Florida’s quest for perfection came crashing down last Saturday night in Atlanta. The Gators, who had won 22 straight games, were no match for Alabama in a 32-13 loss in the SEC championship game.
The Gators (12-1, 8-1) had won so often over the last two seasons that it’s kind of hard to believe their run is over.
In the end, they just weren’t the same unit offensively this season. There were signs along the way with the lack of big plays down the field and the struggles in the red zone, but they always seemed to find a way to escape.
There was no escaping the Alabama onslaught, and even the Gators’ defense was exposed in that game. It’s a defense that went into the contest ranked first nationally in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. The Gators had been dominant on that side of the ball all season, but they couldn’t get off the field as the Crimson Tide carved them apart for 490 yards -- the most ever allowed under Urban Meyer at Florida.
The week had a bad start to it, as star defensive end Carlos Dunlap was arrested in the early morning hours on Tuesday and charged with DUI. He was suspended for the game and didn’t make the trip. Clearly, Florida’s defense wasn’t the same without him.
The Gators’ senior class, led by Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, compiled a 47-6 record during their careers. They won’t look back with pride on their final SEC game, but it’s a four-year run that may never be matched in this league.
Offensive MVP: Tim Tebow, QB. He’s one of the best college football players of this era, although his senior season wasn’t his best. He still carried this offense on his back and made countless plays to help keep the Gators unbeaten during the regular season. He passed for 18 touchdowns and ran for 13 touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Joe Haden, CB. He emerged this season as the best all-around defender on a team full of great defenders. Not a lot of teams challenged Haden, but he still had four interceptions and tied for third on the team with 62 tackles.
Turning point: The Gators were the ultimate “get-it-done” team during the season and found ways to win even when they didn’t play their best football. But coming out of halftime in the SEC championship game with Alabama driving 74 yards in five plays for a touchdown, you could tell it wasn’t going to happen for the Gators.
What’s next: Tebow is gone. So is Spikes, and there could be a mass exodus of juniors. Aaron Hernandez, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Dunlap and Haden may all come out early. Meyer is also losing defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. The Gators, who face Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, will still be the favorite in the East next season. But there will be a lot of new faces in key spots. Make that a lot of new faces with talent.