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In Alabama loss, Florida football knows moral victories aren’t enough

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For three hours inside a packed Swamp, over 90,000 fans roared so loud and stomped so hard they became a force in the game unfolding between Alabama and Florida , and it truly felt like old times — back when the Gators were the dominant team in the SEC.

Though it might be hard to remember because Alabama has had a vice grip on the league over the past decade, Florida dominated the 1990s and mid-2000s, and crowds inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium regularly caused mayhem for opponents. Florida won 30 straight home games under Steve Spurrier, not to mention five SEC championships. Even when the Gators were underdogs, like they were on Saturday, they won those games too.

Under Urban Meyer, when Florida won two national championships, the crowds felt electric because the teams they watched were electric. To be at Florida when Spurrier and Meyer coached there was to know definitively and without question that the Gators had a chance to win championships every single year.

That has not been the case for the past decade, sending a proud fan base toward apathy and disinterest. It had been six years since Florida had that many fans show up the way they did Saturday. It’s clear why it felt so much like old times.

There was only one thing missing: a win. But even in defeat, Florida showed it is time to stop expecting and celebrating close but not enough.

It is time to start expecting championships again.

"We’re at a point where we can compete," Florida coach Dan Mullen said. "We have to get to the point where we’re going to win. There’s legitimate disappointment we didn’t win the game because we expected to, but we’ve got to keep building. Everybody’s on board making that happen right now. There’s no atmosphere like game day in the Swamp when it’s rocking. Our fan base bought into what we’re doing in creating that environment, so we’ve got to get it back to where the Gators are competing for championships every year."

That is the conundrum, of course. Florida has gone 13 years since an SEC championship, so playing unexpectedly close after being a double-digit underdog and trailing 21-3 after a quarter feels better than another blowout. But the reality is, satisfaction in playing a close game can never be a benchmark for Florida. There are still standards that must be upheld. Close losses are not one of them. Neither are moral victories.

Progress can be celebrated, and it would be foolish to overlook the progress Mullen has made in four years. The gap with Alabama has closed significantly, just not enough. Florida got crushed in the SEC championship game twice under Jim McElwain; in the past two meetings, Florida lost by a combined eight.

The key difference is where the Gators are offensively and specifically at quarterback, a position for which Mullen has an excellent track record of success. Florida is a vastly different team today than it was a year ago, when Kyle Trask […]

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