There is an Achievement for NCAA Football 13 that requires taking Texas State, Texas-San Antonio, or UMass and winning the national championship in the first year of a Dynasty. I did that, because I enjoy getting Achievements via doing things that are actually difficult in NCAA games, and I like starting somewhere that isn't Florida and working my way up — especially now that the Coaching Carousel exists.
If what happened in this season happened in reality, I would call it the most bizarre season in Florida football history.
Week 1: Bowling Green 28, Florida 19
Right out of the gate, things get weird. Florida falls behind 7-0 to the Falcons, takes back the lead after four consecutive Caleb Sturgis field goals, gives it back up a minute before halftime, and never leads again. The Gators only give up one turnover, on a Jacoby Brissett pick, but Brissett completes just 17 of 40 passes for 198 yards and takes five sacks (Jon Halapio gives up four of them), and Florida converts just two of 15 third downs. Trey Burton has two catches for 15 yards, but one of them is Florida's only touchdown of the day. Cody Riggs snags two interceptions and returns them for a total of two yards.
Already, this is the sort of thing that would have people calling for firing Will Muschamp. But it isn't the weirdest result of the day, because Texas State upsets No. 1 Alabama at Alabama, 31-10. Elsewhere, N.C. State tops Tennessee 20-17 in overtime, Navy upsets Notre Dame, Wyoming upsets Texas, and Boston College upsets Miami.
Oh, and it gets worse for Florida before it gets better.
Week 2: Florida 34, Texas A&M 27
Florida trails 7-0 and 10-3 in the first half, and 17-10 at halftime, but scores 24 points in the second half as Jeff Driskel (probably subbed in for an injured Brissett) throws for a score and runs for two more. Mike Gillislee runs for 80 yards and has two catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in the win, and Ronald Powell (who, remember, should be hurt early on) has three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Texas State continues to be upset-minded, stopping Oregon 30-18, and Missouri upends Georgia, 31-28. A week after beating Tennessee, N.C. State loses to Connecticut, and Purdue sends Notre Dame to 0-2. Florida State beats its second consecutive FCS team.
Week 3: Tennessee 21, Florida 7
The return of Brissett — who would not be starting the week after an injury and a performance like virtual Driskel put on against A&M, but whatever — is spoiled by Tennessee's running game. Marlin Lane rolls up 123 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, both in the second quarter, and those scores combined with Prentiss Waggner's pick-six of Brissett gives Tennessee a 21-0 lead at halftime. Brissett finds Reed for a short TD in the third, but Florida can't come back, despite shutting down the Vols' passing attack (Tyler Bray throws for just 80 yards; Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have one catch each). Riggs comes up with his third pick of the season.
Navy adds a win over Penn State to its resume, and Arkansas gives Alabama a second loss on the season.
Week 4: Florida 24, Kentucky 7
The Gators' decades-long winning streak over Kentucky endures in the first game the Gators scored first in all year. Brissett's inaccurate again (18 for 41), but throws for two touchdowns, including a 63-yard bomb to Frankie Hammond, and Gillislee runs for another. Michael Taylor has an insane night on defense, with 12 tackles, including six for laoss, and two sacks; Omar Hunter, quietly having a very good year, has two sacks and four TFLs. Florida's defense limits Kentucky to eight completions and compiles seven sacks.
In other action, Texas State's magical run continues with a 35-30 win over Ohio State; Oklahoma gives Kansas State its first loss; Clemson beats Florida State, 24-23, with the help of 14 fourth quarter points; and Notre Dame, then 1-2, hands Michigan its first loss.
Week 5: Bye
Florida spends a week hearing about how its Week 6 showdown with LSU will make or break its season, and watches the Tigers dismantle an FCS team, 55-3, rolling up 615 yards and giving up 82 as Zach Mettenberger throws for four touchdowns before halftime. The SEC East keeps getting cloudier, though: Tennessee dumps Georgia, and Kentucky routs South Carolina, 29-7.
Texas State, meanwhile, rolls a ranked TCU squad, 45-21, and Florida State fends off USF in a 48-35 shootout.
