Florida lost to Vanderbilt, 31-24, on Saturday, falling to 6-5 overall and finishing the SEC portion of its schedule with a 3-5 record.

Forget the early, 11 a.m. local kickoff time.

Forget the cold.

Forget the injuries to an already thin roster that left the Gators without 3 of their 4 best wide receivers and the program’s only quality safety by the 2nd half.

Forget that it’s Year 1 under Billy Napier, who was tasked not only with replenishing that thin roster but with rebuilding the tire fire culture left behind by Dan Mullen, whose early talk of maintaining a championship “Gator standard” on and off the field died shortly after Marco Wilson threw a shoe and cost the program a game on Senior Night against LSU in 2020 — only to start the SEC Championship Game with zero consequence the following week.

Forget all of that, because there’s no excuse for losing to a 4-6 Vanderbilt team at the University of Florida.

There’s no excuse for committing a selfish personal foul penalty to negate a 3rd-down stop and extend what would become Vanderbilt’s opening touchdown drive.

There’s no excuse for a punt returner — 3rd string or no — fielding, let alone fumbling, a punt that is over his head when he’s standing on his own 7-yard line.

There’s no excuse, read option or no, for a supernova athlete at quarterback with NFL running back speed registering 0 carries against the 93rd-ranked run defense in college football in the 1st half.

There’s no excuse for a senior linebacker holding a slow tight end on a 3rd-and-long to negate a 3-and-out after a Florida touchdown drive opened the 2nd half.

There’s no excuse for 5 dropped passes for the 2nd consecutive week.

There’s no excuse for what Pro Football Focus grades out as the SEC’s best offensive line falling apart, generating no push in the run game and giving up 14 pressures in pass block situations, tying its worst performance (Georgia) of the season.

And there’s no excuse for throwing a last-second Hail Mary, gifted to the Gators by the referees, out of the end zone entirely.

The net result of Florida’s miserable day in Nashville is twofold.

First, there’s the issue of the defeat itself, a momentum-crushing, soul-searching type of loss that sent the Gators to the program’s 1st back-to-back losing campaigns in SEC play since the league fully integrated in 1972.

Second, there’s the process story and what the loss means to Napier.

A 7-4, 4-4 Year 1 for Napier sounds and feels better than 6-5, 3-5.

Had the Gators prevailed Saturday, they could rightly point to one of the toughest schedules in the sport and suggest that all 4 of their losses came to quality teams, and all but 1 came to teams currently ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 10.

Instead, Napier and the Gators have to explain away the wart of a loss to Vanderbilt. Florida was outworked and outcoached, and it lost the game on the crucial downs — 3rd and 4th. Vanderbilt had answers for Florida at pivotal moments, converting 7 of 14 3rd-down attempts, including multiple 3rd-down conversions on lengthy, time-consuming touchdown drives. The Gators, on the other hand, were 4-of-15 on 3rd down, victimized by a shocking inability to run the ball, dropped passes and unimaginative, predictable play-calling.

Napier has plenty of work to do, on the recruiting trail and on the football field, and yes, he deserves every opportunity to turn things around. He’ll likely receive that, too, given the unprecedented investment Florida made in hiring Napier and paying his army of support staff just a little less than a year ago.

But for all the talk of Florida turning the corner, talk that just this week included Napier himself suggesting the Gators were finally buying into the culture he wants to build in Gainesville, Saturday was an exercise in just how far this program still has to go.

Florida still has 1 regular-season game to play, at bitter rival Florida State on Black Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Make no mistake. That game matters immensely. It’s the rare game that impacts recruiting directly. And the last thing Florida wants to do is lose convincingly and allow FSU to sell the narrative that it, not Florida or seemingly hapless Miami, is the in-state program on the rise and the path back to national prominence.

Win, and Napier cools the heat of this defeat almost instantly and gives the Gators a bit of juice heading into the final stretch of recruiting. Lose, and, well, the Gators are 6-6, off to a lower-tier bowl game and paying lip service to the importance of bowl practices while keeping 1 foot, if not both feet, on the recruiting trail to build on the class they hope to sign in autumn 2023 and winter 2024.

Either way, the honeymoon is over for Napier in Gainesville.

The coach, whether he finishes Year 1 8-5 or 6-7, has existential questions to answer about how to build his program in Gainesville after just 12 months on campus.

The best coaches are reflexive and reactive, able to admit shortcomings and willing to shift when wins and losses, the bottom line of this business, demand it.

Will Napier give up his play-calling duties and hire an offensive coordinator — accepting that perhaps he’s at his best as a CEO with an offensive mind, like Bobby Bowden a generation ago, or, for a more contemporary successful example, Lincoln Riley or Lane Kiffin today?

What will Florida target in the portal, given the imminent departure of future All-American O’Cyrus Torrence to the NFL from the offensive line and captain Ventrell Miller from a weak linebacker corps?

What does Napier envision a junior year to look like from Anthony Richardson, assuming the redshirt sophomore returns for 1 more season in Gainesville to show NFL scouts he can be a more consistent thrower and winner?

Does Patrick Toney adjust his scheme in Year 2? Or do he and Napier blame the misfit personnel left behind by Todd Grantham instead, hoping for better returns in 2023?

None of these questions was easy to answer before Saturday’s debacle in the Music City.

It’s just that finding answers seems much more urgent now.

The end of a honeymoon is hard. Losing to Vanderbilt is harder.

Fixing it? That’s the hardest thing of all. But it’s the task that remains for Napier at Florida.