Where did Florida’s swagger go?

by Gary Shelton on October 18, 2021

in general

Did Bowden, Spurrier take the excellence with them?

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

As a state, we are lost. We wander around the desert, desperately looking for a first down. The end zone is not in sight. The fight songs are out of tune.

Exactly when did the state of Florida's college football teams forget how to play this game?

Once, trophies lived here. There were national championships and Heisman Trophies and No. 1 draft picks. The coaches were smarter. The players were faster. The crowds seemed louder.

And now ... this?

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The swagger is gone. The winning has stopped. We have become, ordinary, like football in, say, Indiana or Nevada. People know there are games, but why bother to pay attention anymore.

This week, for the first time since November of 2011, the Top 25 of the polls are Florida-free. We are unranked, unconsidered, unimportant. We are mediocre and slipping. We do not matter.

Ah, time was, you couldn't talk about college football without talking about the state of Florida. From 1983-2013, 11 teams from Florida won national championships. That's more than one-third of the titles split among three schools. Consider this stat from the Associated Press: In the last 638 polls, a Florida school has been among them 631 times. The other six times were in 2011, and even FSU finished 23rd that year.

Oh, and there were so many great players. This state has eight Heisman winners, but since 1983, there have been 22 players in the top five of the Heisman Trophy voting. There have been 10 more in the top 10.

In every season since 1983, a Florida team has been ranked in the final top 25. Fifteen times, all three of these state's major schools finished there.

But not anymore.

Have the quarterbacks all gone? There is no Tim Tebow (a great college player despite his struggles in the NFL), no Charlie Ward, no Danny Wuerffel, no Jameis Winston, no Vinny Testaverde, no Chris Wienke, no Gino Torretta.

How about the great players from other positions? Deion Sanders and Emmitt Smith, Derrick Brooks and Wilber Marshall, Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin?

Have the coaches disappeared? There is no Bobby Bowden, no Steve Spurrier, no Jimmy Johnson, no Dennis Erickson, no Howard Schnellenberger, no Larry Coker, no Urban Meyer. Every program has had a bad hire. But when is the last coach who was truly great program builder?

Have other programs simply surpassed Florida's? Clemson has taken over from FSU, Alabama from Florida. College football is cyclical: Ask Nebraska or Notre Dame or Texas.

Are there too many teams in the state? That's doubtful. Teams like USF and Florida Atlantic aren't exactly recruiting with Florida and FSU, are they?

College runs are much like nations. A lot of them have had their peaks and valleys.

Still, the one in this state was remarkable to live through. That's the reason there are so many "is Miami back?" headlines. That's why FSU fans just consider this an extended slump.

Hey, Alabama got lost for a while, and it found its way back. Oklahoma, too. Georgia.

For this state to regain what it lost, however, it will take some doing.

Consider this: From the time Miami won the 1983 national title, there have been 86 top 25 finishes in the final top 25.

And now? Now the air is out of the ball, and the majorette is out of step. We are the land that football forgot.

There are more teams now, but there is nothing special here. Florida is 4-3. UCF and Florida Atlantic are 3-3. Miami and FSU are 2-4. USF and Florida International are 1-5.

And the bowl scouts that used to live in the press boxes are driving past the stadium.

Nothing to see here.

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