The State Of Florida Football: A Season For The Ages

This has been one of the most dismal years for Florida football teams in a long, long time. Looking at all the major football programs - NFL and NCAA - across the state, which one do you think is the best right now?

This article is brought to you by our good friends over at The Phinsider, SB Nation's blog on the Dolphins.

Let's face it, this is not a banner year for football in the State of Florida.  Everyone seems to be in a "rebuilding" year, and for a state that is used to winning National Championships and making the NFL playoffs - or at least the playoff picture - this is embarrassing.  But, which team is the best of the mediocrity we currently find across the Sunshine State?  Let's take a look at the programs.


NFL

Miami Dolphins (3-8) - As you can guess, I am a Dolphins fan.  I bleed aqua and coral.  And this year, I am bleeding a lot.  It hasn't been pretty down in South Beach, and, honestly, it's surprising the Dolphins are this bad.  Sure, there were a few questions coming in to the season (mostly focused on Chad Henne at quarterback), but the team was supposed to have a top five defense, and an explosive new offense.  Instead, Miami has Matt Moore starting a quarterback for an offense that becomes way too conservative at times and a defense that seemed non-existent to start the year.

The Dolphins opened 2011 with 7 straight losses, a 10-game losing streak when you look back to 2010, and nothing seemed to be working.  The offense was dead set on running Reggie Bush straight up the middle and the right side of the offensive line may as well not have even been on the field.  The defense, meanwhile, could not cover a receiver or tight end, could not pressure the quarterback, and could not stop the run - but other than that, they were on point.

Everything seemed to change a few weeks ago, as the Dolphins suddenly started clicking.  The offense suddenly figured out that Brandon Marshall can catch (sometimes - he sure likes to drop the ball, too), tight end Anthony Fasano is actually, by NFL rules, an eligible receiver, Reggie Bush is really good in space, and Daniel Thomas is better between the tackles than Bush.  The defense showed up too.  Cameron Wake has started getting his sacks.  Jason Taylor is adding pressure of his own.  The past two weeks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are disrupting the passing game and actually getting interceptions. The Dolphins won three straight games against the Chiefs, Redskins, and Bills before losing on a last second field goal to the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving.  The team is playing hard, and should be competing with just about everyone the rest of the year.

2011 Season:

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs New England Patriots

Loss 38-24

2

vs Houston Texans

Loss 23-13

3

at Cleveland Browns

Loss 17-16

4

at San Diego Chargers

Loss 26-16

6

at New York Jets

Loss 24-6

7

vs Denver Broncos

Loss 18-15 (OT)

8

at New York Giants

Loss 20-17

9

at Kansas City Chiefs

Win 31-3

10

vs Washington Redskins

Win 20-9

11

vs Buffalo Bills

Win 35-8

12

at Dallas Cowboys

Loss 20-19


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) - Tampa Bay came in to the 2011 season riding high after their 10-6 campaign in 2010.  The team missed the playoffs despite being tied with the Green Bay Packers by record, with Green Bay sliding in to the last wild card slot on tie-breakers.

Things in 2011 have not gone the same for the Buccaneers.  After losing in Week 1 to the Detroit Lions, the team rattled off three straight wins, and looked like competitors in the NFC South. However, 6 losses over the last seven games has the team reeling, and plummeting out relevance in a division with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.  In 2010, quarterback Josh Freeman stepped up and set the league on fire, throwing for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.  This year, Johnson has 2,751 yards (a 4,000 yard pace), but only has 12 touchdowns (pace for 18), along with 16 interceptions (on pace for 23).  His regression can be attributed to teams being better prepared for the third-year quarterback, but either way, it's not pretty for the Bucs.

But, it's not all Johnson.  The defense last year ranked 9th in points allowed over the season, while this year, they are 29th. The team was 8th in rushing yards in 2010, and is 23rd so far this year. 

