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John Romano: Sunshine State's college football reputation is sliding into oblivion

BATON ROUGE, La. — Heads down and eyes averted. This is the way a bullied football team leaves a field, and the Gators already have the move perfected.

A week ago, it was Alabama. This time, it was LSU. Two highly ranked teams, and two relentless beatings. There was little to say afterward, and so UF players mumbled about watching video to better understand losses of 38-10 and 41-11 in consecutive weeks.

Here's a better idea:

Go back and watch tape of the 1990 Gators. A team humiliated 45-3 by Tennessee but still determined enough to finish atop the SEC standings. Or check out the '92 Gators. A team that lost back-to-back league games but still played in the SEC Championship.

Before they address blocking or tackling or covering or throwing, these players need to learn more about expectations in Gainesville.

Because this doesn't happen to Florida. At least not in recent generations.

The last time the Gators were outscored by at least 58 points in back-to-back games was in 1971 when they were crushed by Auburn (40-7) and Georgia (49-7).

"We should be better than this," defensive end Lerentee McCray said. "We are better than this. We're definitely better than the way we've played."

It is true that Florida was down to its No. 3 quarterback on Saturday. And it is true the Gators were on the road against the nation's No. 1 team.

Those factors clearly played a part in the loss, but they do not explain the way a supposedly proud program looked unprepared and overwhelmed for much of the day.

"We're at Florida," coach Will Muschamp said, "and we expect to go into these games and play well."

If there is any consolation for the Gators this morning, it is that they are not alone in a neighborhood of misery.

It's as if the state has suddenly seceded from the NCAA. Check out the Associated Press poll later today, and chances are you'll not see UF, FSU, Miami or USF. A state with a gold mine of high school football talent, and as much presence in the national picture as Rhode Island.

At this point, it's hard to know who deserves your pity.

Is it the team that went from a No. 5 ranking to a losing record in 22 days? (Spoiler alert: That's FSU.) The team that panics every time a Ponzi schemer gets visitation rights at his federal penitentiary? (That's you, Miami.) The team stuck in a league everyone is fleeing? (Hello USF.) Or the team with cleat marks on its back? (Back to Florida.)

I'm sure the state has had worse times on college football fields, but it's hard to imagine a time when so many things went wrong so quickly.

Even Gov. Rick Scott mistakenly assumed attending a college football game was a fine idea Saturday afternoon, and he showed up for some entertainment just before kickoff. Or maybe he was just intrigued by someone dropping even faster in the polls.

Because, at this point, the Gators are not in a position to intimidate anyone. They can't run between the tackles. Passes of more than 2 yards are an adventure. For the better part of 60 minutes, their entire offense was predicated on outrunning the defense to the corner.

Maybe it was necessary to go conservative to accommodate true freshman Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but the early plan did not give him a chance to succeed.

Meanwhile, for some reason, Muschamp thought it was a good idea to mislead the world about his intentions at quarterback on Saturday. He had been vague about John Brantley's injury. He barely mentioned that Jeff Driskel was hurt, even though the backup quarterback had already been ruled out on Wednesday.

If Muschamp is so intent on keeping secrets in the future, he might want to consider hiding the actual score of games.

The crazy thing is Florida remains alive in the SEC Eastern Division. The Gators can still make it to the league's championship game in Atlanta if they win their final four conference games, starting next week at Auburn.

It's not out of the question, but it's a tall order for a team that is struggling on both sides of the ball and does not appear to have answers in sight.

"It's not over," flanker Trey Burton said. "Our dream was to get to Atlanta."

In the meantime, the Gators need a dose of hope. A splash of confidence. Maybe a dollop of positive vibes.

So consider this your good deed for the week: Look around, and hug a Gator.

Or, for that matter, a Seminole. Or a Bull or a 'Cane.

Heaven knows, there's enough misery to go around in our part of the college football world.

John Romano: Sunshine State's college football reputation is sliding into oblivion 10/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 8, 2011 10:38pm]
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