I want these Weekly Open Threads to be more frequent. So I’m going to be keeping them shorter — “shorter,” in the case of this one — before turning them over to y’all going forward.
Today, I have two topics for your discussion.
First: Florida is ranked higher than it was a week ago, in the top 15 according to one poll, and behind LSU — despite Florida, y’know, beating LSU this weekend — in both of them.
And I really do not care about that enough to post about it, because none of it matters.
College football’s polls — the AP and the coaches’ poll, anyway; the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings are still a poll, just one of far fewer people — have been rendered all but meaningless by the introduction of the College Football Playoff, which has (smartly!) divorced its selection process from polls of overworked and underpaid writers who don’t get to see every game in a given week and polls of overworked and underpaid sports information directors who take direction from overworked and overpaid coaches in making their relatively uninformed selections. Those top 25s don’t have any meaningful bearing on anything within the sport except the marketing of the sport — which is fine, of course, but also something we should openly acknowledge and thus feel free to ignore.
And at the same time, we’re also getting better at determining the quality of a team based on how it plays with systems better-tuned to this stuff and better able to reflect the differences between the No. 12 and No. 18 teams in the country. S&P+ has an ordinal rankings system, sure, but it’s more enlightening to me to learn that No. 1 Alabama’s S&P+ Rating is 29.6 — a full 3.4 better than No. 2 Georgia; that gap is the same as the one between No. 14 Florida and No. 26 Iowa — than that Alabama is No. 1.
But while it doesn’t matter to me that Florida is No. 14 in a poll of college football observers because I really do not care about Florida’s ranking until and unless it has something to do with a potential College Football Playoff berth or a New Year’s Six bowl, and I’d rather report and/or opine on where Florida sits in advanced metrics, I know that I’m still in the minority on this, and I don’t think I’ve convinced y’all to wean yourselves off looking at or caring about the polls.
So I turn this over to you: Should we post about the polls as they come out? Lead Chomping at Bits with them on Monday? Ignore them entirely? I want your feedback.
I also want your feedback on something that had me thinking I’m crazy yesterday.
In the Andy Staples Punt, Pass, and Pork piece I linked in this morning’s CAB, which is led by several hundred words on the SEC East’s resurgence, he leads by writing about the sounds made at The Swamp:
The crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium produces a certain sound when Florida is truly playing well. It falls somewhere between “I can’t hear” and “standing next to an F/A-18 as it takes off from an aircraft carrier.” For a time Saturday, it felt as if the crowd might never reach that level. It fell nearly silent early in the third quarter when Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks—while getting crushed by LSU defensive end Breiden Fehoko—threw a pass directly to LSU safety Grant Delpit in the end zone.
But when Florida cornerback Brad Stewart Jr. intercepted Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow late in the fourth quarter and raced 25 yards into the end zone to seal a 27–19 win, the denizens of The Swamp finally rose up and roared. “We have the lead and we get punched in the face,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said of a back-and-forth fourth quarter. “And we didn’t flinch.” It wasn’t Tony George’s-pick-six-against-Peyton Manning loud or Jarvis Moss-blocks-Ryan Succop’s-kick-to-save-a-national-title loud, but it was a sound they haven’t made in Gainesville in a long time.
“A sound they haven’t made in Gainesville in a long time”? C’mon.
You could throw in how loud The Swamp got for the big plays in the 2015 romp over Ole Miss — one of the loudest games I’ve ever been to — or the utterly visceral roar when everyone in attendance realized Matt Elam had actually stripped Odell Beckham Jr. in 2012 (which, sadly, doesn’t have a good YouTube clip in 2018), too.
The point remains: The Swamp has been as loud as it got for Brad Stewart’s pick-six on Saturday in recent years, just in fits and starts and for things that don’t fall neatly under the theses of “The crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium produces a certain sound when Florida is truly playing well” and “it was a sound they haven’t made in Gainesville in a long time.”
Florida is blessed and cursed to have produced a lot of alumni that now opine on college football for money, many of them well. (Jury’s out on our staff.) Staples, a walk-on who won a ring with the Gators in the ‘90s, is one of them: He’s one of the finest college football writers working, and — I believe — still resides close enough to Gainesville to have attended a lot of Florida games, even ones of recent vintage.
But this insinuation that Florida’s crowd a) hasn’t gotten loud for big plays and/or b) hasn’t had big plays to get loud for in recent years and/or c) only gets truly loud when Florida is playing truly outstanding football is just bullshit. And bullshit from the same manure pile I’ve long lamented — the one that former Florida students working in sports media have shoveled from while selling the postures of bemused frustration and defeated resignation about the Gators having one mediocre-to-good decade after two historically great ones.
This decade, it’s been cooler (and easier) to riff on Florida being bad (or, specifically, being bad at offense) than to argue for a more nuanced understanding of Florida. I’ve tried to do the latter through thick and thin — and have almost always had an easier time getting agreement when I do the former, or when I write laudatory things at high-water marks.
Agreement is nice. It is the foundation of popularity. It doesn’t guarantee accuracy.
And I don’t compromise on accuracy to make the crowd clap.
I was there for the Elam strip, for that blocked punt against Louisiana, for Ole Miss in 2015; I had friends go to those Tennessee games and this LSU one, and quizzed them afterward. I know that loud, in The Swamp, does neatly cleave at the high end into “I can’t hear” levels of baseline yelling on defensive possessions and “I will suffer hearing loss later in life” levels reached only on reactions to incredible moments.
And I can tell you that Florida fans have gotten to both levels this decade, as recently as last year, and that any quibbling about how loud the ear-splitting moments have been misses the point.
You can trust me — and maybe your ears, and your memory, and proof provided — on that, or you can trust assertions that fit a narrative of Florida rising from the ashes scattered by one-time students — or players, or band members — and lapsed fans who have had to wear masks of objectivity because that’s “professional” or whatever.
That part is up to you.