That’s essentially what the Gators did to The Swamp in their 54-32 “win” against Division 1-AA Furman yesterday, when Florida only out-gained the Paladins by seven yards and had to overcome a 22-7 deficit. The win may well be the low point in a forgettable two-year stretch of this program’s recent history — especially because UF needed the win just to ensure bowl eligibility.
And further, the game cast a long shadow over Muschamp, whose first year as a head coach has been a rocky one. To be sure, plenty of the blame falls on Muschamp for the Gators’ 6-5 record, which marks their first losing SEC record since 1986 and most SEC losses since 1979. After all, he is the head coach.
But there’s another culprit on the loose: Meyer.
Nearly a year ago, Meyer left Florida to spend more time with his family. Since then, he’s enjoyed a busy workload as a commentator for ESPN, a job that surely allows for more family time but is far from a true retirement. At any rate, it’s clear that he wasn’t ready for a full separation from football, and now the rumors are swirling that he’s in talks with Ohio State.
Whether he returns to coaching next year, the year after or never, Meyer is looking more and more like the CEO who resigned before his company went bankrupt.
He left Muschamp a handful of men surrounded by a roster of boys — prospects told they were God’s gift to the program that was God’s gift to football. But most of those highly touted recruits are still far from SEC Championship caliber. This isn’t like Meyer’s 2007 team, which struggled mightily on defense and then morphed into what I consider the best college football team of my lifetime the next year. That on-going improvement hasn’t been there this season, and I don’t see the core nucleus of players that Muschamp would need to turn UF back into a winner in the next two years.
That’s the other problem Meyer left for Muschamp: time. New coaches get a free pass for a few years in order to recruit and develop their own players, but Meyer raised the bar by winning a national title in his second season. He didn’t leave Muschamp the talent for such a miracle. Depending on how recruiting goes, there may not even be enough to earn a trip to the SEC title game by 2013, and that could be the end of the line for Muschamp.
Look up and down the roster. How many names would you be willing to guarantee will make good NFL players? I’ll take defensive tackle Jaye Howard and running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey as my top three. I’m not even sure about any of them, and they’re all gone after this season.
The rest of the gang is still too undeveloped to make a call like that. My next grouping would be safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, followed by the guys who haven’t quite found a way to turn their physical talents into consistent production, for various reasons. Receiver Andre Debose and tight end Jordan Reed are apparently a few playbook study sessions away from stardom. Defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell are still just flashes of potential (albeit bright flashes). Running back Mike Gillislee and tight end/receiver Omarius Hines appear to have insulted Charlie Weis‘ wife or something, because they never get the ball (there’s only one way into his good graces — start cooking boys).
Of the above crew and those that I left out, probability dictates that some will be studs next year, some will be forgettable, and some will get arrested or transfer. But the point is, this is the least-promising roster Florida has had in a while. There’s a solid chance you’ll hear someone say the following words with a straight face: “Man, I wish we could have John Brantley and Deonte Thompson for another year.” That says a lot about where the program stands.
Forget winning for a while, and don’t even try to throw around the word “reloading.” The Gators are in rebuilding mode.
Maybe Muschamp is capable of getting UF back on track, and maybe he isn’t. But it will take time to fix it, and thanks to Meyer, Muschamp has little time to accomplish a task that’s bigger than we thought.