Funny, isn’t it? The game of football. It’s a confusing sport. One with plenty of randomness that sometimes isn't that random and plenty of measurables that you can’t really measure and plenty of certainties that turn to uncertainties.
For example: Before the season began, Florida had hopes of a College Football Playoff run. After Week 1, Florida felt disappointed but battle tested after losing to a talented Michigan team at a neutral site.
And after three consecutive wins against conference opponents — despite how poorly UF played against Tennessee, a win that was only salvaged by a last second touchdown throw, and despite how average Florida looked in wins against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, two middling SEC teams that challenged the Gators almost until the end — you had hope. Somehow, you believed. You believed that Florida’s offense would find its groove. That these were the warm-up games. That a win is a win, no matter how ugly.
But that’s not true. It just isn’t. Eventually, ugly wins pile on top of more ugly wins, and close calls pile on top of more close calls. And it all catches up to you.
On Saturday, No. 21 Florida lost to unranked LSU at home on homecoming. If the last four games weren’t enough evidence for you, this one surely was. This one was the proof. The Gators cannot realistically challenge anyone for the SEC title. They’re just not good enough. And if you believe that they are, you only have to glance at scores from the other top teams in the SEC — the so-called good teams — to convince yourself otherwise.
No. 5 Georgia’s last four games have looked like this: Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 14; Georgia 41, Tennessee 0; Georgia 31, Mississippi State 3. Before Saturday, No. 1 Alabama's last four games have looked like this: Alabama 66, Ole Miss 3; Alabama 59, Vanderbilt 0; Alabama 41, Colorado State 23; Alabama 41; Fresno State 10.
Florida’s last four games have looked like this: LSU 17, Florida 16; Florida 38, Vanderbilt 24; Florida 28, Kentucky 27; Florida 26, Tennessee 20.
Florida coach Jim McElwain likes to talk about just getting the win. It doesn’t matter how you get the win, only that you get it, he says. And yes, wins are nice. But they’re also a measurement of how much better you are than the team you’re playing (obviously). It is literally the most accurate measurement we have to judge the difference between two teams. And so Florida was one point worse than LSU. Fourteen points better than Vanderbilt. One point better than Kentucky. Six points better than Tennessee.
And that’s fine. Slightly above average, some would say. Fine. But we both know that’s not good enough. We both know that slightly above average doesn’t work around here. Not at Florida. Not at a program with three national championships in football and an athletic department where nearly every sport is ranked and nearly every sport is competing for an SEC title nearly every year.
It just isn’t good enough.
And if you were still holding out hope, hope that this would be the year, the year where ugly win after ugly win translated into a postseason run with meaning, then, for you, Saturday was an ugly crash back down to Earth.
Maybe next year.
Ian Cohen is a sports writer. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @icohenb.