Florida draws motivation from 'embarrassing' year
Those painful memories of last season, haunting images of a 7-6 season, are still vivid at Florida.
Coach Will Muschamp wants it that way.
The 23rd-ranked Gators would like nothing more than to purge most of what happened in 2011: four consecutive losses in October, a horrible showing against Furman and a bitter defeat to archrival Florida State. But they can't. And Muschamp won't let them.
''You'll always remember it,'' tight end/fullback Trey Burton said. ''Even when I'm 40, I'll still remember my sophomore year at the University of Florida. You've always got to keep that in the back of your mind and strive for it to not happen again. ... Last year was pretty embarrassing.''
The Gators ended Muschamp's first season with a victory against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, providing some solace while avoiding the program's first losing season since 1979.
Players and coaches talked about the importance of ending on a high note, about needing something positive to build on during the offseason.
Maybe so, but all those losses ended up being the driving force during sweltering practices, lengthy meetings and grueling weightlifting sessions.
''You never put the last season behind you,'' Muschamp said. ''You've got to learn from it, move forward and let it motivate you. That's what we've done as a staff and as a team. I'm really pleased with where the football team is at this time.''
Muschamp will be happier if Florida gets 2012 off to a strong start Saturday against Bowling Green. But the Gators realize that early season success means little. They started 4-0 last season - they didn't allow a touchdown in the first two games - before things turned.
Following lopsided losses to Alabama and LSU, Florida dropped close games against Auburn and Georgia. They managed a combined 11 points in the second half of all four October games and didn't score a single point in any of those fourth quarters.
Things reached a low point in November against Furman, a team from the Football Championship Subdivision. Florida trailed 22-7 in the first quarter and didn't put the Paladins away until the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the final 13 minutes of the game.
A week later, the Gators allowed the Seminoles to gain just 95 yards but lost 21-7 because of costly turnovers and more inept offense. It capped a mind-boggling slide considering Florida won national titles in 2006 and 2008, and played for the Southeastern Conference championship in 2009.
''That's definitely not what we came here for, last year, 7-6,'' receiver Frankie Hammond said. ''We want to get back on top. We came here to win. That's the bottom line. That's what we came here to do: win, win championships, get rings. That's the standard at this university. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder. We definitely want to get those wins under our belt.''
Muschamp called his team ''soft'' after the loss to Florida State, an adjective that still resonates with players nine months later.
''We took that personally as a team,'' right tackle Chaz Green said.
The Gators believe they will be considerably better in all phases during Year 2 of the Muschamp era.
Muschamp revamped the team's weightlifting program by moving to an Olympic-style program designed to increase muscle strength, explosiveness and cardiovascular fitness. He hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease to replace Charlie Weis, and Pease installed a scheme that includes motions and shifts, and maybe a few more trick plays.
The results won't truly be known for several weeks, maybe even longer.
How the players remember the season might be an even better indicator.
''I think the year we had, there wasn't much that needed to be said,'' Green said. ''We came in, everybody was hungry, everybody knew what we had to do. It wasn't about talking, about pointing fingers. Everybody knew we didn't have a good year. We need to work to get back to where we can be, where we should be.''