This will be a long offseason for Gator Nation, as Florida ended the 2020 season on a three-game losing streak, punctuated by a 55-20 beatdown at the hands of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night. The Gators must now say goodbye to three offensive stars and find a way to resuscitate the defense.
The 2021 season opener against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4 can’t come soon enough.
Here are three observations, two questions and one prediction as the Gators enter the offseason.
1) While the loss to Oklahoma felt like being stabbed in the stomach over and over, the mass freak-out after the game by fans was a little over the top. Hot takes were flying on Twitter after the game. “Kyle Trask throwing three interceptions shows that Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts were really the ones carrying the offense, and Trask is overrated.” “The Gators are in big trouble next year because the young guys played terribly.” “Dan Mullen should be on the hot seat entering next season if he doesn’t make major moves in the coming weeks.” The reality is that Trask is one of the best quarterbacks in school history, and Mullen is at the very least one of the top-10 coaches in the country. But, when you have a slew of veteran players publicly announce that the game wasn’t important enough for them to play and a coaching staff that apparently wasn’t overly concerned with winning the game, that mindset trickles down throughout the roster. The beatdown on Wednesday night likely isn’t an indicator of how the young players will play next season after going through a full offseason. It was a tremendously disappointing night, but it likely doesn’t foreshadow an impending collapse.
2) That being said, while it’s not time to panic, there is a lot of work to be done for UF to contend for championships again next season. The first order of business will be to identify a new starting quarterback – likely Emory Jones – and mold the offense to his strengths. The returning receivers need to run better routes and catch the ball much better than they did against the Sooners. The offensive line needs to be much more physical and allow them to become a run-first team next year. The defense needs to somehow return to respectability after arguably the worst defensive season in program history. Even with all of the offensive firepower that the Gators will lose, you can count on Mullen fielding one of the best offenses in the SEC. They need the defense to be at least average to complement them.
3) This was a truly bizarre season and not just because of the postponed games and smaller crowds. In some ways, it feels like Florida was right there among the nation’s elite and just a couple of plays away from being in the playoff. Trask shattered records and was named a Heisman finalist. Their two regular-season losses both came on last-minute field goals. They came one stop away from potentially beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Yet, in other ways, namely the defense and the ugly losses to LSU and Oklahoma, it feels like they still have a long way to go before they can be considered an elite program.
1) How long will the defensive rebuild take? This likely isn’t as simple as firing coaches and adding an impact transfer or two. When you give up nearly 31 points and 428 yards per game, you’ve got major problems beyond just one or two people. There are legitimate concerns at all three levels of the defense. They were already undersized on the defensive line, and now they’ll likely have to replace both starting tackles. Half of the linebackers can’t cover, and the other half can’t tackle. Kaiir Elam is the only defensive back that you can feel comfortable about. This has the makings of a multi-year fix.
2) What will the offense look like next season? With Jones and/or Anthony Richardson taking over at quarterback and the top-3 receivers departing, the offense figures to transition to the run-based spread-option attack that Mullen became famous for as Florida’s offensive coordinator. However, the offensive line could lose up to four starters from a unit that wasn’t very good to begin with. The Gators are sort of stuck in between. They won’t have the right personnel to continue the aerial assault that they used with Trask or the right personnel to be a running team. This will be fascinating to watch.
1) Trask will finish third in the Heisman voting behind Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones. Smith has turned in one of the best seasons ever for a wide receiver and is very deserving of the award. Fair or unfair, wins have become a statistic associated with quarterback play, so Jones will edge out Trask even though Trask has better stats. Trask will, however, edge out Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Trask has been named a Second Team All-American by several organizations.