COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida interim coach Randy Shannon said he asks his players the same question every day.
Why did you come to play at the University of Florida?
Some said the academics. Others said the family atmosphere. Others mentioned the national championships and what the program represents.
But then there was the one response that still stands out to Shannon.
“Swag,” Shannon remembered the player saying, a short-hand term for the phrase “swagger.”
Shannon then asked the player what “swag” meant. When he didn’t respond, Shannon took it upon himself to give an answer.
“Swag is winning,” he told the player bluntly.
If this season is any indication, Florida has lost that swagger as the team falls deeper into the loss column.
The latest evidence came on Saturday, when the reeling Gators dropped their fifth consecutive game, this time a 28-20 defeat to South Carolina led by former Florida coach Will Muschamp.
And while the score was close — Florida (3-6, 3-5 SEC) had the chance to tie the game late before Feleipe Franks threw a game-sealing interception with about a minute to play – the defeat continues piling onto the misery that has been the 2017 season.
After aspirations of playing in the SEC Championship Game for a third straight season, it’s now unlikely Florida even makes it to a bowl game.
Now, it’s on whoever takes over the program next season to make sure the Gators can get that “swag” back — and get it back quickly.
Because each game, one by one, is another reminder that this Florida football program is nowhere near where it was in its glory days.
The on-field successes from the Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier eras and the joys of the those three national championships almost seem like a distant memory.
Since the end of the Meyer era in 2010, the Gators have gone 51-35 and 33-23 in SEC play. Florida has had at least four losses in six of those seven years. Meyer had two in six years. Spurrier had two in 12 years.
While the Gators made it to the SEC Championship Game twice in Jim McElwain’s first two seasons, they proved they were still no match for the SEC’s top dog Alabama, losing both times by scores of 29-15 and 54-16.
The 2017 season highlights the struggles.
There are all the notable distractions that have impacted the team — the suspensions, the hurricane, the injuries, the removing of their head coach in the middle of the season.
The offense is still inconsistent on its best days and non-existent at any other point. The quarterback position is likely to live and die by Feleipe Franks this year after Malik Zaire suffered a left knee injury in the second quarter Saturday.
The defense that has been the backbone of the team is withering away due to injuries and inexperience and giving up points at a level that haven’t been seen at Florida since 1946.
And that has resulted in five straight losses by a combined score of 151-76.
“It’s been a bumpy path,” linebacker David Reese said.
After McElwain was ousted from the program after the Georgia loss — the third straight loss at that point — the team responded with an effortless performance against Missouri.
And then, on Saturday, Florida lost a game to the coach it fired just three years ago. It just adds another week to the struggle, adds to the distraught.
“[We] had a shot at the end of the game. That’s all we want to do is get a shot. [It] wasn’t good enough,” Shannon said. “Was [it] the expectation of what this program wants? No. We wanted to win. I’m not going to sit up there and say it’s a moral victory. There’s no moral victories. We lost the game.”
With two games left — home contests against UAB and Florida State — Florida players said they want to find a way to send the seniors out right.
“If you quit, you’re a quitter,” defensive lineman Taven Bryan said. “Once you’re a quitter you’re always a quitter. You just gotta keep grinding and go in there and get the work done.”
But even if they get those two wins and finish 5-6, 2017 will still be another lackluster season, and 2018 will now become another year to see if another coach can bring the “swag” back to Florida football.
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