The Buccaneers have some very winnable games the rest of the season, with both Carolina Panthers match ups and a trip to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars.  But, they also still have to face the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons - a team they beat early in the year, but a team that is playing better football than they were then.  A 3-2 record over these five games could set up the team with some momentum heading in to 2012 - but then again, the team had momentum coming in to 2011.

2011 Season:

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs Detroit Lions

Loss 27-20

2

at Minnesota Vikings

Win 24-20

3

vs Atlanta Falcons

Win 16-13

4

vs Indianapolis Colts

Win 24-17

5

at San Francisco 49ers

Loss 48-3

6

vs New Orleans Saints

Win 26-20

7

vs Chicago Bears

Loss 24-18

9

at New Orleans Saints

Loss 27-16

10

vs Houston Texans

Loss 37-9

11

at Green Bay Packers

Loss 35-26

12

at Tennessee Titans

Loss 23-17


Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) - The Jaguars fired their head coach this week.  That should pretty much tell you how the season has been for them.  They also were sold, with the new owner saying the team will stay in Jacksonville, so at least that's a little bit of good news.

The Jaguars finished 2010 at 8-8, and looked like a team starting to build.  They had David Garrard at quarterback, who threw 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over the season, and finished the year with a 90.8 passer rating.  Maurice Jones Drew was headed to his second straight Pro Bowl and had rushed for 1,324 yards.  The team had the third best rushing attack in the league.  There were holes, but the team looked like it was headed in the right direction.

In the draft, the team took Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with their first pick, seemingly solidifying the future of the position while letting Garrard handle the present.  But, then strange things started happening in Jacksonville.  The Jaguars suddenly released Garrard less than a week before the season started, elevating Luke McCown to the starters role.

Three weeks later, coach Jack Del Rio handed the starters role to the rookie Gabbert, who has struggled, looking like a rookie.  Meanwhile, Jones-Drew is again carrying the ball - and the team.  Jones-Drew is on pace for 334 carries, 1512 yards, and 7 touchdowns. 

But, the biggest part of the mess that is Jacksonville right now is the firing of Del Rio this week, and making defensive coordinator Mel Tucker the "interim" head coach.  In season head coaching change very rarely (Jason Garrett taking over the Cowboys midseason is probably the exception that proves the rule) make things better.  This does put Jacksonville in the driver's seat to start looking for their next head coach now, but does not necessarily mean they are going to land the big, sexy name.

2011 Season:

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs Tennessee Titans

Win 16-14

2

at New York Jets

Loss 32-3

3

at Carolina Panthers

Loss 16-10

4

vs New Orleans Saints

Loss 23-10

5

vs Cincinnati Bengals

Loss 30-20

6

at Pittsburgh Steelers

Loss 17-13

7

vs Baltimore Ravens

Win 12-7

8

at Houston Texans

Loss 24-14

10

at Indianapolis Colts

Win 17-3

11

at Cleveland Browns

Loss 14-10

12

vs Houston Texans

Loss 20-13


NCAA

Florida State (8-4) - The Seminoles started off the year as the fifth ranked team in the country.  Everything looked great in Tallahassee.  Expectations were off the chart and the talk was that FSU was back - and a National Championship trophy wasn't too far away.

The 2011 season had other plans.  Week 3 of the season brought a much hyped game against the top ranked Oklahoma Sooners.  Talk was, with a win, the Seminoles could take over the number one position and would have the fast track to the National Championship game.  A 23-13 loss to the Sooners sent the Seminoles into a downward spiral, with losses to Clemson and Wake Forest the next two weeks.  Suddenly the Seminoles were out of the top 25 rankings, and weren't looking good at all. 

They righted the ship against Duke, and rattled off five straight wins to climb back into the top 25, coming in to their Week 11 contest against Virginia as the 23rd ranked team.  FSU immediately proceeded to lose 14-13 to the Cavaliers, before beating Florida 21-7 last week.

The Seminoles, once looking to be in the National Championship, finished the regular season second in the ACC's Atlantic Division, and are currently projected to go to either the Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl.