Week 6: LSU 41, Florida 20
I'm thinking this one gets SWAMPED in a couple of newspapers: LSU builds a 17-3 first half lead before two scores in the final two minutes of the second quarter narrow it to 17-13, and Florida never gets closer than 23-20 in the second half, with the Tigers tacking on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to get to the final margin. LSU gets 30 first downs and runs for 194 yards, offsetting Mettenberger's four picks (Riggs, Jelani Jenkins, Josh Evans, and Matt Elam), and Florida's offense is stifled by the fierce Tigers D: Brissett throws for 113 yards and a score before he is forced from the game, and Driskel throws for 90 yards and a touchdown in relief, but gets 63 yards on a TD pass to Gillislee and completes just three of 10 passes, and loses one of the three fumbles Florida will give up on the night; Gillislee coughs up the other two. A strange bright spot: Florida's kick returners (Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar, and Hammond) get 178 combined yards on seven returns.
Auburn dumps a highly-ranked Arkansas team, Georgia hands South Carolina another loss, and Kentucky continues its winning ways, but the stories of the week are USC surviving a 44-39 game with Utah, Purdue giving Michigan its second loss with 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Texas State knocking off Boise State in a mid-major clash.
Week 7: Florida 35, Vanderbilt 7
After a week of columns wondering if Muschamp will last the season and predicting the Gators falling to Vandy for the first time in a long time, Florida responds: Brissett throws for 267 yards and four touchdowns (but completes just 16 of 37 passes, somehow ending up with a worse passer rating than Driskel, who completes his only pass for four yards), UF builds a 21-0 lead, and Chris Johnson (!) has 51 yards on the ground and a touchdown catch ... because Gillislee sustains a season-ending partially torn PCL, and Mack Brown is apparently also briefly hurt. On defense, Riggs pulls down two more picks, giving him six through Florida's first six games.
Mississippi State muddies the SEC East waters further by crushing Tennessee 30-6, and LSU beats South Carolina 45-38 in overtime in a wild game that sees 59 points scored after halftime and a game-tying LSU field goal with eight seconds left. In other parts of the country, Wisconsin puts an end to Purdue's winning ways, Oklahoma blanks Texas, and Washington knocks out Matt Barkley early and bloodies USC's eye for the first time in 2012 in a 35-26 win.
Week 8: Florida 22, South Carolina 19 (OT)
In what seems like the game of Florida's season, and one reminiscent of the 'Cock Block, the Gators get a touchdown run from Brown in overtime to take down South Carolina in Gainesville despite tallying just 235 yards of total offense and seeing Brissett struggle to 12 of 31 passing for 103 yards and two picks. Four Gamecocks turnovers help, but it's Brown's 116 yards and two touchdowns on the ground that carry the day, and the defense's stiffness in the red zone (Carolina gets a touchdown and three field goals on six trips) that help get UF back over .500 and into the thick of the SEC East race.
The SEC has a couple of bizarre games on the week: Georgia scores 42 straight points in 17:56, and 28 in the second quarter, in a 56-35 thumping of Kentucky (the Wildcats scored 21 points in the garbage time of the fourth), and Alabama prevails in a 35-32 game with Tennessee that yo-yoed from 14-0 'Bama at the end of the first quarter to 24-14 Tennessee at halftime to 35-24 'Bama by the start of the fourth.
But while the week's biggest upset comes when Miami leads 24-0 at the half en route to downing Florida State, 38-31, the game of the year happens in San Marcos, Texas, where Texas State concedes a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down to Notre Dame with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter ... only for the Bobcats to respond with a 75-yard touchdown bomb on the next play from scrimmage to steal a 27-23 win.
Week 9: Florida 21, Georgia 20
Will Muschamp's Gators get down to their last growl and come up big again versus the hated Bulldogs, with Brown running in the winning touchdown with under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Brown has 70 yards on the day, and Brissett throws for 231 yards and two touchdowns (while completing 11 of 26 passes), and Florida's win puts it firmly in control of the East.
The only other game of importance? Notre Dame's 24-14 defeat of Oklahoma, which gives the Sooners their first loss.
Week 10: Florida 34, Missouri 13
Now Muschamp's Gators are rolling. UF outgains Mizzou 369-228, converts 10 of 15 third downs, scores on every trip to the red zone, gets Brissett's finest day (20-for-34 for 178 yards and three touchdowns), and Brown's biggest day (160 yards and a score on the ground, 57 yards as a receiver) in a romp. Kyle Christy only has to punt once, and the Florida leads by 10 points or more throughout the second half. The win clinches the SEC East for Florida.
Tulsa's 31-21 upset of Arkansas is the seismic shock of the week, especially given Arkansas' 21-0 first quarter lead, but Texas State survives a game Utah State team 35-34 (I simmed it), and USC dumps a mediocre Oregon squad 42-26.
