Florida starts over under amid low expectations
Florida has a new coach, a new offense, a new defense and plenty
of new starters.
The Gators also have some new motivation. It stems from
relatively low expectations.
For the first time in eight years, maybe even longer, Florida
has little preseason hype. No Heisman Trophy hopefuls. No players
on the All-Southeastern Conference first team. And the Gators are
widely picked to finish third in the Eastern Division.
First-year head coach Will Muschamp, the former coach-in-waiting
at Texas, believes the lack of attention might be a good thing. His
players, though, insist they will use it as fuel while preparing
for the Sept. 3 season opener against Florida Atlantic.
”It is motivating when these guys are saying we’re not good
enough, we don’t have enough star power, we don’t have enough this
and that,” guard Ian Silberman said. ”Maybe we don’t. But there
have been some great teams win without star power, without a great
quarterback, without a great receiver. As long as we come together
as a team and play to our ability, I don’t think there’s anyone who
can touch us.”
The Gators open fall practice Saturday – amid all sorts of
Muschamp kicked his best defender, cornerback Janoris Jenkins,
off the team in April following his third arrest in less than two
years. Florida also lost a linebacker, a punter, both safeties, two
defensive linemen and three offensive linemen. Throw in a new
coaching staff and about 70 players on scholarship, and there’s
legitimate reason for doubt.
”We did lose a lot of key players, but we have great talent
here,” safety Josh Shaw said. ”We know what people are saying
about us. We talk about it, but we don’t let it get the best of us.
At the end, it’s about what you’re doing, how you’re progressing
and what you show on the field.”
Muschamp does have one thing in his favor: The element of
Muschamp closed spring practice for the first time in school
history, so outside the two-hour glimpse into Florida’s revamped
offense and defense provided by the spring game, media, fans, and
most importantly, fans don’t know what to expect.
”No one knows what we’re doing, what we’re going through, so I
think we can surprise a lot of people,” Shaw said.
Florida hasn’t been in this position very often, at least not in
The Gators have been a perennial favorite in the SEC and have
landed numerous players on the preseason All-SEC team. But most
believe this will be a rebuilding year for the Gators.
Urban Meyer stepped down after six years and two national
Florida took a chance by hiring Muschamp, who had no previous
head coaching experiencing. He responded by filling his staff with
experienced coaches, many of whom have years of NFL experience.
But how quickly can they turn things around.
The Gators finished 8-5 last season, with most of the problems
coming because quarterback John Brantley was misfit in the spread
offense. It didn’t help that running back Jeff Demps missed several
games because of a foot injury and running back Chris Rainey was
suspended five games.
But Brantley got the brunt of the blame. He completed 61 percent
of his passes for 2,061 yards, with nine touchdowns and 10
interceptions. He became the first player to lead the team in
passing and throw more INTs than TDs since Kyle Morris in 1988.
Brantley considered transferring following the coaching change,
but decided to stick around when Muschamp hired former Notre Dame
head coach Charlie Weis to run the offense.
”My confidence is a lot higher now since the new coaches
arrived,” Brantley said. ”When the new coaching staff got here,
it was all new to me. Now that I have spring football under my belt
and have had all summer to study the playbook, I think as a team
we’re ready to go.”
That remains to be seen.
The one spot that seems ready to carry the Gators is the
defensive line. With Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell, Dominique
Easley, Omar Hunter, Jaye Howard and William Green, the Gators have
the talent and the numbers to dominate the line of scrimmage. That
certainly raises expectations on the defensive side of the
But it does little to change Florida’s overall perception.
”Everybody’s doubting us,” Silberman said. ”We don’t have
enough experience, we’re too small. As long as we can put it
together on the field, we’ll be all right.”