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December 31, 2012
The Presidential election is in the books, but the back and forth bickering hasn't ended - both in our Nation's Capitol and here on Inside the Gators. With a tip of our cap to USA Today political pundits Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, staffers Bryan Holt and Jesse Simonton go back and forth trading barbs, insults and observations as they review the world of Gators sports.
Holt: It appears we have survived the Mayan calendar, which means two things: We are now officially living on borrowed time, and 2012 will come to an appropriate and traditional end. The end of the year is a time for hard liquor and confetti but also a time for, you know, reflection and stuff. Gainesville has seen a little bit of everything this year, from one of the greatest turnaround football seasons in program history to disappointing ends in both basketball and baseball to whatever that one day in August when everyone thought Jeff Driskel's shoulder exploded was. So Simonton, looking back what UF sports moment stands out the most to you from 2012? Your own pick-up basketball games at Gainesville Health & Fitness don't count.
Simonton: So you're saying I shouldn't share that anecdote about Chris Rainey shortly before pro day? Well aside from that doozy, I have to say Florida's win over LSU, but specifically, its second-half physical assault. I distinctly remember waltzing into the media lounge at halftime, right after Jeff Driskel's sack fumble, and hearing the hoards of both local and national media alike -- myself included -- anticipating a second-half LSU beat down just lingering over the sinking horizon. And yet, that didn't come close to happening. It was the Gators who doused the Tigers with incessant post-halftime haymakers, highlighted by Matt Elam's game-saving strip fumble and Mike Gillislee's constant misdirection runs. In gashing a premier Tigers team, the Gators proved they were ready for primetime, and the win validated Will Muschamp's "process" and represented the date Florida stamped its 2012 turnaround. So what moment stands out most to you, Mr. Holt?
Holt: I have to bounce off that a little bit because, let's face it, you just snagged the clear-cut moment of the year. If Florida is able to make itself a year-in, year-out national contender again, people will look back five years from now and point to that LSU game as the day the Gators officially came back. Ben Hill Griffin sounded different that day. UF players competed at a level that I would have called impossible a handful of weeks earlier. When fans stood to sing "We are the Boys" at the end of the third, they actually sang it like they gave a damn about what was happening on the field. That wasn't always the case, even this season. Maybe the thing that stands out to me the most was the swagger everyone had talking to the media after the game. This is a team where you have to beg to talk to people and after this one game, players came out to boast and wanted every last little bit of the spotlight. It was the first time where this new "attitude" players talked about went public. Dominique Easley saying LSU "bent over" for Florida will go down as an all-time favorite quote, no matter how long I do this.
Simonton: The rules never said I couldn't pick the most obvious one! But really, aside from the Tigers' tail whipping, Florida's Omaha sizzle stands out as the marquee moment in UF sports during 2012. Two years ago, after the Gators fell in backbreaking fashion to the defending national champs South Carolina, baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan was heading to the team bus before he stopped, paused and confidently told fellow UF beat writer Cody Jones and me, "We'll be alright. We're going to come back and win it next year. We've got?" He went on to list the star-studded group of returning players including Zunino, Maddox, Fontana and others. Only, it didn't happen. For the third straight season, the materialization was incomplete. The Gators' June bugaboos -- the between the ears variety -- resurfaced and another dominant regular season fizzled with a College World Series sweep. A team littered with MLB draftees (nine) exited stage left after losing to the Cinderella story, Kent State. Talk about bitter. But what else do you remember most about this calendar year, Holt?
Holt: Give me a second to gather my thoughts. I was eating a bagel when I saw the word "Omaha," and I choked. It must be contagious. For as nice of a story as football was this year, the other two that stand out are tales of failure. I've seldom seen a coach as lost at a microphone as Billy Donovan was the night Will Yeguete went down for the season against Auburn. He had no response for how he would make up for the loss of Yeguete. People thought it sounded like overkill until they saw how gutless Florida basketball looked without him. The fact that they were able to rebound from that slump is as a huge credit to Donovan's coaching, which is often not appreciated enough in a football town. But in the end, the old Florida non-football adage caught up to Gators hoops. The Elite Eight collapse against Louisville bordered on being uncomfortable to watch. It was like a bad Ben Stiller movie: Son starts to make father proud and then DISASTER! It was such an impressive implosion that the lacrosse team decided to copy it. Let's take a look at individuals, what Florida athlete(s) stood out most to you this year? I mean, besides Cody Dent and Trey Burton, of course.