Week 11: Florida 29, Louisiana-Lafayette 23 (OT)
After peeling off four straight wins against SEC East foes, Florida nearly stumbles against a Sun Belt squad. Florida trails 13-6 at halftime and 23-13 heading into the fourth quarter, but a Sturgis field goal with just over two minutes left ties the game, and the Gators stop the Ragin' Cajuns in overtime and win it with a Brissett touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond. Four turnovers wipe out a 151-yard advantage in total offense, and Brissett's two picks almost squander his 337-yard, two-touchdown outing. Brown runs for 95 yards and a score, but fumbles twice. On defense, Sharrif Floyd is a nightmare, rolling up 11 tackles, seven TFLs, and three of UF's eight sacks.
The SEC West sees two upsets: Mississippi State upends No. 1 LSU 28-23 in Tiger Stadium, and Bear Bryant's old school, Texas A&M, beats his most famous one, Alabama, by a 28-14 count. But the biggest game of the week is the immortal Purdue-Iowa rivalry, which Purdue takes, 27-23, with 13 points in the final frame.
Week 12: Florida 34, Jacksonville State 7
Florida rebounds from a scare against Louisiana-Lafayette to throttle Jacksonville State, limiting the Gamecocks to 90 yards of total offense and just eight rushing yards. Brissett struggles, completing just 14 of 33 passes for 160 yards, but Chris Johnson comes up big (possibly because of a Brown injury?), running for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and the Gators roll up another six sacks.
Mississippi State upsets Arkansas, 37-34, and UCLA scares USC in a 24-21 loss, but little else happens as the season is winding down.
Week 13: Florida State 28, Florida 19
A six-game winning streak comes to an end at Doak Campbell Stadium, as Florida's offense sputters again against the FSU defense. Brissett is largely ineffective, throwing for just 93 yards and a touchdown and running for another, and Brown and Johnson combine for 90 yards on the ground, and the 'Noles limit UF to just one play of more than 10 yards, a 31-yard Debose catch. The loss is especially painful because the Gators yield only one sack, lead 21-14 in the third quarter, and force six FSU turnovers, including five by E.J. Manuel, only to have Manuel make up for it with four touchdowns. The nine-point margin is attributable to two missed field goals and a missed extra point from Sturgis and a failed two-point conversion to make up for the miss.
Texas State drops 42 points in a quarter on UTSA en route to a 66-28 win that sees Rutherford throw for 570 yards and seven TDs, Louisville scores 19 fourth quarter points to take a 36-35 squeaker over UConn, Notre Dame beats USC, 38-28, and Michigan rolls Ohio State, 42-21.
Week 14: Bye
Florida players rest up for the SEC Championship Game, and catch unbeaten Texas State outlasting unbeaten-in-the-WAC New Mexico State to claim the WAC title. Louisiana-Lafayette thumps Florida Atlantic to win the Sun Belt.
SEC Championship Game: Florida 24, LSU 21
The Gators defense rests atop the SEC.
Florida picks off LSU four times again, except these come off the arm of Jerrard Randall after Mettenberger is knocked out of the game, and preserves a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter to win Muschamp's first SEC title and the program's ninth. Brissett throws for 188 yards and two scores, both to Hammond, and Johnson runs for 74 yards, but the day belongs to Cody Riggs, who snags three picks and returns them for a combined 83 yards to set up Florida time and again. He's named the national defensive player of the week for his efforts. (And once again, Florida rips LSU on kick returns: Debose has three for 88 yards, and Hammond one for 27.)
The victory only boosts the Gators to No. 18 in the final BCS rankings, but it also gets Florida a Sugar Bowl berth against Kansas State, shunted to New Orleans as an at-large team because of Big Ten champ Michigan's appearance in the BCS National Championship Game and Oklahoma's auto-bid to the Fiesta Bowl ... against Purdue. Pac-12 champ USC and Notre Dame are rematched in the Rose Bowl, and Miami and Louisville get to dance in the Orange Bowl in a game with a few juicy narratives. That's right, Miami: The Hurricanes beat Florida State for the second time in 2011 in the ACC Championship Game, defeating the 'Noles after Manuel runs for two touchdowns to send the game to overtime thanks to a short touchdown run by Mike James.
