What do Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett, and Jeff Driskel all have in common? Each of those quarterbacks were all once on Florida’s roster, failed to live up to their potential in Gainesville, transferred, found success, and have each played in or started an NFL game. I know, Gator fans, this is a sensitive subject, but we’re about to add another name to that list. Bare with me.
His name is Will Grier. He’s electric. He’s fiery. And he’s damn good at throwing a football. As West Virginia’s starting signal caller led the Mountaineers to a thrilling 42-41 victory over Texas on Saturday, it’s almost impossible not to ask yourself the what ifs.
What if Grier had stayed at Florida following his PED suspension? What if he never tested positive in the first place? What if Jim McElwain never encouraged him to leave the program? What could Florida have accomplished with a quarterback who, for the first time since Tim Tebow, is mentioned in Heisman Trophy conversations?
This is all purely speculation, of course, but I’ll attempt to answer those questions. This is the what-could’ve-been alternate reality where Grier becomes a Gator great. Grab a box of tissues and remember: It’s OK to cry.
Here’s how Florida finishes each year if it has Grier:
2016: 11-2, lose in College Football Playoff semifinal
Grier is ineligible to play for a full year and has to sit out the first six games of the 2016 season per NCAA rules, which means he returns to a 5-1 Gators team just in time to beat Georgia. With Grier, there’s no way Florida loses to Arkansas and Florida State.
They then enter the SEC Championship Game with Alabama as a 10-1 team. Grier and the Gators outlast Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide in a shootout, sending them to the playoff for the first time. One might argue Alabama’s defense is too stout to overcome, but Florida’s was also pretty good — led by NFL players such as Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, Taven Bryan, Caleb Brantley, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye — and they likely play better than the 54 points allowed if UF’s offense can keep pace.
An 11-1 SEC Champion Florida and 12-1 Alabama both make the playoff, as do Clemson and Ohio State. UF’s magic runs out here, though. They take the three seed and play either Alabama or Clemson. I don’t see Florida beating Alabama twice in a row or Grier out-dueling Deshaun Watson, who went on to throw for a record 420 passing yards in the national championship game.
2017: 11-1, beat UCF in Peach Bowl
Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire stay on the sideline this season. Grier leads the Gators to wins against Michigan and FSU and runs the table in SEC play except for a close loss to Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs. The playoff remains unchanged, as Georgia beats Auburn in the SEC Championship Game but goes on to lose to Alabama in the championship.
A 10-1 Florida, meanwhile, is selected over Auburn to play UCF in the Peach Bowl. The Gators hand the Knights their first loss of the season, and UCF is never able to claim a national championship because…they never played in the national championship game.
Jim McElwain still has his job, because #winning means everything. Florida still loses to Georgia even with Grier, as the secondary hasn’t been as good as past years and the run defense is not nearly as strong. The Gators pick up wins against Kentucky and Missouri, though, bringing them to 8-1.
That brings us to this week. Florida and Georgia are both 6-1, but the Bulldogs hold the edge head-to-head. Georgia and Auburn square off on Saturday. Grier and the Gators become Auburn’s biggest fans during this game in hopes of a second CFP berth.
The rest of the season? Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.