GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) It might be hard to find a team more eager for the season to begin than Florida.
Coming off their worst year since 1979, the Gators are ready to start anew, end a seven-game losing streak and prove last year’s 4-8 debacle was a fluke.
Florida opens Saturday against six-touchdown underdog Idaho, which has just four wins over the last three years.
”Everybody starts out the season undefeated, so I think it’s a good chance to start fresh and really showcase all we’ve done throughout the spring and summer,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said Tuesday. ”We’ve done some good things. We just have to carry them over to the games. … There’s a lot of excitement around our program right now.”
Florida figures things have to be better than last season’s injury-filled meltdown.
The Gators lost Driskel in the third game of the season with a broken leg and were unprepared to play without him. Making matters worse, the team also lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley, receiver Andre Debose, running back Matt Jones, right tackle Chaz Green and several others to season-ending injuries.
The injuries led to losses – including a humbling one to lower-division Georgia Southern – which led to lost confidence inside the locker room, which led to finger pointing, which led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis.
The personnel changes led coach Will Muschamp to hire Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and USC offensive line coach Mike Summers. Roper and Summers revamped Florida’s offense, which combined with Driskel’s return, has created optimism for 2014.
”We’re more talented, that’s No. 1,” Muschamp said. ”We could line up and run the run-and-shoot for all I care. We’re more talented. We are more talented at running back then we’ve been. We’re more talented at receiver. We’re more talented at tight end. We’re better up front. And we’re better at the quarterback position.
”It starts with talent … and then I like what we’re doing schematically.”
Florida has switched from a ground-and-pound, pro-style system to an up-tempo, spread scheme. The Gators scored 25 touchdowns in 12 games last season, averaging a paltry 18.8 points, and were far from what Florida’s faithful had grown accustomed to with former coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer on the sideline.
How the revamped offense performs could determine Muschamp’s fate.
The first-time head coach is 22-16 in four seasons at Florida, creating doubt about his future and the direction of the program. Even Muschamp has refused to blame last year’s failures solely on injuries.
Florida’s last win came against Arkansas in early October, so it’s been nearly 11 months without a victory celebration.
”Too long,” linebacker Mike Taylor conceded.
That should change Saturday. Idaho has been routed by nearly every major program its played in recent years, losing at Florida State (80-14), at Mississippi (59-14) and at Washington State (42-0) last year, getting blown out at LSU (63-14) and at North Carolina (66-0) in 2012 and falling 37-7 at Texas A&M in 2011.
Florida would like to be next so it can end the losing streak and start talking about 1-0 instead of 4-8.
”The seven-game losing streak was definitely tough to bear, to have to play through and witness,” Taylor said. ”Getting a win will definitely help the whole feeling around the stadium. … We’re definitely excited to get this thing started, the whole campus is excited, coaches excited, players excited, so we’re definitely ready to showcase our talent.”