Florida Football: If patience worked out for Michigan, will it work out for Gators?

It took nine seaons, but Michigan was finally able to rise to the top of college football. But Michigan's roster in 2023 was built in a way that Florida is not currently on a path to achieve anytime soon.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh lifts up the trophy as players and coaches celebrate after their
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh lifts up the trophy as players and coaches celebrate after their / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the theories that Florida football fans live by is that once it is determined you are not the guy to lead the Gators to a national title, then you need to leave and Florida will try someone new. Despite all having successful seasons during their time in Gainesville, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, and Dan Mullen were all shown the door because the perception was that they were never going to win a national title with Florida.

And while the macro data would support Florida's decision to move on from their past three coaches, Michigan's accent to the top of the mountain is a reminder that sometimes staying the course can also be a viable strategy.

Florida Football: Choose your path

Michigan knocked off Washington last night to claim their first national title since 1997 and their first non-split national title since 1948. It took nine seasons, but Jim Harbaugh was finally able to fulfill his destiny in Ann Arbor.

The hard thing to evaluate with Michigan is whether Harbaugh's success was inevitable since he was given the benefit of time or if Michigan fans simply stumbled into some blind luck.

Or, you know, got really good at deciphering information from their opponents.

In many ways, Harbaugh's first few seasons at Michigan mirrored that of seasons Muschamp, McElwain, and Mullen all put together. Michigan won at least nine games in four of his first five seasons, but he couldn't get past Ohio State, and his highest finish in the AP Poll was 10th in 2016.

After going 2-4 during the COVID shortened 2020 season, there was little to indicate that Michigan was anything more than a gatekeeper team under Harbaugh. It's not like the Wolverines were pulling in monster recruiting classes to indicate that help was ever on the way.

If one felt recruiting has been lacking for Florida, the Gators still finished with a better class ranking than Michigan in 2015, 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2023.

And it's not like Michigan is a place that likes to exhibit patience. After Lloyd Carr left following the 2007 season, Michigan gave Rich Rodriguez three seasons and Brady Hoke four seasons before settling on Harbaugh.

So what has Harbaugh able to do that Florida fans can learn from?

Experience Pays Off

Beyond the sign stealing scandal and what degree one feels that played a role in Michigan's ability to rise to the top, Harbaugh was able to build a championship program despite non-elite recruiting classes because he was able to get those recruiting classes to stick around all the way until their eligibility ran out.

While Florida was ripe with freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart in 2023, Michigan only had 17 players listed on their two-deep depth chart who were freshmen and sophomores and only five of them would have been considered starters.

16 of Michigan's starters were either a senior or were taking their graduate/COVID year. And of those 16 players, 12 of them were original Michigan commits. By the season's end in 2023, Florida only had three starters who were a senior or above, and they were all transfers.

The problem for Florida and Billy Napier is that the Gators aren't on a pathway to be loaded up with senior starters in two years. Richie Leonard IV, Micha Mazzccua, Kingsley Eguakun, Trevor Etienne, Jalen Kimber, Miguel Mitchell, Caleb Douglas, Jaydon Hill, Scooby Williams, and Princely Umanmielen were all starters from 2023 who still had eligibility that won't be back with the Gators in 2024.

So if one wants to advocate that the Gators keep patient with Napier because it worked out for Michigan, that's fine and that's fair. But if Florida continues to have massive roster turnover year after year under Napier, Florida will be seeking out a different path to the top than the one Michigan took.