Making strides key for Muschamp in Year 2

Making strides key for Muschamp in Year 2

Published Jul. 18, 2012 9:51 p.m. ET

HOOVER, Ala. -- Urban Meyer led the Gators to a national championship in his second season. Steve Spurrier guided the Gators to their first official SEC title in his second season.

The two most successful head coaches in Florida football history produced milestone achievements the year after taking the job.

What would be considered a milestone achievement in Year 2 for Florida coach Will Muschamp? Muschamp would certainly take a national title or SEC championship, but it might be too early for either at this stage of the Muschamp era.

The SEC is loaded as usual, and while the Gators fully expect to be better than Year 1 under Muschamp, there are still plenty of question marks as fall camp approaches.

The Gators finished 7-6 a year ago, a win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl ensuring Muschamp that he would not make the kind of history no coach wants to make: Florida's first losing record since 1979.

The win provided a much-needed boost of optimism heading into the offseason, and that confidence has grown in the six months since Muschamp held the Gator Bowl trophy high above his head at Everbank Field on Jan. 2.

Muschamp spent Wednesday making the rounds here at the SEC Football Media Days, dressed in a dark suit and familiar orange tie that he often wears to special events.

Muschamp looked the same as Year 1. He sounded the same, too. However, his tone was more upbeat than we saw any other time following a loss to Alabama in the fifth game of last season.

The loss not only derailed Florida's 4-0 start, but it spun the Gators' season to a place Muschamp knew he had to avoid to have any chance of a big debut season in Gainesville.

When senior quarterback John Brantley dropped to the turf late in the first half against Alabama, a struggle ensued that lasted until the clock struck zero in Jacksonville in January.

"That really permeates and affects your entire football team when that happens," Muschamp said Wednesday. "That posed a lot of issues."

The kind of issues that Muschamp is banking on the Gators being better prepared to handle this season.

There is more depth, more experience and more talent. There is a new offensive coordinator, new offensive line coach, new strength-and-conditioning coordinator and bigger players thanks to a summer spent focused on bulking up in the weight room.

The Gators were outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter of SEC games a year ago, a point Muschamp stressed on more than one occasion Wednesday.

"A lot of that to me goes to the weight room," Muschamp said. "You have to be stronger, well-conditioned."

The Gators appear to have passed that test. Now they want to start passing the test on the field late in games. If that happens, maybe Muschamp will have a milestone moment in Year 2.

To get there the Gators know it will take a start-to-finish performance.

"We have to start fast," linebacker Lerentee McCray said. "I think now with our team and our chemistry and our experience, I think we are going to be able to start fast and keep it going and finish, so now we have the complete tools to be great."

Greatness requires much more than optimistic preseason chatter. It takes effort and discipline for four quarters -- a message Muschamp will remind his players over and over in the next few weeks leading up to the season opener Sept. 1 against Bowling Green.

The players have been around Muschamp long enough now to know what he expects.

"I see it as bringing the old mentality back to football," linebacker Jon Bostic said. "He wants the grind-it-out type of game with a good defense. That's one thing he has said from Day 1. He wants to be able to run the ball, and he wants to be able to play good defense."

How well the Gators do those things will largely determine if another 7-6 season is in store, or one worth more than a Gator Bowl trophy.

Of course, young quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett must perform well. The offensive line has to hold its ground. The defense needs to create more turnovers.

The list includes more factors for the kind of breakout season Florida fans are thirsty for after back-to-back seasons that produced only a 15-11 record. But at least the to-do list doesn't include nametags or questions about what the head coach expects.

That's victory No. 1.

"I think it's a much easier transition in Year 2 from the simple standpoint that everybody understands what's expected and where we're headed," Muschamp said. "I feel like I'm much more prepared just from the day-to-day operation of things that come across your desk as head coach.

"I do feel like we have built a very solid foundation for where we are headed."

The starting spot is already mapped out. They only have to look back at Year 1.

"We know what not do to," McCray said.

"He's the type of guy that looks for little things," Bostic added. "We've got to make sure we do the little things right."

The Gators hope doing the little things right from start to finish will lead to more wins. And who knows, maybe a milestone achievement in Year 2 for Muschamp.