In the off-season, there was plenty of hype behind the new coaching additions in the college football landscape. With notable names such as Charlie Strong and Lane Kiffin, many were intrigued by how their teams would fare. Collectively, it can be agreed upon that the state of Florida’s college season was successful. Other than the Florida Gators, every team in the state secured enough wins to be bowl eligible. That same success, or lack thereof, led to some schools looking for new coaching.
State Of Florida 2017 Season Review
As the only undefeated team left in college football, the Knights have earned the right to be mentioned first. Just two seasons ago, the program was coming off of a winless season and the Knights turned to Scott Frost to right the ship. In his first season, they were able to win six games and a bowl berth behind freshmen quarterback McKenzie Melton. After just throwing for ten passing touchdowns in ten games, his sophomore production increased to over 35 touchdowns passing and best of all no losses. Although the quarterback will get most of the headlines, as a team UCF has destroyed opponents. Through 12 games, the Knights have outscored opponents 593 to 323. Despite being undefeated, the Knights were left out of the playoffs but have clinched a Peach Bowl berth against Auburn.
The Knights were the most impressive team in the state, making Scott Frost a top candidate for other openings around the country. He announced recently that he would return home to his alma mater at the University of Nebraska. Despite his departure, the entire coaching staff has agreed to stay and coach the team through the bowl game.
University of Miami
With ten straight victories to open the season, many felt like Miami was ‘back’. However, a loss to Pitt in the season finale and a thrashing by Clemson in the ACC Championship has let some air out of the balloon. Nonetheless, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that Miami has its first ten-win season since 2003. The team has also won the coastal division for the first time since moving from the Big East. When the season concludes, fans can rejoice in the fact that the Hurricanes finally ended the seven-year losing streak to Florida State, a victory which also cost the Hurricanes to lose star tailback Mark Walton for the season. Just as big was the domination over historic rival Notre Dame, the first victory over the Fighting Irish since 1989.
The most admirable feat of the Hurricanes this season is how the team handled adversity and continued to win. After Hurricane Irma canceled a game against Arkansas State and caused the Florida State game to be postponed, Miami played 11 straight games without a bye week from September 23rd to December 2nd. The Hurricanes get a chance to end the season with an Orange Bowl victory basically in front of a home crowd against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Florida Atlantic University
Lane Kiffin is what moves the needle and gets eyes to look at the program, but the Owls play on the field has been extremely impressive. In the preseason, it was thought that FAU would be a rebuilding job for Kiffin due to the back to back three-win seasons. In reality, though the Owls just had bad luck last season as injuries along their offensive line stopped any chance to win. The 2017 season showed how important that group was with the rushing numbers that Devin Singletary was able to put up. The sophomore has tied the Conference USA record for rushing touchdowns in a single season with 29, he most likely breaks the record in FAU’s bowl game against Akron.
For all the headlines that Kiffin makes with his social media posts, the truth is in the results this season with Florida Atlantic. Even without excluding a possible win in the Boca Raton Bowl game, the Owls have already eclipsed the most wins in school history since becoming an FBS school. If the Owls defeat Akron in the bowl game, 11 wins would tie FAU for the most wins since 2003 when FAU was defeated by Colgate in the D-1AA semifinal playoffs.
Florida International University
Most of the headlines from South Florida are either from the ascension of the Miami Hurricanes back into being relevant or the Lane Train that is rolling in Boca Raton. Lost in all that is the job that head coach Butch Davis has done with the FIU Panthers. The Panthers, in the last two seasons, have won a combined nine games. They have the opportunity to win their ninth game in the upcoming bowl game against Temple. Senior quarterback Alex McGough is experiencing his best season having a career high in passing yards while also being tied for the least amount of interceptions in his career. Not a small feat for a coach that was away from coaching for seven years, he has been able to take the talent from a previous roster and fine tune them.
Among that talent is former walk-on Brad Muhammad that was dismissed from the team by the last coaching staff because he overslept and missed a walk-through practice. Although the last staff slept on him, Muhammad took the opportunity by Butch Davis this season and made the most of it. He was named second-team all-conference in the C-USA and had four interceptions, one that he returned for a touchdown. The best part about FIU is that the team will continue to improve, and he is already recruiting at a high level and returns much of the talent on the current team.
University of South Florida
The Bulls are ranked behind FIU, due to the fact that Charlie Strong inherited an 11-win team that was equipped with Quinton “Winky” Flowers. Coming into the season, the Bulls were already receiving recognition as the favorites out of the American Athletic Conference and a possible Heisman darkhorse in Flowers. Although the Bulls won’t surpass the 11 wins, they still managed to make it through most of the season undefeated before losing a close game to Houston. The Bulls also came close to beating UCF on the road in one of the most exciting games in college football this season.
What the Bulls did improve on though was defense. The stamp of any Charlie Strong team is how they look defensively, and the Bulls were definitely more aggressive this season. After having no player with more than nine and a half tackles for loss last season, the Bulls had four players to best that mark this season.
Florida State Seminoles
After opening the season as the number two team in the nation behind the Alabama Crimson Tide, the two squared off in a game that ended with quarterback Deondre Francois being lost for the season. That would leave Florida State with true freshman James Blackman as the quarterback. The adversity continued to mount as the Seminoles found themselves at one point in the season, having only three wins to six losses and a legit threat of missing a bowl game. Florida State would rally towards the end of their schedule to win three straight and continue their streak of now 36 consecutive bowl games.
Although the ‘Noles have managed to right the ship and gain bowl eligibility, one has to question the issues around the team this season. Having to replace an experienced quarterback is extremely difficult and the ‘Noles struggled with that. However, there is enough talent on the team to not ever lose six games in a season. Florida State has had three consecutive recruiting classes ranked in the top five. Jimbo Fisher, after a loss to Louisville at home, got into a shouting altercation with a fan and departed for Texas A&M before the rescheduled game against Louisiana-Monroe.
The last team and perhaps the biggest disappointment this season was the two-time defending SEC East champions. After winning 19 games the last two seasons under Jim McElwain, the coach was fired just seven games into the season. The Gators had their share of adversity hit even before the season started when several players were arrested on credit card fraud charges. The most notable of these players being Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett, two players that an already lackluster Florida offense depended upon heavily. The struggles at quarterback would continue with Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire both failing to look impressive.
After the dismissal of McElwain, the Gators had their eyes set on several coaches but ultimately was able to persuade Dan Mullen to return back to Florida, where he won two national championships as an offensive coordinator. With his background in helping young quarterbacks, fans hold hope that the same can be done with the Gators moving forward.
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