A few weeks ago, we published Ty Butler’s wish list for Florida’s various sports teams in 2017. It took me until just now to realize that I should probably do one too, if only for archival purposes. But really, things are looking good for Gator athletics right about now, so may as well put it down on paper before those good things happen…
1) Win 11 games
Barring another devastating tropical storm, this is completely doable when you factor in the SEC Championship Game and bowl game. The Gators only play three true road games- against Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina, all of whom had losing records last year. Michigan in Arlington will be tough, Georgia in Jacksonville won’t be a gimme and facing Tennessee, Texas A&M, FSU and LSU in the Swamp won’t be easy, either. But good teams win those tough games. What Jim McElwain has done the last two years was impressive given the lack of talent he inherited from Muschamp, but it’s year three now and that excuse is wearing thin. Time to take the next step.
2) Beat FSU
I don’t mind losing two or three in a row to the Noles, truth to be told. The Gators are still way ahead in the all time series record, a stat that, no matter how much FSU fans try to minimize its importance to make them feel better, really gets under their skin. Also, the Seminoles have endured far more miserable times in this rivalry than what the Gators are having to deal with right now: scores like 45-12, 45-15, 37-10 and 34-7 were the norm in a six year period from 2004-2009 where Florida just had their way with FSU. Each of those four beatings were worse in margin than each of the last three losses we’ve suffered to FSU, and 45-12 even tops the 37-7 slaughtering we took in 2013. Basically, we enjoyed being on top, so it’s only fair if we’re good sports when the shoe turns to the other foot. But now the streak is at four, and it’s starting to get annoying. I’m simply getting tired of losing to the Seminoles, and if we lose this year in Gainesville, we may be looking at experiencing the wrong end of a Tennessee type losing streak. Nine months away, this game appears to be as winnable this year as any since the drought started in 2013, so let’s get this done, Gators.
3) Win the SEC East (again)
Florida’s path to Atlanta will never be easier than it is this year. Think: two of the Gators’ three toughest games of the year are out of conference, and the other one doesn’t matter because it’s a cross-division game against LSU. Mathematically speaking, you can lose one of your two cross-division games, win out and be guaranteed a spot in Atlanta because you will have beaten every other team in the division, which means everybody else has at least one loss- and if their loss to you was their only loss, you win the head to head tiebreaker. All Florida has to do is sweep the SEC East and win one of their two cross-division games in the Swamp. And let’s not forget that Tennessee, perhaps the Gators’ toughest challenger, has to come down to Gainesville.
4) Win a New Year’s Six Bowl Game
Like I said. Let’s take the next step. The Gators once again have the horses to win the SEC East, but this time they should be able to do so in a fashion that places them solidly inside the top ten and thus a legitimate at-large selection for one of the New Year’s Six. It’s almost a given that the SEC winner is going to the Playoff, and the Sugar Bowl hosts one of the semifinals this year, so it probably won’t be there. But the Orange, Peach, Cotton and Fiesta Bowls will all be looking for conference runner-ups and strong “third best” teams to fill their bids, and so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Florida to be in that pool.
5) Win the SEC
With the Gators sledgehammering Kentucky and South Carolina going down to Alabama in quadruple overtime, Florida controls their own destiny to an SEC Title. And while that in itself matters not the least in the Gators’ greater journey, conference championships are huge for prestige and recruiting. If the Gators can pull off a road win in Lexington and hold serve against the Gamecocks in Gainesville, Mike White will have his first major accomplishment at Florida.
6) Win the SEC Tournament
It’s hard to ask teams to focus on an ultimately meaningless tournament that gives teams like Auburn and Missouri much more to play for than Florida, and that’s why before the Gators did it in 2014, only one top seed had won the conference tournament since Florida did it in 2007. This weeklong event essentially serves as practice for these top rated teams, but maybe Florida can use that to their advantage, get some more reps against less talented but hungry opposition and gain some confidence and momentum heading into the Big Dance.
7) Reach the Final Four
There it is. I put it out there. A bit lofty of a goal, I know, but goals are established to reach beyond what many think is reasonable. Plus, if you’ve followed March Madness in any prior year, you know that the top four teams- the #1 seeds- rarely win their regionals to make the Final Four. It’s just as common to see #2, #3 and #4 seeds win their regional as it is to see a #1 seed do it, and that’s around where Florida is projected to be right now. The offense is a bit unpredictable, but if the Gators can shoot well from outside, they’re virtually unbeatable.
8) Win a national championship
It’s about time. Five College World Series appearances in the last seven years and not one god damned ring to show for it. That’s the younger Gator fan generation’s view. The older Gator generation’s view is akin to Cubs fans, except even worse because the drought is longer and because Florida has never actually won the ultimate prize. The pieces are all there this year, but we’ve heard that story before. If Florida can finally grab that elusive national championship in Omaha, the calendar year of 2017 is automatically a success.
9) …again, win a national championship
Like their male counterparts on the diamond, the Gator softball team is loaded from front to back with talent (specifically on the pitching circle). Unlike the baseball team, though, Florida’s softball team has actually won national championships before, specifically two of the last three years. It’s a program that grew on me when Stacey Nelson and Megan Bush built the foundation a decade ago, and now it’s unquestionably one of the best in the nation. A third national championship in four years would go a long way toward removing “one of” from that last sentence.
One of you, win a national championship
The Gators have some great teams in sports that get less attention, between tennis, swimming, track and field, lacrosse and soccer. Lacrosse in particular has rocketed up into the rarefied air among the nation’s elite programs after being born less than a decade ago. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for just one of these programs to win it all, given that most of them usually do every few years.