Observations about Florida's loss to Florida State and college football in general a day after the fact...
Florida State is probably going to win it all — and deserve it
Florida State has a really damn good football team, and it's looking like that outfit will be the last really damn good team standing at the end of this season.
All it needs to do to get to Pasadena now is beat Duke. That will not be hard, I think.
Of the other really damn good teams I see on the landscape, Alabama's got a loss, Auburn's got a loss, Missouri's got a loss, Oklahoma State's got a loss, and Baylor's got a loss. Ohio State's a half-tier down from really damn good, but is the only team likely to get a shot at FSU, and while Urban Meyer's got some experience with preparing a team for a national championship game by playing the "They say we have no shot" card, I'd still rather see Ohio State than Auburn or Missouri or Oklahoma State if I were an FSU fan.
And FSU has done what it must do to get to a BCS title game under the current framework: Annihilate everything in its path to make up for what it lacks in strength of schedule. The Seminoles beat Clemson, Miami, and Florida, the three toughest teams on their schedule, by 37, 27, and 30 points. And the Clemson and Florida games were both on the road. And the Clemson game should've been a 44-point win.
You can complain about the ease of playing an ACC schedule, about how FSU got turnovers that precipitated an avalance early against Clemson and how Miami lost Duke Johnson and how Florida lost everyone, about how Jameis Winston is still playing, and extraordinarily, despite the specter of a rape allegation. But don't try to tell me or anyone that Florida State hasn't put together a season deserving of playing for a national title. That would be lying.
Florida played about as well as it could, and got a semi-respectable result
37-7 looks bad on a scoreboard, and it will look bad on the message boards and Twitter where fans want to make it the only thing that matters about this season. I've seen that "Florida players blocking each other" picture from yesterday, too — it's Quinton Dunbar, on the first kick return of his Florida career, running right into Marcus Maye, not anyone tackling anyone else, and though it's incredible that another dumb play by Dunbar produced another lowlight one week after his first dumb play produced a much more prominent lowlight, I can't get too worked up about Maye bracing himself when Dunbar blindsides him. Florida's defense couldn't hang with FSU's high-flying offense, or more specifically Kelvin Benjamin (other FSU wide receivers: five catches, 52 yards), for long, and Florida's offense was, again, about as effective as a broken squirt gun.
But the only thing I am genuinely upset about from yesterday's game was Ronald Powell spitting at a Florida State player, which is as low as it gets, and should probably have resulted in his ejection and the premature end of his Florida career. (Powell's likely to leave for the NFL Draft, despite an underwhelming redshirt junior season that cannot have helped his draft stock.) Spitting at other people can't be tolerated, and I'm ashamed Powell did it.
Nice reflexes by James Wilder, Jr. to get out of the way of the expectoration, though.
College football is cyclical, weird, unfair, and the best
Last year, Alabama and Georgia played the finest SEC Championship Game in history. This year, there will be a new SEC champion — making 2013 the 15th straight year in which the SEC champion failed to repeat — and it will be either Auburn, with a converted defensive back running an offense that is allergic to the pass and a coach that took over for a team with a dumpster fire problem in 2012, or Missouri, which looked like the SEC's new laughingstock as injuries robbed its potential time and again in 2012. The 2013 SEC champion either went 5-7 (Missouri) or 3-9 (Auburn) in 2012.
Oh, and Auburn doesn't make the SEC Championship Game without absurd, ridiculous luck working out in its favor twice in three weeks, and Missouri might have been a shoo-in for a national title berth had Andrew Baggett merely extended overtime against South Carolina. Meanwhile, Alabama, which had done everything it needed to do to prove its No. 1 credentials until the last second of last night's game, is fully out of the national title picture because of a 109-yard return of a missed field goal for a touchdown.
This is what college football is: Cyclical, weird, unfair, and the best, because it is truly, truly mad, beholden to variance and unpredictability like no other sport in the world. College basketball comes close, but its variance plays out over a magical month; college football gives fans five months, and almost never fails to make something unthinkable a reality within them.
Bless this sport. I'd still like the powers that be to pay the players and make the game safer and reduce dependency on the uglier things that buttress the sport, but they're producing the most irresistible reality show on the planet, so it's not like they aren't succeeding in one respect.
Florida will be back
I walked back to my car and ended up chatting with an FSU fan about the end of the Bobby Bowden years. We both agreed that Will Muschamp was a good coach, and she said that she thought one of Florida's major problems this year was the prevalence of Urban Meyer's players in the locker room — a point that has some salience, I think — but she also noted that the last years of Bowden's career made it much easier to not take anything about this year for granted, and was sure that Florida would be back.
"You're Florida," she said.
I think she's right.
You may remember that there was a brief debate earlier this year about whether there was enough talent in Florida to sustain more than two great programs at any one time. I think that debate's interesting, if ultimately silly (there's enough talent for Florida State to be a national title contender, UCF to be a BCS-bound team, Miami to win nine games, and Florida to lose all of its talent to injury in the same year, so there's plenty, I think), but the flip side of that argument is compelling, too: There is too much football talent in the state of Florida for any one team in the Big Three to be down for long.
Florida's 2013 qualifies as "down," but I don't think Florida's really lacking for talent right now. Everyone's hurt this year, which helps obscure how much talent there is in the stables, and some of the most talented horses are hurt, but a lot of players who were in Florida's program this year are going to play in the NFL at some point, and more good players are on the way. Muschamp may or may not be their coach for the entirety of his career — we'll keep disagreeing on whether he is the right coach for Florida until he wins a championship or is fired, no doubt — but, for the sake of argument, if Muschamp proves to be a "bad" coach and is fired, Florida will still have talent available for the next coach to work with. And if that coach proves to be bad, then the coach after him will have talent, too, and so on.
This is Florida's worst season since 1979 — but it is also Florida's first losing season since 1979. My dad was not able to drink legally in 1979. My parents, who had me relatively late in life, were several years from meeting. That is an unfathomably long time for a team to win more games than it lost in a ridiculous high-variance sport like college football, even with the advantages that powerhouse programs like Florida enjoy and build into their schedules.
But Florida State's last losing season was in 1976. And Miami's only losing seasons since 1979 — when a season-ending win over Florida couldn't save it from a losing season, like a season-ending win over Florida did in 1978 — came in 1997 and 2007. Miami recovered from going 5-6 in 1997 by winning nine games in each of the next four years, and winning a national title in the fourth. (2008 was less good, but, eh, Miami also employed Larry Coker and Randy Shannon consecutively.) Florida State won 10 games in 1977. And Florida went 8-4 in 1980 after being 0-10-1 in 1979. These teams don't just not crater; they rebound like Superballs, historically.
We can hope for that in 2014. And we can also remember that even the fans that hate Florida most acknowledge that Florida will be back.
2013 is the season that proved that the folly of "It can't happen here" applies to Florida, too. But history strongly suggests it also won't always be this way.