Back in the Gators heyday, ESPN’s College GameDay came calling three or four times a year. The anticipation for Herbstreit, Fowler and Corso pulsed through campus by Friday afternoon. The crowds gathered overnight and definitely by first light for a chance to hold signs and boo Corso’s picks at the top of our lungs. These days, though, the arrival of College GameDay brings me nothing but dread. Because it signifies a big game. And we don’t win big games anymore.
During last week’s “win”, Gator Nation was rabid on Twitter with confusion, trepidation, disgust and venom. It was at about the halfway point of the first quarter when I tweeted that this team appeared to be pretty similar to last year’s team, which may or may not have been the worst team in Gators history. It was just too much of what we saw last season with penalties, missed tackles, lack of big plays, missed blocks and drops the few times receivers were actually open. I may have blacked out shortly after the pooch punt call where Jeff Driskel shanked one about 10 yards. The gnarly play calling was just too much for my body to take.
But after the game, Sonny Beam gave me his usual pep talk. I was being too hard and expecting too much. He said he had removed all expectations so therefore any win becomes something to celebrate. He said this is where we are now, Florida doesn’t deserve expectations. Strip it all down and start from scratch. Others took a different route, suggesting the Gators were holding back, not wanting to show Texas A&M anything.
Whatever you might believe, it is too early to know for sure just what we have with this Florida team. Mike Gillislee was finally freed and showed what Charlie Weis couldn’t see over his belly but that just about every member of Gator Nation knew last year – dude can play. To be honest, and I’m not sure if other Gators of my generation felt the same, Gilly reminded me a lot of Errict Rhett. They are the same size, both more powerful than they look between the tackles. Gillislee is faster and Rhett was a better receiver but close enough for me. Other bright spots included Caleb Sturgis and Jeff Christy, who again appear to be among the better players on the team. True freshman Dante Fowler showed some promise. The rest of the team was just too uneven to have stood out much.
With a trip to College Station just days away, the key to Florida’s linchpin game of the season will be Jeff Driskel. Many have speculated that Driskel won the job before the opener and I tend to believe that because it isn’t like he played that much better than Jacoby Brissett in the first half. Regardless, a decision needed to be made and the team had to move forward. So now it is Driskel’s team and he has to rise to the occasion. Can he?
The sophomore year has been a pretty good one for Gators quarterbacks over the years. Of course, Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007. His numbers were straight out of a video game – over 3,100 passing yards, almost 900 rushing yards, 55 total touchdowns. It was arguably the greatest statistical season in college football history.
Before him, Chris Leak led the SEC in passing yards per game, total offense and TDs during his sophomore season in 2004. He had 31 total touchdowns, all while dodging the distractions of the end of the Ron Zook era. Really every way you look at it, Chris Leak has been underrated and under-appreciated by Gators fans.
They don’t compare to what Tebow later did, but Rex Grossman’s numbers his sophomore season were ridiculous. He led the nation in passing efficiency and pass completion percentage. He threw for almost 4,000 yards, including nine straight 300-yard games, and totaled 39 TDs. And in what was one of the closest votes in Heisman history, he finished second to the immortal Eric Crouch.
Going way back, the original super sophomore was probably John Reaves. In 1969, Reaves teamed with classmate Carlos Alvarez to form one of the most potent passing duos in school and SEC history. That 1969 team may have been the best Gators team ever until the 1990s.
So why can’t Jeff Driskel follow in his predecessors footsteps and have a similar breakout sophomore season? The optimist can scream that he absolutely can. Driskel has all the tools to be successful. He was one of the top rated QBs coming out of high school two years ago. He should have a good offensive line and running game to compliment him. The pessimist? He’ll say all of the above mentioned guys gained substantial experience and playing time their freshmen seasons, except for Reaves. And perhaps that is the greatest factor of all in making the leap in the sophomore season.
Like or not, the 2012 season hinges on Jeff Driskel. Come Saturday, we’ll probably have our answer.
Here’s this week’s OTB Top 25:
2. Southern Cal
7. Florida State
8. West Virginia
11. South Carolina
12. Michigan State
14. Ohio State
16. Oklahoma State
18. Virginia Tech
22. Notre Dame
23. Kansas State