Florida focused on turning things around

Florida focused on turning things around

Published Aug. 16, 2012 2:05 a.m. ET

Everything is pretty simple at Florida these days.

There is no championship to defend. There is no talk about the national title. There is no boasting, bragging or trash-talking.

The Gators have one statistic that resounds loud and clear through the football facility: 15-11, the team's record the past two seasons.

''We need to quit talking and start playing,'' second-year coach Will Muschamp said. ''At the end of the day, just get on the field and play.''


And win, really. The Gators open the season Sept. 1 against Bowling Green.

Florida used to be one of the nation's elite programs, consistently in the hunt in the powerful Southeastern Conference and always capable of winning it all.

It seemingly changed overnight. The 2008 national champions have been an also-ran in the SEC East the last two years, falling behind South Carolina and Georgia in the race to get to the league title game.

''When you don't go to Atlanta, Florida is a failure,'' Muschamp said.

Simple math, for sure.

Few prognosticators are picking the Gators to reach the league title game this year, and for obvious reasons. Although Muschamp has plenty of talent in Gainesville, he has several new offensive coaches - embattled receivers coach Aubrey Hill resigned earlier this month - and a quarterback competition that includes two sophomores.

Throw in that Florida lost its top two playmakers, running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, from an offense that ranked 105th in the nation in 2011 and it's easy to question how big of a jump, if any, the Gators will make after barely avoiding the team's first losing season since 1979.

Muschamp wants to build his program like conference heavyweights Alabama and LSU, with mammoth offensive lines, downhill runners, game-managing quarterbacks and tons of talent on defense. It's a stark contrast from what former coach Urban Meyer wanted. Meyer worked to create the fastest team in America, looking to add speedy perimeter players who could go the distance every time they touched the ball.

The philosophy worked at times, but proved to be a short-lived experiment against better competition.

Muschamp has spent the last two years overhauling everything, from weight-room workouts to meeting-room mentality to practice-field performance.

''We didn't get the results we wanted, but at the end of the day, you make decisions, especially your first year of a transition, for the long haul,'' Muschamp said. ''You don't make them on the short term. That's not smart. It's not good business. I've said it all along: we are building a program, not a team.

''So we made decisions to build a solid foundation for where we are going. And we need better results on the field. And I know everybody wants that. I get the e-mails. ... I want it to happen today, too. I want it to happen yesterday. But you also need to be a little bit realistic where you are and where you are headed. I feel really confident and never wavered for one second where we were headed.''

Getting there likely will depend on Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel.

The quarterbacks are vying for the starting job this season, and although Muschamp would like to see one of them win the game, he's open to playing both.

They did little last season.

Brissett completed 46.2 percent of his passes for 206 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Driskel wasn't any better, completing 47.1 percent of his passes for 148 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

They have new a coordinator, former Boise State assistant Brent Pease, trying to make them better. Pease replaced Charlie Weis, who left after one year to take the head job at Kansas.

Instead of installing a new playbook and changing terminology, Pease is the one making all the adjustments. He is adapting to Weis' offense in hopes of creating a smooth transition for his young quarterbacks.

How quickly they respond could be the difference between another mediocre season and getting Florida back to national prominence.

The Gators don't have Alabama on the schedule, but games against LSU, South Carolina and Georgia are on tap in October. Florida went 0-for-October last year, a month that ruined Muschamp's first season.

The Gators were out-rushed 804-175 and outscored 120-47.

''We don't ever want to forget that feeling,'' receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., said. ''All the coaches remind us. The players remind us. When we're down and out and we were going through those summer sessions or those spring sessions, it's like, `Remember back in October.'

''You don't want to feel that again, so you keep putting in that work so it'll pay off in the end.''

Muschamp wants his players to remember that pain, along with their 15-11 record.

''I've been through some good times here, bad times here,'' sixth-year senior guard James Wilson said. ''Last season wasn't Florida standard, and I think we all know that. We just really want to build to make sure that doesn't happen again.''