Florida won 10 games and the SEC East in 2015, outdoing virtually every expectation for Jim McElwain's first season. And the Gators were occasionally brilliant in doing so, despite losing their best quarterback.
Yet a 10-win season has rarely tasted so sour — and a 41-7 loss to Michigan in the 2016 Citrus Bowl is partly to blame.
Jake Rudock threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns and Michigan ran for 225 yards, as Florida's defense looked as listless as it has this decade. And after a brief spurt of competent, exciting offense in the first half, the Gators' punchless attack returned, leaving virtually every position open for competition in what could be a long, hard offseason.
The lone highlight for the Gators? A sweet trick play on which Antonio Callaway threw a touchdown to Treon Harris, which tied the game in the first quarter and gave fans a brief frisson of hope. By the time Harris threw an interception in the second quarter, that hope was extinguished.
The loss is Florida's worst in a bowl — or any game — since its infamous 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl — and as someone who wasn't aware of that game in real time, by virtue of being two months shy of five years old at the time, this one smarts, despite how little it matters.
McElwain took a program that had stagnated under Will Muschamp and re-energized it in 2015, leading it to heights very few expected were even possible. Florida finishing its season 4-4 — something that can't be fully attributed to losing Will Grier to suspension — shows how much further he has to go to make the Gators a powerhouse again.