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One lingering question has The Athletic wondering about Florida football

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Florida football has seen its share of ups and downs after a decade-plus of consistent turnover on the sidelines that has seen a carousel of four different head coaches rotate through the Swamp. The lack of leadership at the top of the program has manifested itself in many ways, among those being a dearth of discipline among some of the players that dates back to even the Urban Meyer era.

The troubles came to a head at the end of the 2020 season with the shoe-throwing incident against the LSU Tigers, which many believe marked the beginning of the end for the Dan Mullen era. The issues continued into the following season, which saw the program put up its worst record in Southeastern Conference play since 1986 and finished below the .500 mark for the first time since the 2017 campaign — when Jim McElwain was ousted as head coach.

The Athletic’s college football staff recently assembled to offer their lingering question for each SEC football program, with Florida’s being the obvious elephant in the room. Here is the entry offered by Gators beat writer G. Allan Taylor.

Can the Gators correct the discipline issues behind their string of close losses?

This is how Florida crumbled during key moments last season: A blocker went the wrong way on a failed two-point conversion against Alabama. A field-goal mishap gave Kentucky the decisive points. Brenton Cox played the wrong gap on Missouri’s touchdown in overtime. Multiple defenders took turns missing assignments at Baton Rouge. Add those to the 2020 errors of Malik Davis fumbling at Texas A&M and Marco Wilson’s “LS-Shoe” affair, and you see the narrow margin by which Florida went from College Football Playoff challengers to firing their coach.

Billy Napier’s first offseason in Gainesville featured a heightened emphasis on accountability, with the belief that there’s a direct link from players’ discipline off the field to their reliability on it. He sprang into culture-changing mode last December when his new staff shadowed the remnants of Dan Mullen’s staff in preparations for the Gasparilla Bowl. The Gators, in order to avoid another mediocre bowl trip this fall, will need to be more efficient, considering their talent level is subpar by SEC standards.

Napier’s goal is to be “under one penalty in every 30 plays,” which would mark a steep improvement from the Gators ranking 122nd in penalties per game last season and 119th in lost yardage. In line with fixing those miscues is avoiding turnovers, after the Gators finished minus-8 in 2021.

Frankly, I could not have said it any better myself — there seems to have been an institutional weakness when it comes to mental fortitude under Mullen, but Napier has not had his chance to prove himself yet. However, the dismissal of three players back in June (with a fourth on thin ice) does seem to signal a change in policy when it comes to tolerating behavior that is detrimental to the team, so hopefully, these significant concerns are already being addressed.

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