2010 will likely be a season that most Gator fans forget quickly. The Gators season has gone like this: Darkhorse title contender–>Team with issues–>Unranked mess–>Phew, looks like they're going to be bowl eligible, and there's still 1/3 of the season to go. If not for Texas, Florida would be the most disappointing team this season.
Until the last weekend of October it didn't seem like the tailspin would end. Last month, Florida lost three straight, and if not for a pair of clutch interceptions by Will Hill, would have gone O-fer for the month. However, with the win against Georgia, Florida may have finally found the brakes on the run-away suck train, and the Gators can get back to some sense of normalcy (i.e. winning a lot of games).
With somewhere between four and six games to play, the Gators still leave a lot to ponder. Here's five big issues/things to consider as the Gators head into the final third of the season.
Streaks, Streaks, Streaks
As far as I know, Florida currently holds streaks for the longest consecutive .500 or better conference record and the longest consecutive streak for finishing in the top half or better of the conference. The .500 record dates back to 1987 and the top half streak dates began one year later, in 1988.
Florida also holds the second longest consecutive bowl game streak in the nation, behind Florida State. A win against Vanderbilt secures two of those streaks for the 2010 season. The Gators would be, at worst, a 6–6 team with a 4–4 conference record.
Florida may need to win the SEC East to finish sixth or better in the SEC, so that will depend on the South Carolina game.
These streaks don't mean a thing other than the Gators are spectacularly mediocre so far this season. Securing a 6–6 record only secures the Music City Bowl. However, Florida could go 11–3 and end up being a top 15/top 10 team making this the craziest season of the last 20 years (it would take Les Miles' cult magic, but it's still mathematically possible).
What to do about John Brantley
Brantley has not thrown a touchdown pass since September. He's thrown five interceptions during the month of October. In SEC play, he is 110/177 with 1,174 yards 2 TDs and 5 INTs in SEC play. His QB ratings for last month and for SEC games are 103.08 and 115.94.
Remember, this isn't the NFL QB rating. A low 100s rating isn't good. In fact, it's flat out awful. Brantley is spectacularly inefficient right now. I'm not going to put the three losses on him, and he's been good on third down, but outside of third and long is he useful at all right now?
Brantley's threat is down field passing. The Gators are totally reluctant to test defenses. He can't run but Burton can. Brantley hasn't played himself out of the quarterback job, but I think Burton played his way into it last week.
Florida doesn't need to throw the ball 25-40 times a game. Burton can get away with Tebow's 15-20 dink and dunk attempts, and if the Gators need a clutch third down Brantley can come on as the specialist.
Some people may be reluctant to make such a radical change on offense, but what's the risk? Florida is already one of the worst passing teams in the SEC. Putting Burton out there isn't going to hurt that aspect of the game. It obviously would help the running game, as evidenced by Burton's larger role against Georgia (arguably, the Gators best offensive performance of the year).
What Florida decides to do with Brantley down the road will impact recruits, this season's record, and the Gators' potential for next season. Brantley's upside is not present in Florida's offense. His downside is the Gators' rushing attack while he's in. Burton is a spread QB; instead of starting the "passer", why don't the Gators start the better offensive player and trot out the passer when they need him?
Did Will Hill Finally Break Out?
Will's already made me look stupid for calling him a top draft pick for 2011, and an All American. Neither of those things will happen. Thanks to disciplinary issues and a tough start, Hill's guaranteed that he'll be overlooked by everyone and viewed as a disappointment.
However, against Georgia, Hill did it all. He wasn't perfect, as there was a missed assignment/awful coverage call that led to a deep Georgia pass, however, Hill had three interceptions, two of which definitely saved the Gators' season (the 2 pt conversion and the OT pick almost–six).
He definitely showed why fans were anxious to see the Will Hill era start. Where he goes from here will define his season, and possibly his career as a Gator.
Redemption is spelled R-A-I-N-E-Y
"Time to die" will probably define Chris Rainey for a long time. You don't live down idiot mistakes like that. Rainey won't get back into the nation's good graces while he's in college (he probably was never there). On the other hand, He may get into the Gator Nation's good graces, and that may not take nearly as long.
Rainey did a great job on Saturday filling in for Florida's running back trio. Demps was "mostly back" but he clearly was not the feature back. The reigns were handed to Rainey, who hadn't played a down in five weeks, and had played as a slot receiver before his suspension.
It didn't take much for Rainey to shake off the rust. He handled six of the Gators first seven carries, and finished the day with 16 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. He also handled kick returns, averaging nearly 25 yards on his six returns.
In a game where Meyer could have eased his maligned player back into the game, he chose to throw him right into the middle and Rainey shone. As long as he leaves the cell phone in his pocket, and gains yards like he did on Saturday, it won't take long for Florida fans to forgive Chris Rainey.
Where has the front seven gone?
Against Miami (OH), the line looked promising. Against USF and Tennessee, the defense forced interceptions thanks to the pass rush, and shut down the then–SEC leading rusher. Florida didn't give up big numbers to either Alabama back, but collectively the two gained 170 yards.
Since that game, Florida has given up 161, 212, and 126 on the ground. The Gators have also only managed five sacks in the month of October. The defensive line was easily supposed to be Florida's weakest unit, but the group has totally disappeared.
The Gators' front seven are playing below the somewhat low expectations for the group. It might not matter too much against Vandy, with their awful quarterback play and their only good RB out with an injury. Still, wins against USC and FSU will come only with luck if Florida can't force pressure and third-and-long situations, and luck isn't a great gameplan for non–Les Miles coached teams.
All in all, Florida is no longer on fire. Although the team is not nearly as good as anybody thought they would be, the Gators have proven that they can pull out a tough win, even if it came against one of the weakest Georgia teams in recent memory.