Lightning strikes near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field during a weather delay before an NCAA college football game between Florida and Idaho in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Photo: Phil Sandlin
Photo: Phil Sandlin

Weather delays Florida Gators’ expected return to respectability

What more ominous start could there be to Will Muschamp’s gotta-get-it-right season? Here the Idaho Vandals were in town, the perfect partners for an end to Florida’s stupefying seven-game losing streak, and a stubborn electrical storm washed the whole thing away.

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A booming voice from the public-address system sent everybody home at 10:38 p.m., more than 3 1/2 hours past the originally scheduled kickoff. Or was that an even higher authority from on high, shutting down what was supposed to be a feel-good night, first with an endless lightning show and finally with the mysterious proclamation that the game may or not be replayed later, whenever, whatever?

Strange times have come to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, all right, with a suffocating anxiety bearing down on Florida fans the way it used to torment visitors.

All hail the fans who were still on hand, like drenched Swamp rats, when the game finally started at 9:50 p.m. Their reward was the fun of watching Florida’s Valdez Showers return a kickoff 64 yards, followed immediately by another suspension of play because of lightning in the area.

This is almost too cruel, coming on the heels of a 4-8 season for Muschamp.

Imagine, an embattled coach is ready to trot out quarterback Jeff Driskel, back from a broken leg, plus an imaginative new offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper, and loads of four-star talent on both sides of the ball, and he can’t even get permission to take the field?

This kind of dirty mojo sometimes takes years to wash out of a system, which is why Muschamp needed to get off to a 3-0 start against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky, at the very least. Now it’s possible this supposed Idaho smackdown will be jammed into a bye week Oct. 25, just prior to the Georgia game. The Gators never want to play the week before the Georgia game.

Of course, when Florida finds itself on a seven-game losing streak, long-held tradition has little meaning.

Does Idaho get its $975,000 fee if there is no replay? Will Florida need this game to be bowl-eligible? Add it to the pile of questions for Florida, beginning with what does Muschamp have to do to catch a break?

The Vandals, 1-11 in each of the past two seasons, got 80 points hung on them by Florida State last November. Their domed home stadium has a capacity of 16,000 and their scheduled starter at quarterback Saturday night, Matt Linehan, has never taken a snap past high school. If roadkill wore a uniform, these guys would be it.

Still, it does no good to fixate on the strengths or weaknesses of other programs. Florida must regain its balance independent of all outside considerations, and Muschamp has no choice but to do it one determined step at a time.

If he succeeds, there is no telling where this season might go in an SEC that is very difficult to predict. Remember that Auburn went from a 3-9 disaster in 2012 to a spot in the 2013 national championship game. That’s how rapidly the slingshot can work for a traditional power temporarily down on its luck, and Florida certainly fits that description.

What’s needed is more scoring punch. That begins with Driskel, who missed the final nine games last year with a broken leg, but it only ends well if other potential stars catch fire, too, like running back Kelvin Taylor, a Belle Glade legend ready to bloom as his father Fred did.

Would have been nice to see them all clicking in the season opener. A touchdown or five or six would have made that monsoon feel cool rather than sticky and sickening.

“It’s unfortunate that the weather didn’t cooperate for tonight’s season opener,” Muschamp said. “After long discussions with the head referee, it was determined that the field conditions were too dangerous for the student-athletes.”

The danger doesn’t really end for Florida. It’s just been postponed.

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