2011 Season:

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs Louisiana-Monroe

Win 34-0

2

vs Charleston Southern

Win 62-10

3

vs Oklahoma

Loss 23-13

4

at Clemson

Loss 35-30

5

at Wake Forest

Loss 35-30

6

at Duke

Win 41-16

7

vs Maryland

Win 41-16

8

vs North Carolina State

Win 34-0

9

at Boston College

Win 38-7

10

vs Miami (FL)

Win 23-19

11

vs Virginia

Loss 14-13

12

at Florida

Win 21-7


Florida (6-6) - In their first season following the Urban Meyer era, the Gators were looking to build on their 8-5 record from 2010.  The team started off the year ranked 22nd in the nation, and would climb as high as 12th by Week 5.  However, similar to Florida State's loss to Oklahoma, a loss to a higher ranked team would send the Gators into a tailspin.

In Week 5, the then 12th ranked Gators would face the 3rd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Tide rolled on Florida, defeating the Gators 38-10, and starting a streak of 4 losses to ranked teams for UF.  Florida went on to lose the next week to the top ranked LSU Tigers, followed by losses to the 24th ranked Auburn Tigers and the 22nd ranked Georgia Bulldogs.  In a a game the Gators should have easily won, they managed to squeak past Vanderbilt 26-21, before losing, again to a ranked opponent (15th), at South Carolina.

The Gators then defeated Furman 54-31 before losing, in the Swamp, to FSU 21-7 to finish the year.  With their 6-6 record, the Gators are projected to play in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  If all projections hold true, and all invites are accepted, that would pit the Florida Gators against the Ohio State Buckeyes - who recently announced Urban Meyer, the former Florida Gators coach who left after last season for health and family reasons - as their new coach, taking the reins after the team's bowl game. 

2011 Season:

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs Florida Atlantic

Win 41-3

2

vs Alabama - Birmingham

Win 39-0

3

vs Tennessee

Win 33-23

4

at Kentucky

Win 48-10

5

vs Alabama

Loss 38-10

6

at Louisiana State

Loss 41-11

7

at Auburn

Loss 17-6

8

Georgia (in Jacksonville)

Loss 24-20

9

vs Vanderbilt

Win 26-21

10

at South Carolina

Loss 17-12

11

vs Furman

Win 54-32

12

vs Florida State

Loss 21-7


University of Miami (6-6) -

Similar to the Seminoles, the University of Miami's Hurricanes were supposed to be getting their swagger back this year.  Al Golden was coming in and the team was going to respond, and reassert itself on the college football landscape.  And, like the Seminoles, the 2011 season had other plans.

The Canes stumbled out of the gate, losing in Week 1 to ACC opponent Maryland 32-24.  They then defeated the 17th ranked Ohio State, before another loss, this time to Kansas State.  The alternating wins and losses would continue through most of the season, with the only time the team went on any sort of streak being the back to back wins in Weeks 6 and 7 against North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

The Hurricanes never appeared in the top 25 rankings.

All of this is without discussion of the NCAA investigation pending over the program.  From 2002 to 2012 former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided cash and benefits to at least 72 different players.  Eight current players were ordered, by the NCAA, to miss games and pay back benefits received from Shapiro, who is currently in prison for running a $930 million Ponzi scheme. 

The University has announced that it would not attend a bowl game this year, due to the NCAA investigation.

2011 Season

Week

Opponent

Result

1

at Maryland

Loss 32-24

2

vs Ohio State

Win 24-6

3

vs Kansas State

Loss 28-24

4

vs Bethune-Cookman

Win 45-14

5

at Virginia Tech

Loss 38-35

6

at North Carolina

Win 30-24

7

vs Georgia Tech

Win 24-7

8

vs Virginia

Loss 28-21

9

vs Duke

Win 49-14

10

at Florida State

Loss 23-19

11

at South Florida

Win 6-3

12

vs Boston College

Loss 24-17


South Florida (5-7) -

The University of South Florida Bulls have been hot in recent years.  Since 2006, the teams has had records of 9-4, 9-4, 8-5, 8-5, and 8-5.  They have reached as high as second in the national polls.  They have gone 4-2 in Bowl games.

