Column: Hope reigns supreme for Florida Gators as 2021 approaches
It’s been 643 days since the Florida Gators last took the field in a packed house at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. A year, nine months and four days ago to be exact.
In a way, it seems a lot longer than that.
Since then, the world has been shaken by a global pandemic which has emptied its stadiums and upset the world of sport. Now almost exactly a year and a half since the world of sports was put on hiatus, the Gators are one eve of seeing The Swamp packed and feeling the energy that comes with it.
“It will be great,” said head coach Dan Mullen of running in a full stadium for the first time in almost two years. “The excitement, the energy, even walking in the tunnel, it will be very different.”
senior cornerback Trey Dean III expressed his feelings about being back to a full house on The Swamp.
“There is no other place like The Swamp,” Dean said. “When the Swamp is packed, I think it’s second to none. So we are very excited.
The Gators looked leisurely at home at times last year, including an extremely sloppy loss to LSU that sadly ended with the launch of a shoe. The loss was the Gators’ first in more than two years at home, and there seemed to be a lack of focus resulting from the lack of a full stadium.
Last year was something that no one had ever experienced and that no one could have been able to prepare for. Mullen said that at times the team had to self-motivate, which was difficult due to the way they usually feed off the crowd. He said having a full crowd in 2021 will completely change that.
“You feel the crowd,” Mullen said. “You don’t just hear it, you feel it. And I think that’s something that can really bring out things inside of you that you haven’t gotten over last year, when your motivation and desire to go out and play. When you can feel the energy of a crowd, it lifts you up even more.
After a year and a half of suffering and isolation, Gator football will provide a welcome escape for Gator fans: a place to come together and unite around their beloved orange and blue.
While the start of last season was marked by so much uncertainty, this year is full of hope: the hope of returning to a normal season that can go off without a hitch. Whether a fan’s biggest worry rests with their favorite player is questionable, rather than how many of their favorite players will run out of time due to COVID.
While greater normalcy is about to return, the lingering effects of the pandemic are not expected to go away. The Delta variant is raging and it promises to have an impact on the season nationwide again.
The Gators are doing their part to avoid a scenario like last year, as at least 90% of the team have been vaccinated. This is hugely promising for the prospect of ending the season uninterrupted as vaccinated players are subject to less testing and other protocols – such as quarantine due to close contact with a positive case.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the Gators have had a great season in 2020 and will look to build on it in 2021. While their final record, 8-4, doesn’t look very pretty, it doesn’t tell the whole story. history of the Gators 2020.
Florida had the number one ranked passing offense in the country, eventually overcame the bump against Georgia under Mullen and reached their first SEC Championship game since 2016.
Unlike 2016, the Gators actually hooked up with Alabama last season and were one or two defensive stops away from beating the Crimson Tide. This will no doubt provide some confidence that they can once again become an elite program in the country and can race with the Tide when they come to Gainesville on September 18th.
Led by redshirt junior quarterback Emory jones, the Gators offense will be very different from what it was in 2020. They must also fill in the massive shoes of Kyle pitts and Kadarius toney, two of the most dynamic guns in the country last season.
While the offense will be different under Jones than under Kyle trask, that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. Dan Mullen is still the head coach and Jones is more of the prototype quarterback Mullen has enjoyed working with during his career.
With a dynamic waiting room and explosive receptors ready to emerge – such as Jacob Copeland and Xzavier henderson – the Gators have no excuse not to have a very productive offense again this season.
Despite the UF’s offensive tradition in the early 2000s, fans grew proud of their relentless defenses before Mullen arrived in 2018. Last year the defense was anything but relentless and ultimately was the downfall of what could have been a special season.
The Gators won’t go as far as the defense picks them up this season, and without a significant improvement in Todd Grantham’s unit, they’ll start another disappointing season.
But for now, this is all excitement in Gainesville. A new season brings the end of summer in transition to fall, and the hopes of lifting this magnificent golden trophy come in winter.
This year however comes with a new sense of hope. Hopefully better days to come surrounded by family and friends, with the long months of isolation behind us. Seeing a sea of orange and blue at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will remind you of better days and the promise of an everlasting strength: college football.
It also comes with a ton of questions. How good will the Gators be? What will the offense look like under Emory Jones? How will Florida compete with Alabama? Will they be able to overtake Georgia again?
As in 2020, uncertainty hangs over the 2021 season. Unlike 2020, hope reigns supreme.
It remains to be seen how long this hope will last. Hopefully for the sake of the Gators this lasts longer than the 643 days they waited for a full house at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
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