The college football season ended yesterday in disgrace for the Florida Gators when their cross-state rivals FSU marched in to “The Swamp” in Gainesville and lay a beat-down on them that everyone expected. Once upon a short-time ago, the Florida Gators were not only battling for SEC championships, but usually fighting for poll position to compete in the BCS Championship game. In 2013, not only did we lose to Vanderbilt University, a team that has been a doormat in the SEC Eastern Division for years, but the Gators were embarrassed by an FBS team, the Georgia Southern Eagles, at “The Swamp”, a once upon a time feared venue for all visiting teams.
What has happened to this once-upon-a-time college football powerhouse?
The list is long and distinguished when answering that question. Let’s break it down into three categories: Injuries, Coaching, and Recruiting.
Starting QB Jeff Driskel was lost early in the season with a broken leg against the Tennessee Volunteers, and that was the beginning of the domino-effect as the injury bug continued to plague the Gators. Once all the dominoes laid on the table, the Gators finished the season to season-ending injuries without DT Chaz Green, DT Dominique Easley, RB Matt Jones, and LB Antonio Morrison just to name a few. Other very important players missed games, too.
Injuries most definitely played a tremendous part in the creation of Florida’s downward spiral, but let’s face it—Florida’s offense was a sore spot to begin with and QB Jeff Driskel had not shown any improvement prior to getting injured. Once Driskel was down and out, the transfer of QB Jacoby Brissett to NC State became the first nail in Florida’s 2013 season’s coffin. A mediocre offense became immediately horrific.
The defense, on the other hand, continued to play well, but even the best defenses get tired both physically and mentally. Eventually the injury bug got to them, too, but not to the same extent. A serious blow was when DT Dominique Easley went down for the year and immediately announced he would not be back and declared for the upcoming NFL Draft in 2014.
Some say that Will Muschamp has too much control over his offensive coordinators, and in three seasons has the head coach he has now gone through two, Charlie Weis and Brent Pease. The former left to become the head coach of Kansas after Muschamp’s first season, and Pease came over from Boise State and called the plays for the last two seasons. Neither one of these accomplished coaches could make anything go right for the Gators offense. It’s hard to believe that both coaches were that bad, but statistics are sometimes all people look at to determine success.
Both offensive coordinators coached pro-style offenses, and the majority of the current roster was recruited for former head coach Urban Meyer’s style of spread-offense. I can remember several times in the college football past when a coach asked a player to play a style they were unaccustomed to, e.g. Ron Powlus and Lou Holtz of Notre Dame. Beano Cook proclaimed that Powlus would win the Heisman twice due to his superior QB ability, but when asked to run an option-style offense, Powlus quickly became an afterthought in the annuls of history.
Muschamp has repeatedly stated that he wants to coach a physically and mentally tough team that relies on ball-control and stout defense, i.e. Nick Saban style. That’s all well and good, but if you’re asking a cat to catch a frisbee in the air then good luck. Any coach must work within the talents of those he has on the team, and not expect the team to do things they do not know how or have never done. Muschamp clearly doesn’t understand that concept; he has shown the exact opposite.
On the horizon there appear to be the recruit Muschamp and the Gator Nation have long waited for—Will Grier of Davidson Day High School in Davidson, NC. This four-star recruit is supposed to be the answer to Florida’s offensive woes. That’s all well and good, but he will be a true-freshman in 2014, and Driskel is suppose to be back in the beginning of the season. I doubt very seriously that Grier will be poised to take over this disaster of an offense that quickly. Add to the disaster of the 2013 season, the upcoming recruiting season will surely be a challenging one. Will it be enough, the return of injured players and the next chosen one, Will Grier, to bring Florida football back to respectability? It’s highly unlikely.
Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has given a full vote of confidence in Will Muschamp by not immediately firing him after the 2013 train wreck of a season. For reasons unbeknownst to me Foley feels that Muschamp is right man for the job. Florida’s 2014 schedule includes trips to Tuscaloosa, AL, Knoxville, TN and Tallahassee, FL, and it begins with games against Idaho and Eastern Michigan. The trip to Alabama is the fourth game, and if Muschamp’s Gators aren’t 3-0, don’t expect him to make the trip.