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Friday Forum: Does a shifting season change Florida’s threshold for success?

Florida’s path to its dreams got a lot weirder last week. Would falling short be more forgivable?

Florida vs Texas A&M Photo by Tim Casey/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Maybe there’s an alternate dimension — one in which there’s still this pandemic going on, I guess, but with a “bubble” solution for college football? — in which the Florida Gators are 4-0 and a day away from a resounding triumph over Missouri this weekend.

Ah, but dreams and counterfactuals are only that. Back here in reality, Florida is 2-1, hasn’t played competitive football since the day its coach groused loudly and intemperately enough about a crowd to make his way into political ads, and now faces a gauntlet of seven games in seven weeks after a novel virus with indeterminate and still-emerging middle- and long-term effects swept through approximately a quarter of its roster.

Yet Florida still has everything it wants ahead of it, and these Gators certainly know that. They know they could take a 9-1 record to Atlanta for a mid-December SEC Championship Game and a 10-1 mark into the Playoff; there’s been no requirement of a 0 on the other side of that particular dash, especially for SEC squads.

Trask and Pitts likely know — though they might not care, especially Trask — that they still have high individual honors ahead of them should they continue to play at their current levels. Florida’s defense knows that even marginal improvements will make it an outfit good enough — even if not good — to back up a fearsome offense. Any Florida skill position player can look at Kadarius Toney, starring as a senior after having refined his game, as an example of how getting better at football can better position a player to make money from it in the NFL.

There are reasons to believe — as there were in 2008 — that Florida is going to be a team possessed after a loss, a crew of dozens swinging oars in symphony and slicing through the rough waters of this season.

But the water is so much stormier than it has ever been.

Florida is playing college football during a pandemic, and college football has proven to be little more effective than much of the rest of society at preventing the virus at fault from hanging as invisible mist and spreading to the lungs of those in the industry. There’s no guarantee this season is played to completion, especially not with cases rising.

Florida’s also got players who are almost certainly stressed out by the governmental response to the pandemic — if you think, on a team with 80-plus players, that not one has a family for whom an expected second stimulus payment never coming, unemployment assistance running dry, and eviction moratoriums being lifted are seismic, you might want to think again — or by an election season that has whittled the myelin off of so many already-frayed nerves. And the “racial unrest” — or whatever you’d like to call the twin fires of protests against police brutality and pushback against the most radical demands of a group whose movement has been increasingly attacked for its pie-in-the-sky political aims because its central thesis is inarguable by reasonable people — of a year in which how being Black colors a life in the United States of America has been put in sharp relief? That’s surely a psychic load for scores of Gators to carry.

Florida is going to play two games in December against Tennessee and LSU teams that are in disarray in October, and any Florida fan who remembers 2001 recalls that not working out for the Gators before. More proximally, the Gators will now not have a bye before playing Georgia, and must prepare for a Missouri offense that is successful in somewhat different ways than Georgia’s is before it can truly focus on beating the Dawgs.

I see possibilities for Florida, sure. But I see more pitfalls, more problems, higher percentage chances that something, somewhere, will go awry. The margins for errors are slimmer than they were, too.

I think, ultimately, success in this stormy season may be about survival rather than arrival for these Gators.

But the point of the Friday Forum is y’all. So what do you think?