If I’m honest? I have no damn clue what this Florida Gators team will be.
I haven’t had a good read on exactly what kinds of things Billy Napier’s offense will do nor a great sense of just how Patrick Toney’s defense will look — apart from what our Seth Varnadore has written, I’ve read very little else on either subject.
I don’t have a great read on whether Anthony Richardson will blossom into a Heisman-worthy performer, like he was for so many flashy stints in the 2021 season, or whether he will struggle as a starter, with his prodigious talents leading him to make just a few too many ponderous decisions.
I like Florida’s running backs and offensive line. I’m not sure I can say the same for the other skill-position players on the roster. I like Florida’s pass rushers and several of the secondary’s should-be stalwarts. I’m not sure I can say the same for the middle of the defense in front of what should be good safeties — and I fear that an inability to stop the run will be a chronic ailment for this team.
But while it is, uh, kind of my job to do all that reading and watching and research, and I know that’s part of why you come here each year, this year has also kind of been a trying time for me — and I don’t just mean the part that has come since seeing flames leap out of the garage and lick cars into total losses in early July.
It is, as you probably know if you have paid attention to anything about Florida in the last few years, not a particularly fruitful time to be a person of left-leaning political persuasions in this state. And it’s an especially harrowing time for people who work in or around or care about public education in the state — and maybe not even first and foremost because of state-level directives or fears of reprisal. Teachers and professors and education specialists alike are exhausted at a level that I don’t think has been attained often, and while they are saddened for the losses of some things — in case you haven’t realized that there are elementary schools that can’t have book fairs right now, well, that’s a thing — I think the primary emotion is actually unease.
Teachers, of course, are used to flying blind and hanging on for dear life over the course of a year, used to working longer hours for less pay after working their asses off to get the degrees necessary for those positions, used to working with children for as long or longer than parents are parenting those same children on some days, used to paying out of pocket for things that kids might not “need” but really do in any given classroom, used to active shooter drills and fences that now make schools look like correctional facilities, even used to all the bullshit that has come with a pandemic that has made their jobs both “essential” and assailed. Adding state surveillance and provisions that allow people who have served in the military — or a spouse who did! — to enter the profession with no real training? That’s just throwing more spices in a pot that bubbles over constantly.
But I’m a product of Florida public schools, and the son and sibling of products of Florida public schools. My mother has logged thousands of volunteer hours in Florida schools, and that’s just what she’s had officially recorded. While I haven’t logged more than a few of my own such hours, I’m confident that I’ve provided hundreds of my own. I care deeply about them; I care deeply about my mother, who cares deeply about them.
And I care a bit more about that right now than whether the Gators can convert a third and seven or go 9-3. I also care somewhat more about how my parents and I are going to handle the several months we have between now and moving back into a house than whether the Billy Napier era is going well or poorly on any given drive.
That doesn’t mean I don’t or won’t care about this football season. I think I will probably emotionally invest as best I can. But “as best I can” might mean taking some steps back and curtailing my time spent worrying about nattering nabobs of negativity or horrifically haughty homerism. It will probably mean fewer tweets. It may mean fewer posts.
What I know it will not mean is being less thoughtful about all of this. What I suspect it will mean is doing more thinking and listening than speaking just to say words — more enjoying of the ride and less yelling from it.
This will probably be a good year for that. Freed from the crushing weight of great expectations, Richardson and Gervon Dexter and all their Gators teammates should be able to play with freedom and for fun. If Florida falls to Utah tonight, and especially if it isn’t a close contest, then any and all national championship aspirations can wait until next year or later, when the program that many seem to think had found a nadir under Dan Mullen can be fundamentally and foundationally sound under Napier.
And if Florida’s good this year? Well, we can have some fun with that, too.
But I am explicitly saying this now so I do not have to say it over and over: I am embracing not knowing, not caring, voids, and questions this year. I will not pretend to have all — or most, or many — of the answers.
I’m here for a good time. And I’m not going to complicate this beyond that. Hopefully.