Wednesday, September 02, 2009

All or Nothing

Unreasonably reasonable expectations

I hate what my fingers are about to type.

But the simple truth is this – anything less than a BCS title this year will be crushingly disappointing.

This just isn’t one of those years where “well we came close and the boys played hard” is remotely good enough. Just winning the SEC – not enough. A nice Heisman for Tebow – not enough.

Only the whole enchilada will do.

I’m well aware of the bitter disappointments of Gator history having been around to experience firsthand many of the lowlights. During my first season as a Gator we won the SEC – then had it stripped from us (1984). In 1985 we would have won it again but were ineligible. I experienced the doldrums of ’86-’89 with seasons of 5, 6, 5 and 5 losses, respectively.

I sat in the rain in Knoxville in 1990 – Spurrier’s first season – as the Vols whipped us 45-3. I watched Jerome Bettis run over the Gator defense like a steamroller in Spurrier’s first bowl game (a 39-38 loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl). Antonio Langham’s game killing interception in the ’92 SEC Championship? Well that was right in front of me. The fifth quarter in the French Quarter? I saw it live.

I stayed until the entire end of the 1995 Fiesta Bowl. I was young and stupid then.

We decided in 1997 to have a good friend’s bachelor party at the LSU game in Baton Rouge. You ever see 80,000 plus drunken Cajuns storm a field after knocking off a number one team? I have.

I watched Steve Spurrier walk off Florida Field for the last time (as our coach, at least) on December 1, 2001 after losing to Tennessee by 2 points. The 2001 team was one of the most talented squads the Gator’s ever had, and a total of 5 points kept them from the SEC title game, and likely more.

The Ron Zook years. Enough said. (But I was at Starkville in 2004 for the 38-31 loss that cost Zook his job, and have to admit to mixed emotions there…)

My record in Tallahassee was 0-8-1. My friends used to beg me not to go, figuring I was the curse. That span included the “Choke in Doak” tie 31-31 tie in 1994 (where I learned not to taunt the opposition until the game is over) as well as the heartbreaking, although later avenged, loss of 1996. Ron Zook, of all people, finally got me a win in Tallahassee in 2004. I will never go back. (As an aside, the non-fan-taunting lesson came in handy in the Orange Bowl in 2003 when I learned that a lead of 33-10 midway through the 3rd quarter isn’t enough).

Now don’t get me wrong. Although I’ve seen plenty of disappointment in the roughly 25% of the Gator’s total history I have shared, I’ve also seen plenty of triumph. I am not complaining. I’ve seen 8 “official” SEC titles, and 3 “national titles” (or 4, if you like).

It is a record that any football fan would be lucky to have.

The reason I cite here the bitter disappointments of year’s past is my acknowledgement that anything can happen, and as a Gator fan anything HAS happened. I know that what I am thinking – what Gator fans are thinking – is fraught with the possibility of peril and letdown.

For this year anything less than everything will not be enough.

For the 2009 season we return, as a senior, the Heisman winner of his sophomore year who already has two BCS titles on his resume. Virtually the whole offense returns.

However it is the defense that offers the greatest potential in 2009. Has any school ever returned all 11 starters and their backups? We bring back a defense that is 22 deep, a defense that last season, on the biggest stage of the year, held the decade’s best offense to 14 points, or 38 points lower than their seasonal average.

Put in a statistical context, the 2008 Gators ranked the following for the decade (2000-2008) –

Scoring Offense – 16th (43.64 points per game)

Scoring Defense – 20th (12.93 points per game)

Margin of Victory – 5th (30.71 points per game)

It is not inconceivable that Florida, especially defensively, could improve on these stats this season. We could be talking about one of the best statistical teams in the past ten years.

Even more than that, we are talking about history. Earlier this year I looked at a Sports Illustrated piece about the 12 greatest college football dynasties. Of the 12 only a couple of them could claim 3 “national titles” during their dynastic runs. Where the Gators might rank among the 12 I can’t yet say, but they would most certainly be in the discussion.

So, despite my reluctance to say it aloud, nothing less than an undefeated BCS title season will be good enough this year. Would I take a one loss BCS championship? Of course, but you can only play with the “1-loss fire” for so long before you get burned.

I’ll admit it now – I want, and expect, it all. There will be no backing away from it later on, no partial victories, no half loaves. Does this make me an unreasonably demanding fan? Yes it does. But if the time isn’t now, when it is?

It is All or Nothing in 2009. History, or infamy, awaits.


LeakBrewerGator said...

