The best thing you can say about the Florida Gators’ 33-17 loss to Michigan on Saturday?
That game ended when the clock ticked to 0:00 in AT&T Stadium, even if the competitive portion of it ended far earlier — earlier, even, than the Malik Zaire fumble turned Michigan touchdown that finally foreclosed even the most outlandish comeback possibilities. Florida can’t replay that game, can’t not have an 0-1 record, can’t keep Feleipe Franks in instead of benching him, can’t hope Shawn Davis doesn’t blow that one coverage.
It’s over. It’s done. It will linger with the Gators — and with fans — for only as long as they allow it to linger.
That’s the beauty of human memory: We may not be able to choose to forget something, but we can always choose to move on.
Florida fans ought to do that from this game, but they also ought to realize that there is no moving on from this team until this season is done. And that’s only one thing that Gators fans should at least consider doing in the wake of this loss.
I’ve seen very strong feelings of frustration in all the usual corners since Saturday afternoon. Fans want coaches — most specifically offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier — fired or reassigned, want Franks installed as the starter, want an offense they can crow about and be excited by on a consistent basis.
But those fans ought to realize their limitations, and either accept them or work to change them.
Wanting Franks to be Florida’s top quarterback is an obvious thing, but fans have literally zero control over that. No fan outcry is going to get Franks a start over Zaire, or get Luke Del Rio under center, or so on. That decision rests with Jim McElwain, Nussmeier, and Florida’s coaches, who are well-inured from criticism.
Fortunately for fans, the argument for Franks being Florida’s QB1 now and for the forseeable future is practically airtight, and it’s the sort of call that is either going to be nailed immediately or screwed up in a fashion that provides pretense for other firings.
Those firings, in fact, are things fans might have control over — but only if they are among the elite of the elite among Florida’s boosters, or capable of bringing pressure like those folks.
You, person with a Twitter account, are not going to sway McElwain to fire Nussmeier and replace him with Steve Spurrier via a single tweet. You can’t get Scott Stricklin to fire McElwain that way, either.
(And, to be clear about some structural forces you may be underrating, you should accept that McElwain is not firing the offensive coordinator he picked based on one game, and probably not doing so during the season. You should accept that Florida is not firing McElwain, the coach who has won two SEC East titles, months after giving him an extension, unless a truly disastrous season unfolds. You should accept that Danny Sheridan — an “analyst” who is probably best-known for not exactly revealing Cam Newton’s “bag man” — saying that Spurrier would consider an offensive coordinator position outside the SEC is far from Abe Lincoln speaking full-throated truth.)
If you have millions of dollars to give to — or withhold from — Florida, though, your voice starts to matter more. Stumpy Harris is going to be able to say things to Stricklin and McElwain directly, and even if those things aren’t necessarily taken all the way to heart, they do matter. Furthermore, the influence of a Harris is multiplied by that of his Bull Gator pals, and five or 10 of them are capable of wielding influence that even 50,000 people on a Facebook page could never match.
If you don’t have money that talks, however, you’re going to have to accept that your means of changing the program you love will come through either small gestures that may snowball — hint: not going to games or not buying tickets are somewhat more likely to be effective than booing at a game — or organizing the sort of sweeping effort that, to be frank, you probably don’t have the time to stitch together.
Institutions and systems are designed to be resistant to change, it takes Herculean work to change them, and even Herculean efforts can feel Sisyphean against a strong enough structure.
Do you want to take up that mantle? Be my guest. Just know that your road points almost directly uphill.
If you’re not going to do that, though — and, buddy, I know you: you’re not — your best means of dealing with the way Florida plays football is by accepting what you see as how Florida plays football, enjoying it for what it is, and living your life in a way that compartmentalizes that properly, rather than going through the same stages of grief you’ve been going through for five, six, or seven years and expecting your feelings to be different.
Florida played poorly, especially on offense, on Saturday. That’s disappointing, especially based on what we thought could be possible about this team.
But it’s also just what happened.
It’s not a referendum on you, Bill Fan. It’s not necessarily a reflection of the lack of character or talent or ingenuity of Florida’s players or coaches. Performance in a season opener is not necessarily predictive of a season’s fortunes — something that we really ought to remember is true based on Florida’s whipsawing recent history of blowouts and closer-than-desired openers that have proved to have little to no correlation to how the season as a whole went.
The plural of anecdote is not data. And the temptation to point to longer-term trends, while admirable from the sense of hunting for explanations that actually work, ignores the fact that college football is the major American sport with the smallest sample sizes, the most game-to-game volatility, and the wildest narratives — all reasons that we love college football, even if they double as reasons we hate it.
Maybe Florida will be bad throughout this season. Maybe Florida will be better than it was against a really good team when it plays less-good teams. Maybe those 10 suspended players would have been an enormous help, and maybe Florida not being distracted by that sideshow would have been, too.
We don’t know any of those things. All we know is that there are a bunch more games left in this season, and that we can choose how we respond to them.
I chose, long ago, to not let even the worst loss shake me to my core. I sat through the entire 2012 Georgia loss, the entire 2013 Georgia Southern loss, and the entire 2014 Missouri loss in person — and, honestly? I don’t think I can say I didn’t enjoy the experiences of those games.
The Georgia game was a back-and-forth, tense affair in which both teams made big plays routinely. The Georgia Southern game was a historic upset in which I just happened to be cheering for Goliath. The Missouri loss was theater of the absurd, and I spent basically the entire second half laughing.
It’s okay, I have found, to be okay with things not going my way at every single moment of my life. It’s even preferable for me, at least in some ways, to being deeply resentful of failures and faltering and disappointment.
And so this is my advice to you: If you’re mad and sad about the Gators being bad, it might be good for you to understand that the things you actually have the potential to change, in all likelihood, are the mad and sad parts.
Sunday Brunch is a weekly column.