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Friday, January 15, 2021

It doesn’t matter how it ended. Florida football should be proud

The Gators battled with delayed games and an all SEC schedule

Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) and quarterback Kyle Trask (11) are regarded as two of the best college football players in the country this season.
Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) and quarterback Kyle Trask (11) are regarded as two of the best college football players in the country this season.

It wasn’t always pretty. It rarely is.

The Gators suffered a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M earlier in the season. They were on the business end of a shocking upset at the paws of the LSU Tigers. They were bested by Alabama in the SEC Championship, and after a slew of opt-outs, were cooked in Arlington, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl.

That’s not very pretty. But I’m not here to talk about all that. I’m here to talk about the circumstances.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The offseason was filled with Zoom meetings and shutdowns, and the Gators faced an outbreak of their own and had to reschedule its game with both LSU and Missouri. Like teams around the nation, UF had to face a shortened schedule, one that was made up of SEC games in what many consider to be the toughest conference in college football.

Even amid the pandemic, the Gators finally bested the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time in four years. They beat eight SEC teams, and there was a player wearing orange and blue amid this year’s four Heisman Trophy finalists.

Linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said it best.

“It's a COVID year, no offseason, no spring together, having young players who didn't get to go through a spring,” Diabate said. “So, it's like we're proud that we made it to this point… when that scoreboard said 0:00 with no time left, we finished it.”

And yeah, the Gators aren’t alone in having to deal with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. Every team that finished the season went through many of the same things this team has gone through. The Gators proved until their last game that they were a top 10 team. 

The Sooners game was rough, but it also gave UF something else to look forward to — hope for the future.

Players like Emory Jones, Xzavier Henderson and Gervon Dexter could be the solid foundation of a successful team at Florida, and head coach Dan Mullen got to see them play against a  good football team at the Cotton Bowl. Jones in particular played fairly well, netting a rushing touchdown in the Gators’ 55-20 loss.

So, no. The Gators didn’t quite meet expectations, especially after Mullen finally got the best of Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs and made the SEC Championship game, where they played what appears to be a nigh-invincible Alabama team to the final seconds. They got a good look at what their team can do next year to cap off an extraordinary season under extraordinary circumstances.

Through the pandemic, the shortened season and  the all-SEC schedule, this team gave it its all, made it to the national stage and produced a candidate for the Heisman.

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The players are proud of what they accomplished. And Gators fans should be proud of them, too.

Contact River Wells at rwells@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells



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