Next season is crucial for Muschamp


With an abundance of young, emerging athletes, Florida head coach Will Muschamp has a good chance to turn his program around after a six-loss regular season in his first go-around with the Gators.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 30, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 12:15 a.m.

JACKSONVILLE — The calendar is about to turn to a new year, one that can't be as bad as this one was.

Can it?

Not only did college football fans have to endure enough scandals to last a lifetime in one year, but around the Gator Nation, it was downright depressing.

When Florida plays Ohio State on Monday, the Gators will be trying to avoid their first losing season since 1979's unfathomable 0-10-1 year. While 6-6 isn't 0-10-1, there are similarities.

Charley Pell inherited a flawed team in ‘79 and needed a year to get everyone on the same page. A year later, Florida went 8-4.

It has been a similar situation for Will Muschamp. He has weeded out the roster even though it has left Florida painfully thin in numbers. But the guys who are still here will form the nucleus of next season.

An incredibly important season for Muschamp.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Steve Spurrier won Florida's first SEC title in his second year. Urban Meyer won a national title in his second year. Expectations certainly will not be as lofty for Muschamp's second year and the truth is he doesn't have to feel the confetti rain of a championship to show that Florida is on the right track.

But it has to get better.

Progress must be shown.

What was it defensive tackle Omar Hunter said this week?

“Florida will be back.”

The question is — how soon?

To the west, one Florida rival won nine games and its fourth straight bowl game Thursday night. The head coach proclaimed that he liked the direction his team is headed.

To the north, another rival won the SEC East and was gift-wrapped another soft SEC schedule for 2012.

Two SEC teams will play for the national championship on Jan. 9 and show no signs of dropping off the national map.

In other words, it's not going to be easy to get Florida back to playing the way its impatient fans expect it to play.

Muschamp has two crucial hires to make: offensive coordinator and strength coach. He is expected to bring in a top-five recruiting class that will be more about the ability to fit what he wants than the stars next to their names.

Certainly, one way to build momentum is to win this bowl game. Is it crucial? Hardly. I seem to remember Florida winning its last two bowl games. The momentum from those two wins didn't last long.

More importantly is that Florida returns a lot of young talent that won't be considered young anymore. These freshmen and sophomores have cut their teeth in America's toughest conference.

“There is a key to every kid, and it's our job to find the key," Muschamp said. "It's our job to get it out of them. That's why they call you coach."

The transition year ends on Monday. The learning curve will be flattened in 2012. The schedule is still difficult but more manageable than what the Gators had to deal with this year.

It's time for Florida football to take a step in the right direction which makes the next eight months crucial. Florida doesn't have to get back to dominance in 2012, but it has to get back to respectability.

The Charlie Weis Experiment was an epic fail. The 14-11 record over the last two years is unacceptable. There are reasons for that record, but no excuses.

This is Florida.

It's time to start playing like it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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