Simonton: I'm not even sure where to begin. First things first though: You loathe Stiller (and most of his movies) too?!?!? I thought I was the only one. Welcome to the anti-fan club! It was getting uncomfortably lonely just sitting in a dark room hanging out with all the 9-11 truthers. Secondly, how you could forget Mike Rosario's year? He completes the triumvirate of Florida's 2012 LVP's. But as for top individual performances, a couple of honorable mentions first: Latroy Pittman and Jabari Gorman's magnificient Orange and Blue performances; Ryan Lochte's SNL appearance; Lauren Embree's DOMINANCE; *FOTS Thomas Goldkamp's twitter infatuation with Abby Wambach; Florida's bionic triple/long/high jumpers; Bradley Beal's solid one-and-done season and his impressive interviewee skills; Those swimmers, who won a bunch of medals/championships, and those gymnasts, who also won some stuff; As for the best-of-the-best, Zunino and Matt Elam take the cake. Florida's slugging catcher captured nearly every postseason award following a monster junior campaign, while the Gators' smash-mouth safety propelled UF back to championship heights pacing one of the top defenses in the nation. What say you? ? *Frenemy Of The Site
Holt: C'mon out of that dark room, Simonton. There are at least four or five of us out here. "Heavyweights" is an exception, but unfortunately Stiller ran out of fat kids to make movies with and his product went downhill. I'm disappointed you forgot the valiant two-minute drive orchestrated by Driskel (or was it Jacoby Brissett?) and Kent Taylor during the one fall open practice. THAT was the stuff of legends! Anyways, you don't get an opportunity every year covering Florida to deal with someone who is a legitimate star, and that's exactly what Beal was. It's amazing how sheltered schools try to keep freshman football players, and yet Beal was the perfect picture of professionalism, both on and off the court, during his short time in Gainesville. It had been a few years since Florida developed a football player with any kind of "it" factor -- and yes, I believe in that terrible cliche -- but I'd argue that Elam and Sharrif Floyd had it this year. It's still an anonymous bunch for an 11-1 team but it's kind of hard to get famous when fans decide whether or not they're going to show up based on the opposing team. The best thing the Gators had going for them in 2012 is the fact that the best seems like it's ahead. This was supposed to be a transition year for football and basketball. While the verdict is still out on hoops, football is certainly ahead of schedule. Cheers to Muschamp on that, but only if he upgrades beer-wise from the Miller Lite bottle that rattled around in the bed of his truck all of last season.
Simonton: You're right, the future appears quite bright for Muschamp & Co., but I'm going to kickoff 2013 with an unpopular opinion alert: Driskel, Brent Pease, Dante Fowler Jr., Louchiez Purifoy, etc will all be better next year but UF's record won't be. If the Gators topple an over-matched Cardinals team on Wednesday, they'll finish the season 12-1 and ranked somewhere in the final three. I'm not sure they can duplicate those exact results again. Florida overcame a brutal schedule en route to its most successful season since El Diablo -- Gators fans' nickname, not mine -- patrolled the sidelines, but losing just a single game is damn hard and takes both luck and skill. The Gators will be a better team in 2013, only I just don't think their record will indicate as much.
Holt: See, I don't think a whole lot of luck played into the Gators going 11-1 this season. This strong-handed defensive style of football is a sustainable one, which is why it has become so popular in the SEC. This is about as bold as a prediction gets seven months - damn, seven months - before a season begins, but I'll be surprised if the Gators are not a national championship contender in 2013. I don't think the Gators got where they were this season on good fortunes, unless you want to credit advantageous home scheduling. Saturday night in Death Valley won't be easy, but I don't see this team doing any worse record-wise than it did in 2012. Will that be good enough? I don't know, but I will go ahead and predict that people will be talking about the Gators in the national picture toward the end of 2013. If nothing else, I'm ending 2012 on a positive note with all the Florida fans out there. So if you folks see me in the French Quarter, I enjoy a fine single-malt Scotch.
Simonton: Smart man. The amazing thing is that we actually agree on UF as a championship contender, but that doesn't mean the Gators' record will be any better (see: potential loss in SEC Championship game). My luck quip was thusly brief because most great seasons include some component of good fortune and for the Gators, it was their fumble differential in 2012. Regardless of our way-too-early-predictions, Florida football exits the year a hell of a lot hotter than it began just 12 months ago. So take comfort in that Gators fans, this winter won't be so depressingly cold.