Gators Bye Week Brought Pain, Lessons

Bye weeks are the worst. But you know how you make them even more painful? Schedule them early. Then lose the game before the bye. The Gators hit the trifecta this past weekend. It was only week three of the budding college football season, barely enough time to break in our new Gators tees and get the liver used to regular Saturday workouts. Certainly not enough time to judge a football team.

Historically, this was Florida’s earliest bye week since the unscheduled week one bye in 2004 because of Hurricane Frances. The last time the Gators had a scheduled bye this early was in 1997. Considering how worthless that bye was (in ’97 they were coming off the infamous 82-6 beatdown of Central Michigan), you would have figured Jeremy Foley would have learned his lesson.

One of the reasons for the early bye this year is because of the longer season with one additional Saturday on the calendar between the end of August and start of December. That means two byes for the first time since 2005. But even in 2005, the first bye still wasn’t until the week before the Georgia game, with the second coming the week before Florida State. If one bye is the worst, what does that make two byes? How will we even make it through this season?

And yet bye weeks are good for two things. The first is that they allow you to make adjustments. But for Will Muschamp and his staff, that means basing all their tweaks on just eight quarters of football. Obviously most of the focus of any scheme alterations were on the offensive side of the ball (minus the slight reshuffling of the depth chart on defense). But if the offensive woes the Gators showed for a great majority of 2012 weren’t improved during the long offseason (see those first eight quarters), how can we expect much of a difference in a week?

The second benefit of a bye week is health. That’s why you generally prefer your bye week later in the season when rest and rehabilitation are key to finishing out the season strong. After two weeks, most of Florida’s team didn’t need more rest, they needed more reps. That said, the few players who benefited from the rest and return to health are key cogs. The offensive line is in much better shape with starting guard Jon Halapio’s return and the improved health of the tackles. Matt Jones sounds as if he’ll be closer to full strength as well. Jeff Driskel’s mild ankle sprain is healed too. Finally the silver lining in the terrible dark clouds of the bye.

Muschamp and his players had no control over the schedule. And although we should always be consulted, Our Two Bits didn’t either. We play the hand we’re dealt. After surviving the first bye, we can look ahead while looking back with this week’s OTB Top 25 things we learned on the bye week:

1. Getting to watching so many other teams and players can be a saving grace on the bye. Unless it brings you down even more. As I wrote about last year, Jeff Driskel really struggles when compared to the other quarterbacks in the recruiting class of 2011. Driskel was a consensus top 5 recruit at his position when he committed to play in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. Will Muschamp took over for Meyer in December of 2010 and was able to hold onto Driskel, in part with the hiring of Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator. As far as omens go, that’s a scary one. Well this past weekend, the class of 2011 QBs put on another show. Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota all had huge weeks and lead teams in the national conversation. Braxton Miller would have done the same if not for his week 1 injury. Jeff Driskel is a long way from being in the conversation with any of those guys and he may never be. The Gators won’t fully be back to national relevance until they have a quarterback who is.

2. Alabama’s run isn’t over and when it is, it might be the greatest stretch of dominance in college football history. It’s close to that right now.

3. Texas A&M, despite the loss, is still a very good, very dangerous football team.

4. Despite having what might be the toughest schedule in the country, Florida is lucky they don’t face either in the regular season.

5. T.J. Yeldon might give Johnny Football a run for the money as to who is a bigger douchebag in the SEC.

6. There are lots and lots of terrible referees. But college football refs? League of their own.

7. Louisville’s toughest game this season might have been this past weekend’s trip to Kentucky. Because of this, Louisville is not a title contender.

8. Speaking of wildcats, Trey Burton’s days in the formation should be over. Last year against Tennessee, Burton rushed for 91 yards and two scores on only three Wildcat touches. But the novelty of this offensive look has worn off. Keep Burton focused on routes and pass catching (and holding onto the ball) and not on this gimmick.

9. I knew we were going to really miss Caleb Sturgis this season. But it is also great to see some Gators successes in the NFL after a rough few months.

10. Much like earthquakes and wildfires, one of the dangerous things about living out West is watching a lot more Pac-12 football than is probably healthy for me. That said, UCLA is legit. I love Hundley. And Jim Mora Jr. has been a revelation after years of Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel. Watch out for the Bruins.

11. As the Vols found out firsthand, Oregon might be better without Chip Kelly.

12. I never like to look ahead to recruiting during the season but since I see this kid on a weekly basis, I wanted to share with you. Adoree’ Jackson is one of Will Muschamp’s top targets for 2014. By all accounts, Jackson has Florida at the top of his list, partly because he is a track and field star and the Gators have won two straight outdoor titles. Here’s a clip of his 80-yard TD from this past weekend (he also caught the game-winning TD in overtime):

13. Please don’t tweet at the kid, though. That’s just creepy.

14. After last weekend’s titanic clash, CBS’s SEC game of the week promo has been lacking. I swear the script for the VO announcer went like this, “It’s the SEC on CBS. America’ best conference. This Saturday TEAM X takes on TEAM Y. In a football game. The SEC. On CBS.”

15. The campaign to #FreeKelvin will eventually pay off like #FreeGilly did and hopefully it doesn’t take as long.

16. As I was watching the South Carolina-Vandy game, it struck me. After all these years, there is still nothing prettier to me than those patented Spurrier corner routes executed perfectly.

17. I agree with Dominique Easley, I too sing along to Rocky Top during UT games. But I also feel silly that to me the lyrics will always be from 1994, “Rocky Top you’ll always be… second in the SEC…”. I’m really that old to think of Tennessee as second in the SEC?

18. Tebow to Jacksonville isn’t happening. It’s time to let Timmy go people.

19. The fact that Tennessee hasn’t named a starting quarterback isn’t much of a factor. The only way the Vols can win on Saturday is if Florida self-immolates as it has in its past three losses.

20. But Tennessee missing Mo Couch? That’s huge and should feed a lot of hungry mouths coming out of the Gator backfield.

21. Florida is up to a 17-point favorite. I can’t remember the last time Florida covered as a double-digit favorite. Florida hasn’t covered this year but the under is a perfect two for two.

22. Briefly on the Bo Pelini situation. Does anyone think Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban or any other coach in history has never uttered similar words?

23. A few of us are pulling a “Guys Trip” weekend to Chicago for a couple of firsts: first baseball game at Wrigley Field on Friday and first football game in Touchdown Jesus’s shadow on Saturday. Wish us luck and let us know if there are any must-eat-drink spots in downtown Chicago, Wrigleyville or South Bend.

24. Because of this trip, we’ll be following along to the Gators game via unreliable cell service in a crowded stadium and random score updates on the jumbotron boards. Not ideal, especially if it is a close game. Please don’t put us in that situation, Gators.

25. It’s #VolsHateWeek and that means you can never get enough of this. If you ain’t a Gator, you’re Gator Bait:

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