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That was nothing short of disheartening. How could the Florida Gators football team show (or not show) up for such an important game and give such a lackluster, uninspired and seemingly uninterested performance? It is mindboggling. I know Arkansas was coming off of a bye week and feeling like they had to reclaim their manhood after the thrashing by Auburn but this is a team that had lost all three of their games against quality opponents by an average of 31 points. Florida was supposed to win that game. Florida was supposed to be the better team. The Gators were not. The Gators were exposed on Saturday and it did not go unnoticed. Florida dropped from 11th all the way out of the poll.

It is soul searching time for every player on this team and every member of the coaching staff. The simple truth is that the Florida Gators are not a substantially better football team than it was when the previous coach was fired. Almost two seasons later this is still a team that plays good to great defense until the offense’s ineptness leaves them too exhausted to keep up the pressure. There is a very reason for concern about this program. It has floundered horribly since 2010. Even the two season with good records ended with embarrassing blowout losses in the bowl games.

Jim McElwain is 16-6 so far as head coach of the Gators. That record is not bad for a coach taking over a program that was lost in a funk when he arrived. In fact, that record and the fact that Florida won the SEC East last season and may well win it again this season should be reason for optimism and confidence. But the vast majority of the Gator Nation is watching these games and the current recruiting class with trepidation.

Nearly two seasons into his tenure as head coach we have learned that McElwain was wrong about one thing. He cannot win games with his dog playing quarterback. So far Mac’s Gators have only really beaten one quality team and that was blowout win over Ole Miss in quarterback Will Grier’s best game as a Gator. Grier made extremely bad decisions and the rest is history. With Grier gone the Gators went with Luke Del Rio and the results have been less than desired. I do not lay all of the offensive woes at the feet of Del Rio but it is clear to me that the rest of the offense is not good enough for a “game manager” quarterback to carry the Gators over quality teams. I fully understood going with Del Rio as long as the defense was doing enough to keep Florida in the hunt for a championship but it is clear that Florida is not winning anything special this season. Especially, if the offense remains as weak as it has been lately.

McElwain has a decision to make and that decision might well determine his fate as head coach of the Gators. He will start Austin Appleby Saturday. If the offense is effective with Appleby, Mac can afford to stick with him for the entire game and should be able to get the win against Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks. However, I am not confident that will be enough to compete against LSU, FSU and then Alabama if the Gators make it to Atlanta. It might be time for McElwain to burn the redshirt on one of the freshmen and start building for the future. The coach has said as much himself.

Yes, it is likely that either of the freshmen will make freshman mistakes but it is to be expected that they would also make some plays. Right now, “plays” on offense are few and far between. Right now, we are making the mistakes with very little hope for the “plays”. I see little to be gained by continuing that process. I think it would be unwise to go into 2017 in the same situation which Florida entered the 2016 season. I don’t think the Gators want to be down to a choice between sticking with Del Rio or start a quarterback who has not played a single down of college football. Ideally, one of the freshmen would have played earlier in the season against lesser competition but that ship has sailed. If one of them is going to take real snaps this season I would rather it begin against South Carolina in the Swamp then against LSU or FSU on the road.

The Gators are reaching the point of critical mass. Another season of putrid offense and blowout losses to end the season is going to further damage the brand and make recruiting that much more difficult. If the staff does not close out strong in this recruiting class it will become that much harder to make the climb back to where the Gators on are the same level with the teams in the SEC West. Most of this season Gator fans have gone into each game hoping to see something that indicated Florida was becoming a championship caliber team. Now, those fans are just hoping to not see a repeat of the futility they witnessed in the last three games of last season. It is time for the coaching staff and the players to decide if they want to be competitive in the SEC East or actually competitive in the SEC conference.

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