Mike Bianchi: Florida craps out in Vegas, but Billy Napier will soon hit jackpot
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
It doesn’t matter that your Florida Gators got destroyed, 30-3, by Oregon State in the meaningless Elvis Impersonator, er, Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
It doesn’t matter that the Gators embarrassingly had to kick a 40-yard field with 37 seconds left just to avert a shutout and keep their NCAA-record 34-year 436-game scoring streak alive.
It doesn’t matter that the Gators finished with a mundane 6-7 record for the second consecutive season — the first time UF has had back-to-back losing records since 1978-79.
Billy Napier will get the Gators turned around.
If he can’t do it, it can’t be done.
Napier is smart, he’s organized, he has a vision, he has a plan, he has the drive and, most importantly, he’s been given every resource he needs to succeed.
“We’re going to learn from today,” Napier said. “I think that’s the key. It’s fuel for the fire. It causes you to evaluate a lot of different things ... not only the players, but also all parts of our organization. This is Year 1, and there’s a lot of work that’s been done.”
And, obviously, a lot of work still to be done.
Certainly, UF fans would have preferred to see their team be more competitive in the bowl game, but what does it really matter and what did they really expect?
For No. 14 Oregon State, this game actually meant something. The Beavers rolled into Vegas after beating rival Oregon in the season finale for their sixth win in seven games. Oregon State and its fans were fired up to achieve 10 victories for only the third time in school history and the first time since 2006.
As for the Gators, the bowl game was nothing more than a chance for Napier to start evaluating personnel for next season. Starting quarterback Anthony Richardson and a slew of other players either opted out of the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft or entered the transfer portal at the behest of Napier as he undergoes his massive house-cleaning project.
An Ohio State transfer named Jack Miller got his first start at quarterback for the Gators on Saturday, but it might as well have been Barney Miller. And what made it worse was that Florida’s offensive line was more porous than Aunt Phyllis’ sponge cake. Miller was constantly pressured, sacked four times and completed only 13 of 22 passes for 180 yards. The Gators compiled a season-low 219 yards of offense, with just 39 of those coming from a running attack that was ranked 16th in the country.
Yes, there will be the requisite amount of grumbling from Gator Nation, but Napier’s coaching clock doesn’t actually start ticking until next season. In Napier’s inaugural season, he was saddled with one of the worst defenses in the country and an offense that spent much of the season waiting for the talented-but-inconsistent Richardson to develop.
It would have been fun to see what Napier could have done with Richardson next season, but, alas, A.R. is a quarterbacking project that the NFL will attempt to complete. The fact that Richardson was the only quality quarterback on Florida’s roster when Napier took over is, in itself, an indictment of former coach Dan Mullen’s recruiting.
Despite Mullen’s reputation as a great developer of quarterbacks, his QB legacy at UF was that he luckily inherited lightly recruited Kyle Trask, who only became a starter because of an injury and then went on to become Florida’s all-time single-season passing leader.
Here’s all you need to know: Mullen signed a total of two five-star recruits in his four years at Florida. Napier has two five-star quarterbacks committed to the Gators in the next two recruiting cycles.
Napier is vastly different than Mullen, who was a really good offensive game-planner and play-caller but didn’t have the drive or relentlessness needed to build a sustained winner. If you want to compete with Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, you have to match them financially, organizationally and, yes, perspirationally.
Also, unlike Mullen, Napier has all of the money and resources he needs. The Gators just opened a palatial $90 million football facility with every bell and whistle from cryotherapy chambers to barber shops to virtual reality rooms.
In a recent USA Today study, it was found that Florida is spending $6.2 million on 68 full-time football staff members. In comparison, Georgia is spending $4.8 million on 56 staff members. As I jokingly tweeted a few weeks ago, “I’m not saying Napier’s staff is bloated with unnecessary personnel, but does he really need a coffee coordinator and separate cream and sugar coordinators as well?”
Of course, when you get all of these resources, you better win and you better win fairly quickly. We’ve seen many coaches in the past go from the outhouse to the penthouse in their second seasons, including notable SEC coaches such as Saban, Smart and, most recently, Josh Heupel at Tennessee.
Even a couple of former Gators coaches hit it big in their second seasons. Will Muschamp won 11 games in Year 2 and Urban Meyer won the national championship in his sophomore season.
No, I’m not saying Napier is going to go from 6 wins to 12 wins next season, but I am saying he is going to figure it out and build a sustained winner in Gainesville.
Mark my words, in two years, Florida fans will be celebrating Billy Napier and Saturday’s bowl loss to Oregon State will be just a forgotten blip in the evolution of his program.
Don’t fret, Gator Nation.
What just happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas.