When I use "dreadful" above to describe the 2013 Florida Gators football season, it's the most fitting word possible. It's delivered dread to every possible audience.
For the fans who dreaded a losing season after a lifetime without one, it came to pass. For the fans who dreaded losing quarterback Jeff Driskel, the most important player on the roster, it came to pass. For the fans who love Dominique Easley like the cuddliest bear in the woods, his injury happened. For the fans who hate injury, in general, for college players compensated by scholarship and not salary, dozens occurred.
For the stakeholders who support Will Muschamp vociferously, seven losses, and losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern at home, happened; for the fans who would like to stake a FOR SALE sign in front of Muschamp's house, Jeremy Foley delivered an unusually full-throated vote of confidence.
For Gators who delight in the pain of other teams, Florida State surged to the head of the class, with a precocious quarterback breaking the curve. Miami returned to the rankings, thanks in large part to a game Florida all but gave away. Georgia suffered almost as many injuries as Florida, but kept its quarterback and running back for long enough to score wins of value. Missouri became the SEC East's frontrunner, and skunked Florida; South Carolina staged a comeback against the Gators despite improbable production from the Florida offense. Vanderbilt beat Florida for the first time in my lifttime; Florida fell to Georgia Southern, producing the lowest point for the football program I've ever seen.
A fanbase vexed by Florida's sputtering finish to a stellar 2012 season in the Sugar Bowl was exasperated by this year, both in results and process: For many of them, this season's offensive futility was so bad as to suggest a clandestine plot from Muschamp, a Georgia grad/undercover Dawg/hater of fun, to bring Florida low, and Foley's incompetence is the only reason Muschamp is still around. Brent Pease, who got just three games of good health each from his starting quarterback and the backup, was an incompetent failure who deserved all the vitriol he got. Florida's offensive line struggles were the result of Tim Davis being terrible, not the difficulty of shuffling players around after emaciating injuries.
And Florida's defense, often so good with its back against the wall, was "terrible" this year, failing to defend a triple option it never sees and yielding big play after big play against the ones it does, and getting worse as the year progressed, as player after player departed the lineup. Why blame injuries so bad that they left a walk-on as the only healthy linebacker available against Georgia Southern, when Muschamp's responsibility is to stock Florida sufficiently to endure anything?
This was the worst season in decades for Florida, and it is now all but over, with FSU set to perform a three-hour vivisection of the Gators in Gainesville beginning at noon on ESPN, letting that stupid, probably-racist-because-there's-no-way-the Seminole Tribe-did-it chant ring out in The Swamp. ("Rocky Top" would be preferable, as it has a tune and is just dumb, not racist.) Florida's seniors, and the players who will leave the University of Florida to pursue careers as professionals after this season, will be largely forgotten today, unless they win a game, because the Senior Day that Jeremy Brown and Trey Burton and David Campbell and Tim Clark and Dominique Easley and Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison and Damien Jacobs Darrin Kitchens and David Maignan and Solomon Patton and Brad Phillips and Jaylen Watkins should have been able to fully enjoy with the support of tens of thousands of loyal, loving fans has been overshadowed by Florida's record and results.
And after this game, Florida fans will then from blaming Muschamp for a long, painful season to blaming him for a long, painful offseason, one with no bowl to look forward to, no bowl practices to get better in, and scant recruiting momentum to speak of. This is, perhaps, the darkest hour for Florida in a long, long time — and it will last a seeming eternity in the months from December to August.
But all this, in about four hours, will be over. It will be done. It will be the past. It will be a memory. And we can sit and dwell on this one, or on other, better ones.
I will be doing the latter, remembering the good things that happened this season — there were some! — and hoping for better times. I'll try to provide detailed and thorough accounts of why this 2013 season happened, too, but I'll be moving on. I moved on from belieiving this year would be a success long ago.
Belief is a fleeting thing. One can believe in a team, or a person, but can only believe so much before reason gets in the way; hope is all one has left after belief is no longer rational. And hope is certainly all I have today.
But hope is eternal. Hope is the flame that doesn't go out in the rain, the candle that burns brightly in the dark. Hope is remembering that football is a sport that sometimes discards reason, and that, no matter what, there's always next year.
Let's get this year over with today, so we can hope for better tomorrow. Go Gators.