Nine Florida football players -- including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett -- were absent during the stunner at The Swamp, serving indefinite suspensions related to an ongoing investigation into improper debit card charges and potential fraud at the school's bookstore. The State Attorney expects to receive details about the potential criminal case late this week or early next week, according to ESPN's Mark Schlabach.
It's a situation that could make or break Florida's season.
While the joy and memory of the 63-yard catch by Cleveland from Feleipe Franks will last for generations, the more pressing issue of this Florida team's worth as an SEC East contender remains unanswered after what was a rather lackluster performance against the Volunteers until Franks' fateful heave.
The Gators managed just 380 yards against a defense that had been torched for more than 600 yards by four of its previous five Power Five opponents. That includes Franks' 63-yard toss and a 70-plus yard run earlier in the game. Three turnovers allowed the Vols to hang around much longer than they should have, and coach Jim McElwain is still searching for the offensive punch he was hired to pack when he was hired away from Colorado State.
Callaway and Scarlett were being counted on to provide that punch.
Callaway totaled 1,399 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons in offenses in which he was the only legitimate weapon outside. What's more, his 12.1 yards per punt return average provided more than one first down per drive prior to the offense even taking the field. That's enormous for a unit that routinely struggled to accomplish that on its own.
But while Callaway's absence likely draws the most headlines out of the suspended nine, it's Scarlett who's more important to the outlook of the 2017 Gators.
He was a workhorse last year for Florida, rushing for 899 yards and six touchdowns against boxes that were loaded up against him on a regular basis. The 5-foot-11, 206-pounder from Fort Lauderdale is the best of a running back bunch that absolutely has to have success first in order for Franks to work off play action and make McElwain's offense tick. He's also UF's only running back who can legitimately pass protect.
But if they're both out, Florida's moment of joy in the south end zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be short-lived, as a more complete team like Georgia surpasses them in the SEC East pecking order.