GAINESVILLE — As Florida prepared to face Miami as the marquee kickoff to college football’s 150th anniversary, the Gators savored all the perks that came with the national spotlight.
They got days’ worth of hype leading up to the biggest – and only – major game in the country.
Now they’re experiencing the other side of that undivided attention: Criticism.
The nitpicking continued this week, after the Gators fell three spots to No. 11 in the latest AP poll, despite coming back to beat a talented (semi) rival in Week 0.
“You’d hope you’d get some credit for that,” coach Dan Mullen said. “But we’ll see as the year goes on.”
Indeed, we will, because we don’t yet know how much praise UF deserves for beating Miami.
But we do know that this isn’t the first time UF has wondered whether it gets enough credit for playing big-name non-conference opponents. Usually it involves the state’s other major power, Florida State.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin said last May that he doesn’t “think we get enough credit for the Florida State game” because it’s an annual non-conference series against a big-time program. Not every team in the SEC has a game like that, and not many add a second, as UF did this year by meeting Miami at Camping World Stadium.
Perhaps it sounds petty for a premier program like UF to be concerned with how much credit it gets for a victory, but it matters.
The Gators have boosted their future non-conference scheduling with upcoming home-and-home series with Miami, Texas and Colorado with the goal of playing 10 Power Five teams a year. If they’re going to do that, they want to be rewarded for it. And if they’re not going to be rewarded for it, it’s easy to envision a schedule with fewer games like Miami and more duds like the one this weekend against Tennessee-Martin.
“I think that’ll have a lot to do in our future, I guess, in discussion of how we schedule, right?” Mullen said. “Are you going to try to schedule really tough games and play big games, or are you better not scheduling those games?”
Then again, not scheduling those big games didn’t help other SEC East teams like Tennessee (which lost to Georgia State), Missouri (which flopped at Wyoming) or South Carolina (which got beat by North Carolina).
To be clear, Mullen wasn’t whining about the scrutiny of his team’s performance or UF’s slide in the polls. He said that there’s often a rush to judgment —call it Week 1 overreaction — but things usually balance themselves out over a long season.
If Miami looks like a mediocre team coming off a 7-6 season and breaking in a new coach (Manny Diaz), UF probably won’t get much of a bump. But if the Hurricanes rally to win 10 games and the ACC Coastal Division, UF will likely get the credit it deserves.
“We’ll see as the year goes on,” Mullen said. “That’s not something we’ve got to worry about now. That would be something at the end of the year.”
In the meantime, UF is focused internally.
The Gators spent their unconventional Week 1 open date by treating it like a second preseason camp. They drilled individual work and special teams to clean up some of the Week 0 sloppiness and get players lower on the depth chart prepared for the action they’ll inevitably see in October and November.
If UF continues to make the necessary improvements to itself, it’s easy to see the Gators realizing their top-10 potential with another 10-win season. If that happens, the credit will follow — no matter how their schedule looks.