Until this year.  In 2011, the team finished at 5-7 on the year.   They aren't bowl eligible.  And, needing just one more win to become bowl eligible, they bombed against a West Virginia team ranked 22nd in the country and looking to claim a BCS Bowl slot of their own.  They bombed in conference play.  The Bulls were just bad this year. 

The year started off strong, with a 23-20 win over #16 Notre Dame in South Bend.  The hype and expectations of last year continued in Tampa over the next three weeks as well, as USF dispatched Ball State, Florida A&M, and University of Texas - El Paso by a combined score of 182 - 68.  The team looked good.

Then conference play started.  The Bulls were thrashed by the rest of the Big East, losing 5 of their 6 games in conference, and adding an out of conference loss to Miami.  The team couldn't pull it out last night against West Virginia, causing the crew at Voodoo Five to lament, "Fire everyone; Doug and Bill and the whole gang; Burn, burn, burn, burn, burn."

But, even though South Florida didn't make it to a bowl game, they did something Miami didn't: appear in the top 25, reaching as high as 16 before their conference opening loss to Pittsburgh.

2011 Season

Week

Opponent

Result

1

at Notre Dame

Win 23-20

2

vs Ball State

Win 37-7

3

vs Florida A&M

Win 70-17

4

vs University of Texas - El Paso

Win 52-24

5

at Pittsburgh

Loss 44-17

6

at Connecticut

Loss 16-10

7

vs Cincinnati

Loss 37-34

8

at Rutgers

Loss 20-17

9

at Syracuse

Win 37-17

10

vs Miami (FL)

Loss 6-3

11

vs Louisville

Loss 34-24

12

vs West Virginia


Central Florida (5-7) -

Last year, Central Florida beat SMU in the Conference USA title game.  The team went on to win the Liberty Bowl, and finish the year with an 11-3 record.  Expectations were high coming into this year that the Knights would be able to do it again.

Instead, UCF would end up with a record of 5-7, and a conference record of 3-5.  The team's first two games were blowout wins, beating Charleston Southern and Boston College by a combined score of 92-3.  Them as the team looked to gear up for conference play, non-conference opponents Florida International and BYU put the Knights back in their place, beating them 17-10 and 24-17 respectively.

The Knights would make a statement against Memphis in the middle of conference play, winning 41-0, but other than bookend wins in the first conference game against Marshall and the last conference game against University of Texas-El Paso, the team would roll over the rest of the way. 

UCF did not meet bowl eligibility for 2011.

2011 Season

Week

Opponent

Result

1

vs Charleston Southern

Win 62-0

2

vs Boston College

Win 30-3

3

at Florida International

Loss 17-10

4

at Brigham Young

Loss 24-17

5

vs Marshall

Win 16-6

6

at Southern Methodist

Loss 38-17

7

at Alabama - Birmingham

Loss 26-24

8

vs Memphis

Win 41-0

9

vs Tulsa

Loss 24-17

10

at Southern Mississippi

Loss 30-29

11

at East Carolina

Loss 38-31

12

vs University of Texas - El Paso

Win 31-14


Other Florida Schools:

Florida International (8-3) - Bowl projection - BBVA Compass Bowl

Florida Atlantic (1-10)

Florida A&M (7-4) - Did not make FCS playoffs

Bethune-Cookman (8-3) - Did not make FCS Playoffs

Which brings us to the poll.  Which Florida football team had/is having the best 2011 season?

Looking to join in the conversation about any of these Florida teams and their frustrating seasons? Visit the SB Nation team blogs for each team: The Phinsider (Dolphins)Bucs Nation (Buccaneers)Big Cat Country (Jaguars)Alligator Army (Gators)Tomahawk Nation (Seminoles), and Voodoo Five (USF Bulls).

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