FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — How bad was it Saturday?
Florida coach Jim McElwain actually felt sorry for the media.
“To the guys who made the trip down here, I apologize you had to sit through that,” McElwain said after the 31-10 loss to Arkansas.
What we watched was the sad truth about this football program — it’s not much better than it was a year ago, and things could get worse next season.
UF needs to find a new quarterback because Luke Del Rio will not cut it as the long-term starter, and graduate transfer Austin Appleby won’t work in the short-term, either. McElwain wouldn’t rule out playing one of the true freshmen this late in the year, but there’s no guarantee either Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask will be the answer.
McElwain said he has “a hunch” as to why the offensive line played so poorly against Arkansas, but didn’t care to expand when asked what that hunch was. It could be that his linemen just aren’t good, and another year of experience and development may not change anything. The Gators still don’t have enough talent around the line to offset poor play up front.
When that happens, an elite defense all of sudden becomes pedestrian when it’s on the field for 40 minutes, like it was against Arkansas. And the scariest part for Florida is that it could lose nine defensive starters from this year’s group.
The Gators looked like a team headed for greatness in 2015 after they upset No. 3 Ole Miss. As it turns out, the Rebels are now the worst team in the SEC West. That game was an aberration for Florida, as was the 45-7 win against Kentucky two months ago.
McElwain called UF a good football team last Saturday, but wins over SEC East opponents can give you a false sense of reality. The Gators aren’t a top-10 team this year, and they weren’t last season when they had that ranking.
The Arkansas game showed just how big the disparity is between Florida and the SEC West. UF has outrecruited the Razorbacks every year, but it sure as hell didn’t look like it Saturday.
“It’s not like they brought in their Canadian squad in, played with 12 and blitzed you and sacked you,” McElwain said. “At the end of the day you’ve still got to execute and you’ve got to block them.”
The leader of the SEC East could not compete with the West’s fifth-best team, which got drummed this season by Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. Those three schools belonged in the top 10 of the first College Football Playoffs rankings.
Florida is still nowhere near the upper echelon of the SEC.
“Pretty big,” McElwain said when asked about the gap between the East and West. “As the Florida Gators, it is our responsibility to get it closer.”
It’ll take a different quarterback, more playmakers and some new offensive line recruits for real progress to be made. UF could win the SEC East on Saturday if it beats South Carolina and Tennessee loses to Kentucky.
But when you need to get help from the Wildcats, that’s not good. And unfortunately for the Gators, they could be in for another embarrassment on Nov. 19 at LSU.
Even if they do make it back to Atlanta, McElwain probably has a hunch about how that game will go.