up by 24
All of them were in the game later than the Tebow injury. No one questioned their coaches, their coaches’ integrity, or said that their coach wanted to win at all costs.
Florida was accused of fixing the game against Arkansas and conspiring with SEC officials for an unsportsmanlike call that had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Nobody ever said that Florida played horrible defensively, got shredded by a good quarterback, got burned repeatedly by deep passes, and were lucky to even be in a position to win, let alone kick a field goal to win.
Florida was accused of more favoritism from SEC officials for winning the Mississippi State game, a game in which Mississippi State never threatened to score offensively, and would not have even had the score that close if Florida could have converted just once in the red zone.
I wasn’t aware that "mistake by the replay official" was a synonym for "favoritism." The Dustin Doe touchdown/fumble shouldn’t have counted because he did fumble, but it still would not have mattered. Florida was still going to win the game, regardless.
Florida, Urban Meyer, and Brandon Spikes were trashed for two weeks over the eye gouging incident, even though there were numerous cheap shots, blatant face masks, and some eye poking by Georgia that either went unnoticed or uncalled.
No one ever called for the kids from Georgia to be suspended the rest of the season, nor did the kid from Georgia who was on the receiving end ever complain about it.
Urban Meyer was fined for telling the truth and standing up for his players, including one who had been hurt earlier in the season.
Florida was ridiculed for not destroying Vanderbilt, a team that Florida has beaten like a drum consistently for nearly 20 years. I guess that winning by 24 points isn’t enough for some people. Neither is having billions of dollars in your bank account, but that didn’t stop the people on Wall Street, either.
Florida was laughed at for not beating South Carolina by more than the 10 points they did win by, even though South Carolina played Florida harder than they have in the last few years, and Caleb Sturgis missed three field goals.
Urban Meyer was bombarded with trash talk and assurances about him leaving for Notre Dame at the end of the season. The Notre Dame job opening came and went. Urban was still in Gainesville, and the Gators were headed to Atlanta.
After being destroyed at the hands of eventual national champion Alabama, Florida was left for dead. Alabama was on their way to a National Championship, and Florida was doomed to fail in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati, much like Alabama the previous year against Utah.
Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated had this to say about Florida:
"The last time a burgeoning dynasty was taken down this quickly and efficiently, Michael Corleone was attending his nephew's baptism."
That was one of the nicer things that were said.
It would only get worse for Florida.
The unthinkable happened—Urban Meyer stepped down as head coach. With Urban leaving and Tim Tebow graduating, Florida football was going to cease existence. The ground was going to open up, swallow the program whole; the stadium would be leveled in order to make room for ultimate frisbee.
Fans from Tallahassee to Knoxville to Athens rejoiced with the thought that Florida was finished. Recruits were ripe for the picking.
Nearly 24 hours later, even more of the unthinkable happened—Urban Meyer was going to take a leave of absence instead of leaving altogether. The loyalty of the Florida coaching staff, the futures of Florida’s players, and the plan to keep winning had persuaded Urban Meyer to stay at Florida.
Florida went out and demolished Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Florida finished 13-1. The recruits in place stayed put. Urban went back to work, and more recruits started pouring in. First, the Under Armour game yielded some great players. Then, it was the Army All-American Bowl where Florida really cleaned up. Three of the top 10 players in the country declared their pledges to Florida.
The 2010 recruiting class was in tact. Wednesday put the finishing touches on a class that could yield immediate dividends this season.
The team everyone thought was finished isn’t going anywhere.
They’re just getting warmed up.