Florida’s victory over the Utah Utes was an incredible way to start the Billy Napier era. The Gators were going into a rebuilding year, and Utah, as the defending Pac-12 champions, were seen as a legitimate playoff contender, building off their successful 2021 campaign.
The 29-26 home win gave fans a flashback to the 2018 season. Florida wasn’t expected to do much that year, yet they went 10-3 and won the Peach Bowl in Dan Mullen’s first season in charge. The energy was palpable throughout the fan base, with calls for Anthony Richardson to win the Heisman.
While there are similarities between the 2018 and 2022 seasons, including home losses to Kentucky, I think Florida fans would be better off setting realistic expectations for what this season will ultimately look like, now that we’ve seen this Florida team in action.
Go back and think of what we thought this season would look like before the win against Utah. I would venture to say that an 8-4 season would have been fantastic in the eyes of Florida fans. But with Billy Napier in his first season, the entire program being overhauled from the top to the bottom and the lack of depth on the current roster are not overnight fixes. They take time and require years of work to create a new standard.
Despite the grim talk of what needs to be fixed, there is still optimism for this current Gators team. I wouldn’t call the win against Utah a fluke, I would say it was this team playing at its absolute best. The thing is, we can’t reasonably expect this team to play at their absolute best for every single game this season.
I argued in my column before the season started that, no matter what happened this year, the season was a success. I still believe that to be true. What I’m saying in this piece is that our expectations need to come down to reality.
Is this team as good as they were against Utah? No. Well, not consistently at least. Is this team as bad as they were in their loss against Kentucky and in their close win against USF in the weeks after? No, and their performances in their loss against Tennessee and tune-up victory over Eastern Washington proved as much.
LSU at home next week, Georgia in Jacksonville after the bye week, on the road at Texas A&M the week after, and a Black Friday matchup in Tallahassee against Florida State are up ahead for the Gators.
Those four games will ultimately “decide” the season, and set the narrative for if the Gators’ season was a success or a failure. Assuming that the Gators get victories over Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt (all teams that this Gators team should beat), they will be bowl-eligible. If they can win two of the four games mentioned before, they’ll finish 8-4 before the postseason.
I think that’s a reasonable expectation for a first-year head coach dealing with a roster made up of young players he brought in, and players from the previous regime. This is still the University of Florida. Napier understands that the standard is to contend for championships. Pairing an 8-4 record with a stellar recruiting class would be a reasonable expectation for Napier in his first season in charge.
Next season, however, next season is a different story.
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