October was a scary month for Florida football, particularly on defense.
In fact the Gators defense fared about as well on the gridiron in October as Johnny Depp did in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The Gators posted a 1-2 SEC record in October while surrendering an average of 34.7 points per game. The Gators have also allowed an average of 484.3 total yards during that span, all the while holding the title for the worst third-down conversion rate in the nation at 53.9 percent.
Defensive coordinator Patrick Toney has continued to receive increased amounts of criticism by both local reporters and Florida fans, with some going as far as to call him a downgrade from previous defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Prior to the season there were questions about the quality of depth on Florida’s roster. Now within the past week there have been two major departures.
Early Halloween morning it was announced that starting defensive end and former five-star recruit Brenton Cox Jr., who was previously projected to be a first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, was dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons.
Then on Thursday redshirt freshman and former four-star cornerback Kamar Wilcoxson announced he was leaving the program, with the intent of transferring elsewhere in December.
Despite the turmoil that the Gators have been dealing with for over the past month, Florida is still in position to make a bowl game and sign a recruiting class that ranks solidly inside the top 10 nationally.
However, if the Gators want to achieve both of these goals, head coach Billy Napier will likely need to do something that Florida hasn’t done since 2012: beat Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M.
Saturday will be the third time that the Gators have traveled to College Station since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012.
While the Gators and Aggies do not play each other annually, it’s no secret to Florida fans that Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher has been a big thorn in the Gators side.
Since he first became a head coach in 2010, Fisher holds an all-time record of 8-1 against the Gators. While he did not coach his first game at College Station until 2018, Fisher regularly dominated the Gators both on the gridiron and on the recruiting trail while he served as Florida State’s head coach from 2010 to 2017.
The Gators have played Texas A&M only once since Fisher became the Aggies head coach. After the SEC announced an all conference schedule for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gators traveled to College Station in week 3, ranked no. 4 in the country with national championship aspirations.
Despite being six-point road favorites and leading Texas A&M by 11 late in the third quarter, the Gators squandered a potential victory away by allowing the Aggies to go on a 24-10 run in the final 20 minutes of the game to take a 41-38 win.
Saturday’s game in College Station is a figurative double edged sword in terms of Napier’s perception as Florida’s head coach.
If the Gators emerge victorious on Saturday, it would be the biggest win for Napier at Florida since defeating no. 7 Utah back in week 1.
A win against a struggling Texas A&M team would not put Florida back in the top 25 or erase a decade’s worth of misery Fisher has brought onto the Gators. But it would provide some optimism for both fans and high school recruits in terms of the direction the Gators program is heading in under Napier.
The 2022 Texas A&M Aggies may be the most vulnerable Jimbo Fisher led team that the Gators have ever seen.
After becoming the first former disciple of Nick Saban to defeat him on the gridiron last season, there was a great deal of expectations placed on Jimbo Fisher heading into 2022. Especially after signing the highest rated recruiting class of all time, according to 247 sports.
But after suffering a devastating 17-14 home loss to Appalachian State back in week 2, the wheels have started to fall off the Texas A&M band wagon.
The Aggies currently sit near the bottom of the SEC West with a 3-5 overall record and are currently riding a four-game losing streak. Statistically the worst offense in Jimbo Fisher’s career, the Aggies rank 103rd nationally in yards per game at 340.4, along with ranking 98th nationally in scoring offense at 21.4 point per game.
Though Florida’s offense has been wildly inconsistent through its first eight games, its biggest strength lies with Anthony Richardson’s mobility and their deep rotation of skillful running backs. Texas A&M’s defense is the perfect matchup for Napier’s offense, as the Aggies have allowed 220.0 rushing yards per game, which trails only Auburn as the worst rush defense in the SEC and ranks 125th nationally.
It’s tough to imagine that Texas A&M would fire Jimbo Fisher this year after they just signed him to a 10-year extension 14 months ago and would still owe him over $85 million.
But if Napier and the Gators are able to go to College Station and beat a more talented Aggies team, with an already established culture started by Fisher almost five years ago, then it will at least hike up the temperature on Fisher’s hot seat. Perhaps to a point where several high-profile recruits in the 2023 class and beyond that were considering Texas A&M, start setting their sights on what Napier is cooking in Gainesville instead.
While there is plenty to be gained with a win at College Station this weekend, make no mistake that a Florida loss could have a negative ripple effect for Napier and his army of assistants moving forward.
For starters, it would mark the second consecutive year that the Gators have had a losing conference record after going 2-6 in 2021. The Gators have not posted back-to-back losing conference records since Bob Woodruff’s final two seasons as Florida’s head coach back in 1958 and ‘59.
A loss to the Aggies would also mark Florida’s third straight loss of the season, making it an uphill climb for bowl eligibility heading into the final quarter of the regular season.
Two of Florida’s three remaining opponents, South Carolina and Florida State, are likely to be favored against the Gators. Both teams have defenses currently ranked inside the top 60 nationally. Through eight games the Gators are 2-4 against teams with defenses ranked in the top 75.
The good news at least for Florida’s immediate future is that the 2023 recruiting class currently sits 9th in the nation with 22 commitments, including 18 blue-chip prospects. But when Florida fans tune into this Saturday’s game, they will see a program that has signed 45 blue-chip prospects in its last two recruiting cycles under a championship winning coach, fighting tooth and nail just to keep their bowl eligibility hopes alive.
If the Gators lose this weekend and fail to qualify for a bowl game, who is to say that several high-profile recruits either committed to Florida or highly interested in Florida won’t begin to have reservations about Napier’s ability to be a head coach at a high-profile SEC program?
Billy Napier’s most famous quote came approximately 14 months ago after Louisiana-Lafayette opted to go for a touchdown one yard away from the end zone on the final play before halftime: “Scared money don’t make money.”
The outcome of this Saturday’s noon kickoff between the Gators and Aggies could determine which coach is poised to win the figurative lottery as soon as 2023, and which losing coach’s contract may turn into scared money for its respective boosters.
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