With Florida now up to 10 suspensions for Michigan opener, Jim McElwain has a nightmare scenario
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Florida dropped a casual note late in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon.
Two Gators more were suspended, and by the way, one of them happened to be starting tailback Jordan Scarlett.
If you did the quick math on your fingers, you counted 10 Florida suspensions for the season opener against Michigan. We’re now out of fingers to count the amount of players who will be absent when the teams square off Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
It’s a bad-to-worse scenario that nobody could’ve predicted a month ago. Well, maybe we could’ve.
After all, Jim McElwain hasn’t exactly been laying down the law with his team. We know how he treated Antonio Callaway with that harsh one-game punishment after his third major off-the-field incident.
Now Mark Thompson, the guy who was cited for marijuana possession this offseason, is in line to start in Scarlett’s place. You know, unless he gets suspended, too.
Either way, McElwain has a nightmare situation staring directly at his happy-go-lucky smile.
From a football standpoint, the impact of Florida’s suspensions are obvious. A team that struggled to score points last year is now without its top receiver and running back. Even though the Gators will face a new-look defense, it’ll be against a coordinator in Don Brown who led the nation’s top defense each of the past two years.
Good luck with that.
Also, good luck to Florida’s new starting quarterback, whoever that is. If it’s Malik Zaire, he’ll get to work in an offense that he’s known for a little more than a month, and he’ll be surrounded by guys that he’s still not familiar with. If it’s Feleipe Franks, he’ll make his first career start as a redshirt freshman without Florida’s top two weapons.
Of course that’s not ideal. But the off-the-field impact might be worse than that.
How can you not question if McElwain has control of his program? Sure, college kids make mistakes, but 10 suspensions for one game? Really? That comes back to leadership, or lack there of. Whatever McElwain is preaching to his program isn’t getting through in the way he might think it is. If it were, he wouldn’t have a significant chunk of his roster suspended for non-football reasons.
And that’s the other thing. We don’t know how long these suspensions will last. Is Florida going to, as McElwain would say, “make it hurt that they aren’t playing on the big stage with their teammates” for one game and welcome them back with open arms? We don’t know. We don’t even know the severity of each suspension, though a report indicated that Scarlett and receiver Rick Wells could be out for multiple games due to the ongoing fraud investigation.
But let’s not speculate. There are still enough facts to prove just how embarrassing this is for Florida.
The facts are that no other high-profile program in America has 10 players suspended for their opener. McElwain can talk all he wants about kids learning from mistakes. The reality is his team is facing an uphill climb in Week 1 and it has nobody but itself to blame.
This was supposed to be a showcase game for the Gators. The talk was that this would be the start of their new offensive identity. This could’ve been the game that McElwain avenged that brutal Citrus Bowl loss and showed the college football world that he could hang with guys like Jim Harbaugh.
Instead, McElwain has the college football world drowning in negative headlines about his program before it even takes the field. His reputation as a leader and as the face of a program is in jeopardy if he can’t corral Florida’s off-the-field problems.
McElwain better hope his depleted team can find a way to pull off a surprising victory Saturday.
If not, that happy-go-lucky smile might be suspended indefinitely.