As kickoff for the final Florida Gators game of a tumultuous September 2017 nears — this one is against Vanderbilt, at noon, on ESPN or WatchESPN — let me help take you through the last 30 days in Gator Nation.
First, exactly 30 days ago, the Gators suspended two more players for their alleged involvement in ... something. We weren’t quite sure what that was then, but rumors flew about credit card fraud or misuse of funds or something or other — in any case, that brought the total of suspended players to nine.
That was three days before Florida played its first opener away from home in decades, a game against Michigan that was meant to serve as a measuring stick for the Gators. In it, they got whacked, sputtering on offense like they have so many times over the last decade and keeping things closed based almost solely on pick-sixes.
That game also featured Feleipe Franks, the ballyhooed redshirt freshman starter, getting benched for Malik Zaire — who was even worse than the largely ineffective Franks — and touching off a fresh round of criticism for Jim McElwain and — especially — offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
That criticism was at full bore into the next week, as Florida prepared for a game against Northern Colorado and a monstrous hurricane whirled closer and closer to the Sunshine State. The game was moved up, then cancelled — then the hurricane hit virtually the whole of the state, leaving millions without power and days to weeks of cleanup before the Gators and their fans.
Florida played that next weekend — alone among Florida teams, Florida played — and pulled off an all-time shocker on the final play of a game against Tennessee it plausibly could and should have won going away, on a Hail Mary that seemed to redeem Franks and validate every fan who thinks he ought to be Florida’s cemented QB1.
Before the third quarter of Florida’s next game, a hard-fought game against a Kentucky team hellbent on finally upending the Gators after three full decades of failure to do so, Franks was once again benched — this time for Luke Del Rio, whose mere presence on the Florida roster has vexed some fans. But Del Rio, with copious aid from freshmen Malik Davis and Kadarius Toney, gave the Gators just enough of a boost to escape Lexington with a win by a single point.
And then a series of sworn complaints against nine Florida players and alleging dozens of instances of credit card fraud for purchases big and small dropped on Monday, once again putting the misdeeds of players who aren’t playing for the Gators now — and may never play for the Gators in the future — at the center of the story of this season.
That has happened over 30 days. Just 30.
And that doesn’t even cover freshman receiver James Robinson being checked for a potentially life-threatening and/or career-ending heart condition, or suspended defensive end Keivonnis Davis getting into a serious accident that required hospitalization, or Florida players seemingly responding to a Tennessee fan urinating on the Gators’ statues for Heisman winners and Kentucky fans using Hurricane Irma in jabs at the state, or the rises and falls of several players on the roster whose seasons have gone far differently than expected, all of which have happened in the last 30 days, nor did the last 30 days contain the original seven suspensions or the season-ending injury suffered by Marcell Harris that first ate into Florida’s available leadership.
Florida is not a college football program immune or averse to dramatic, bizarre months of developments. Keivonnis Davis isn’t the first Florida player hospitalized after something happened on the road involving a scooter this decade; the suspended nine players’ credit card fraud isn’t the most serious crime or alleged crime involving Gators this decade; the QB-swapping would almost seem like homage to Steve Spurrier’s legendarily fickle preferences at the position, which reached a head exactly 20 years ago, if not for the Gators now seemingly choosing between poor options.
But this month? In this year? It’s been a lot, my friends. And it’s almost over.
May Florida send September out by waking us up.