This wasn't supposed to happen. None of this.
We're a year removed from the dawn of a day on which Florida wasn't playing because it wasn't nearly good enough to make the College Football Playoff and wasn't good enough to make one of the premier New Year's Day bowls; the Gators' postseason appearance would come on the next day, in a bowl game in Alabama that I (and others) opted to largely skip in favor of watching a basketball game being played at the same time. Alabama and Florida State were in that playoff — FSU hadn't lost since Florida last beat it, more than two calendar years prior — and so was Ohio State, led by Urban Meyer, and so was Oregon, running the offense Florida fans lusted after during a half-decade of futility.
Then Oregon walloped FSU, and Ohio State made Alabama look mortal. Florida won its bowl game. And the Buckeyes won the national title, sure, but that just burnished the rep of a ooach whose shadow doesn't quite linger over Gainesville.
Jim McElwain closed the 2015 recruiting cycle so strongly that it seemed like sorcery.
And then Florida's offensive line fell apart, with Roderick Johnson suffering a career-ending injury. McElwain was left to stitch it together, and found a graduate transfer who would help do that. The fear and loathing that had crept into Florida's proud fan base over the last half-decade allowed us all to set sights low and prepare for subterranean dips in a 2015 campaign that seemed ripe for a half-dozen losses.
And even when Will Grier's emergence coincided with Antonio Callaway's to help the Gators get to 6-0 and the national top 10, something went wrong, with Grier failing an NCAA drug test and taking a year-long suspension on the chin.
Florida could have crumbled at any of many points this year.
Florida won the SEC East and is playing in a bowl on New Year's Day.
This wasn't a perfect season, not by any means. The Gators' offense went from promising to putrid with Grier's departure, and his decision to transfer rubbed salt in a wound that Florida fans have been picking at while musing wistfully on what might have been — a defense this good will lead to that sort of daydreaming. Florida's kicking teams were a disaster, cancelling out its superb punt teams. Suspensions other than Grier's and injuries robbed us once more of seeing a team at something close full strength for a full year. The offensive line was good enough until it wasn't.
But Florida won 10 games in 2015, something that only about a fifth of the teams in the sport can say. Florida authored one of the greatest comebacks in its history in 2015. Florida toppled a would-be title contender in a jaw-dropping blowout. Florida hung gamely with LSU in Death Valley. Florida routed Georgia for a second straight season. Florida won an SEC title on one of the more unlikely field goals in recent memory. Florida won an overtime game in The Swamp in driving rain.
Forget résumés and Twitter arguments and bragging rights and rankings and jockeying for position in the national landscape, if only for a moment: Was 2015 fun? For me, it was a blast.
And we have the Florida Gators to thank for that, in part.
So let's celebrate that today.