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Shelton: What happened to college football in Florida?

In better days for state football, coach Steve Spurrier and QB Danny Wuerffel celebrate a Gators Sugar Bowl win and national title.

Times (1997)

In better days for state football, coach Steve Spurrier and QB Danny Wuerffel celebrate a Gators Sugar Bowl win and national title.

Great sport, lacrosse. The way I hear it, tickets are going fast.

Wonderful game, water polo. Considering all of the swimming pools nearby, I bet Florida could be great at water polo.

Softball. Volleyball. Rugby. Combat bowling. College NASCAR. Something.

Now that it seems everyone in Florida has forgotten how to play college football, we're going to need a new sport to follow.

I know, I know. Back in the day, we played the dickens out of college football. There for a while, it was as if Florida had invented third down. The players at the Florida schools ran. They passed. They hoisted trophies.

Now? Now they punt.

Now they let the clock tick down to set up a field goal. Now, they stumble around through October. Now they dream about the Belk Bowl, and what a fine time that must be.

Let's see: Rich tradition, old trophies and disappointing Saturdays. Oh, no. If it gets any worse, we may have to change the name of our state to "Notre Dame.''

Yeah, times are hard here in third-and-17ville. After 28 years of having a Florida school in its weekly top 25, the Associated Press poll has now gone three weeks without one.

According to the Anderson-Hester rating (one of the computers that contributes to the BCS ratings), Miami is now the 37th best team in the country. Florida is 38th. FSU is 49th. USF is 57th. And so forth.

And furthermore, grrr.

For the state that once owned college football, it has been a sudden, stunning fall from the mountain. From Dec. 6, 1982, the last time a Florida team wasn't ranked, the big three teams in college football had won 10 national championships. Even more impressive, they had finished in the AP top five 41 times over that span.

And now?

All three are in the running for the Bupkis Award. As in, they aren't going to win bupkis.

So what in the name of the fumblerooskie is going on here? Can't anyone play this game anymore? Have we suddenly turned into, say, Kansas? Or Wyoming? Forget the rest of the nation, can Florida even match up to North Carolina as a football state?

It is odd, because the season — as it usually does — had a lot of promise at the beginning. Two games into the season, FSU was ranked No. 5, Florida No. 16 and USF No. 20. It looked like fun.

Then the tumbling began.

Is it the players who are not what they were? Maybe that's some of it.

Over those 28 years, the three big Florida schools also won six Heisman trophies. They had 20 top-five finishes. They produced 111 first-round draft picks, including 30 in the top 10. For more than a quarter of a century, football players were Florida's chief export.

This year, not so much.

On the CNNSI.com website Monday, Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline listed his top 50 draft prospects for next year. Not a player from Miami, Florida and FSU on them. On ESPN, neither Mel Kiper nor Todd McShay had a Florida player in his top 25. (McShay had FSU defensive end Brandon Jacobs 29th.)

This year? Check back in the middle rounds.

Is it the quarterbacks? Maybe that's part of it, too.

Time was, the Florida programs always seemed to have a guy who could whip it around. Oh, they didn't always turn out to be great NFL players, but in college, players such as Charlie Ward and Danny Wuerffel and Vinny Testaverde and Chris Weinke and Gino Torretta and Tim Tebow were something to see. All six of Florida's recent Heisman winners were quarterbacks.

Also, teams seemed to have something called a backup. But whom does Florida have behind John Brantley, and whom does FSU have behind EJ Manuel, and whom does Miami have behind Jacory Harris?

Is it the defenses? You can blame some of the slide on that, too.

The best Florida teams have always had great defenses. You couldn't run through them, and you couldn't make it around them. These days, they don't seem as fast, or as nasty, as they once did.

Is it the coaches? Yes, and that may be the biggest part of it.

Look around, and everyone seems to be starting over. Will Muschamp of Florida and Al Golden of Miami are in their first seasons. Jimbo Fisher of FSU and Skip Holtz of USF are in their second.

It's too soon to ask Fisher to be Bowden or Muschamp to be Spurrier or Golden to be Jimmy Johnson. These guys aren't on Mount Rushmore; they're trying to climb it. You don't get championships out of the microwave.

Eventually, the Florida teams will be good again. There is too much talent, too much tradition, too much passion for it to happen any other way. Someday, there will be more championships, and more Heismans.

In the meantime, the soccer game starts at 6.

See you then.

Shelton: What happened to college football in Florida? 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 9:07pm]
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