We're doing a preseason countdown a little differently this year, with Florida's 48 for 2014. Yes, the numbering is a nod to 2013, but the entries in the countdown will mostly be reasons to be excited about the 2014 season, or ways to look at it, or ... well, whatever I want. And I'm going to have a lot more fun with it than anyone did with Florida's 2013 season — trust me.
And, yes, we're behind, but we should be caught up by Saturday.
Austin Hardin made just four of his 12 field goals in 2013.
That's a disappointing performance by almost any standard, much less by one that expected Hardin, an Under Armour All-American and highly-touted kicker in high school, to provide sound kicking after the departure of wunderboot Caleb Sturgis. No college football team made less than a third of its kicks in 2013, and only Temple, 3-for-9 on the year, matched Hardin's ineffeciency. Florida, which went 12-for-22 from three on the year thanks to Francisco Velez (6-for-8) and Brad Phillips (2-for-2), ranked 116th in that stat.
And it's tempting to say that having an effective kicker alone might have been enough to swing a couple games for the Gators in 2013: A lack of confidence in Hardin contributed to a momentum-killing failure on fourth down against Miami in a five-point loss, Hardin and Velez each missed field goals in Florida's three-point loss to Georgia, Hardin missed a field goal in a five-point loss to South Carolina, and Velez "missed" a field goal against Georgia Southern (it was blocked) that would have allowed Florida to be up 6-0 after the game's first two drives, instead of 3-0.
The good news for Hardin, and Florida, is that there is a lesson to be learned from another once-reviled Florida kicker, Chris Hetland: Kicking is weird.
Hetland, many will remember, started Florida's 2006 season even colder than Hardin was in 2013: He made just three of his first 12 tries, though his misses — two against Tennessee in a one-point game, one against South Carolina that made the 'Cock Block necessary — hadn't cost the Gators any games.
So when Hetland made his only field goal against Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game and made both of his kicks against Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, it was a relief, but mostly unnecessary.
While people remember the arc of Hetland's senior season, they forget that it came after a fine career to that point. Hetland wasn't Florida's full-time kicker until 2005, but he made 13 of 16 field goals and 38 of 40 extra points that season, twice being named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week — once after making three field goals in a nine-point win over Tennessee — and eventually earning second-team All-SEC honors.
Nothing suggested Hetland would have a weird senior year, and yet he did — but, because Florida had a superb defense and a good offense and a fair bit of luck, it ultimately didn't matter.
Little suggested Hardin would have as strange and futile a first year as he did, and yet he did. Hardin, though, has already proved that there may be no rhyme or reason to whether kicks sail through the uprights: He went 4-for-4 in Florida's spring game despite never really impressing in practice this spring.
That might be the prelude to a much better 2014. It might not. And it might not matter: Florida's better-equipped to handle the latter possibility than it was last year, with former Virginia Tech kicker Brooks Abbott joining the Gators to give Will Muschamp yet another option in the kicking game, and an overhauled offense likely to diminish the marginal value of field goals.
But I would bet this much: Hardin won't be worse than or as bad as he was last year, because that would take some doing. And I wouldn't be surprised at all if he turns out to ultimately be a fine kicker.
After all, kicking is weird.