Man, reading through all of those games literally makes my heart hurt. I'm not so quick to say this needs to be an all or nothing year. A lot of things could happen between now and January that could change my whole outlook on the season.

Great read!

D.S. said...

Agreed 100 percent about "National Title or Bust."

It's not without precedent: The 2007 Florida hoops team had similar expectations -- aside from a transcendent figure like Tebow, there is a pretty strong analogy between that hoops defending champ and this football defending champ.

The 2006 basketball run through the NCAA Tournament was battle-hardening -- as was the slight lull during the 2007 title-defense season. It made the 2007 NCAA Tournament psychologically manageable.

That's not unlike the way that the football team this fall can always draw strength from last year's Ole Miss game -- or even the battle vs. Alabama in the SECCG -- any time they might feel unfocused.

"31-30" is a pretty good shorthand for "Take care of business, one down at a time."

Anyway, it's a high-wire act to say "all or nothing," but you get the sense that those are kind of rare and sublimely (if harrowingly) energizing stakes that Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes live for.

Great post.

-- Dan Shanoff

Mergz said...

Not surprisingly Dan’s comment better summarizes in a couple of paragraphs what I was trying to say than my lengthy post itself.

I also encouraged knowing that I am not the only fan standing way out on this limb. I’m just afraid to look back to see who is sawing it.

Scully said...

Funny thing about the OU teams that are included in the 12 greatest dynasties is they were brought about by cheating scandal which led to the firing of Jim Tatum and hiring of Bud Wilkinson.

jj gator said...

If not for the fact that we have a "cupcake" team to face in our opener, the same circumstances from 2008 could have applied to this season in that we still could stand a chance at the BCSCG with one loss - but in order to get to Pasadena this year, we need to go undefeated as far as the BCS considerations go. That Charleston Southern game does nothing to bolster our strength of schedule, and I only wish that we also could have faced a more competitive oppoenent in our opener such as UGA and Bama are doing - I would have loved to have seen us go up against Utah in The Swamp, but there was no follow-through as their should have been to actually get that game scheduled.

IMO had it not been for the events of 9/11 which disrupted our season, I could have seen us playing for the national title. We definintely had the talent on hand; that loss to UcheaT was a killer but given the fact that we still went to a BCS bowl post season and won (beat Maryland in the Orange Bowl) all really wasn't lost. And then the worst that could happen did, and we lived a nightmare for the next three seasons......until 10/25/04.

Ian said...

This is a great blog.

Some of the games you mentioned gave me an ulcer and/or a green shade to my complexion for a while. My heart is not beating right at the moment even from just thinking about Choke in Doak.

This post was something else. I know it's all we can help to hear about and discuss as Gator fans, but honestly I wouldn't want it any other way. The way I see it is if we have a hungry, tested, immensely talented deep defense, a true leader on both sides of the ball, great special teams, great coaching and a single big (ok huge) game on the road at night at LSU then BRING IT ON! The season just has to be taken one game at a time and I think the team is as good as any that has ever been assembled at Florida. The team has to execute and stay focused. Above all else, if they want to get to the BCS Championship Game, they will have to want it more than the opposition all year long especially at LSU and if they make it to Atlanta.

Scott said...

My Gator years occurred during time "that school up north" made it to 3 NC games. They hurt, but...

There is no point in being humble, Gator fans have moved into the realm of NY Yankees or Manchester United fandom. Blame S.O.S. for starting it and the Pope and apostle (Meyer and Tebow) for returning the swagger, but Gator fans now EXPECT FBS-NCs. Thanks for admitting it. Go Gators!

Mike said...

Yeah, when it comes to tough losses, I get it. I was a Freshman when I went to my first Ga / Fl game in 1969. We were favored by 20+ and ranked. We got beat by 48+ pts. Most recently, I have stopped going to G'ville because I feel I am a jinx. I was there for the 36-7 LSU beatdown, the 41-16 beatdown by Miami and the 2 pt lose to TN in '01 (I only attended those three games those two years).
You are right. If Tebow says that the goal is an undefeated season, then it's the mark we must meet. Let's man up and live with it! Imagine how sweet it's gonna be when we have run the table and rein supreme.
That's who we are today, we are THE MIGHTY GATORS. God help those lesser souls who stand in our way!!!

jj gator said...

How much longer before the Illinoise fans tire of Zookism up there in Champaign-Urbana? If they continue to have a crappy season on the heels of blowing yet another opener to Mizzou, they ought to get rid of that moRon once and for all.