Florida State is banished to play Arizona State in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve, but it could be worse: 11-1 Utah, its only loss coming to USC, is so fully snubbed that it ends up in the Alamo Bowl on December 29. Alabama and Ohio State land in the Outback Bowl.
The Gators get to do something new in the Sugar Bowl: Face the Heisman Trophy winner in a game that doesn't have a national championship on the line. Collin Klein, who threw for over 2,759 yards and 29 touchdowns, and ran for 932 yards and 11 TDs, is awarded the trophy over Florida State's Manuel (the Maxwell Award winner, who threw for 3,060 yards and 33 TDs and ran for 1,061 yards and 12 TDs, but completed just 52.3 percent of his passes) and Purdue's Caleb TerBush, who ran for 15 TDs and earned the Walter Camp Award. Florida International's Jeremiah Harden, who nets 1,702 rushing yards, is named the Doak Walker Award winner, and finishes fourth in the balloting, and Utah's Jordan Wynn comes in fifth.
But it's Florida's team that might look better on paper. The Gators lead the nation with four first-team All-Americans: Cody Riggs (who has 10 picks to lead the country and set a new school record), Ronald Powell, Omar Hunter ... and punter Kyle Christy, whose 31 punts downed inside the 20 is second in the nation. Jelani Jenkins and Matt Elam both make the second team. Consensus No. 1 Texas State, by contrast, has just one second-team All-American.
The Gators don't get that kind of love in the SEC. LSU puts a staggering 11 players on the All-SEC first team to Florida's six (Powell, Hunter, Jenkins, Riggs, Christy, and returner Andre Debose) and has 15 players on the first and second teams. Florida has four second team All-SEC performers: Jordan Reed, Elam, Josh Evans, and Caleb Sturgis.
Riggs is up for the Bednarik Award for best defensive player, but loses it to Manti Te'o, just like Jenkins loses the Butkus Award to Te'o. Riggs also isn't even a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back (in part because some idiot threw two of Ohio State's Travis Howard three pick-sixes on the year). Reed is considered for the Mackey Award, but not named a finalist; Powell and Hunter are finalists for the Lombardi Award, but lose out to Oregon's Tony Washington. Sturgis and Christy are candidates for the Groza and Guy Awards, but not finalists.
Sugar Bowl: Kansas State 42, Florida 25
Things go sour in the Big Easy for the Gators.
Klein is masterful, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that was rough to QBs all year and running for another 35 yards and a score, and K-State takes a 35-0 lead into halftime and a 42-0 lead into the fourth period before the Gators explode for 25 points in garbage time. (The game won't show me the scoring summary, but that's what the box score indicates.) Brissett throws for 118 yards and two scores, but completes 10 of 29 attempts and also throws a pick; his scrambling, awful all year, finally pays off with 40 yards and a touchdown. Brown runs for 89 yards and has 37 receiving yards and a TD. Riggs gets his 11th pick, and the defense forces six turnovers, but it's not nearly enough to stop the Wildcats' avalanche.
Texas State completes its magical run to the national title in its first year of FBS competition with a 35-21 win over Michigan; USC stomps Notre Dame, 48-28, in their Rose Bowl rematch; Miami beats Louisville, 27-26, in a thrilling Orange Bowl; Florida State nearly blows a 17-0 lead in a 30-27 win over Arizona State, but ends up No. 9 in the final top 25 coaches' poll; Ohio State crushes Alabama, 34-7; Georgia beats N.C. State like a drum, 48-7, and ends the season ranked third.
Florida finishes the year 9-5, and ends up 2-3 against teams in the final top 10 of the coaches' poll. Florida ends the season unranked in both polls.
But that SEC championship? The Gators have that forever.
Florida's SEC title gets Muschamp and coordinators Brent Pease and Dan Quinn a bit more breathing room in Gainesville.
Unfortunately for Florida, the season of success provides many players with a chance to jump to the pros. Jordan Reed, Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd, and Jelani Jenkins all declare for the NFL Draft early; Reed is projected as a fifth-round pick, the rest sixth-rounders. Marcus Maye, Ju'Juan Story and A.C. Leonard all transfer in search of more playing time; Maye and Leonard head to Florida International. And Jon Bostic is the lone graduating senior expected to be drafted. All of those players are drafted in the rounds they are projected to be drafted in.
Never fear, though: Florida begins the offseason recruiting period with the nation's 10th-best class, heavy on offensive line prospects, and ended it with the nation's 12th-best class, including a 6'8", 250-pound athlete who runs a 4.62 40.
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