GAINESVILLE FL - DECEMBER 14: Former defensive coordinator for the University of Texas Will Muschamp speaks to the media after being introduced as the head coach of the University of Florida on December 14 2010 in Gainesville Florida. Muschamp is replacing Urban Meyer who resigned on December 8 after a 7-5 season. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Last year's Florida team was a complete mess.
It had a previously very hands-on head coach trying to learn how to become a CEO head coach. The guy assigned picked up the slack already had too much on his plate between being offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Some of the veterans decided to be really hard on the hyped true freshmen to put them in their place or something, leading to a rift in the team that might not ever have gotten fixed.
The new offensive plan that was practiced all off season basically got scrapped after the fifth game, and it was replaced by a grab bag of disparate concepts that never congealed. The defense did its best to hold on, but it was never going to be elite when 80% of the starters were either young guys learning on the job or veterans who had no shot of being drafted. It was always going to be a transitional year what with the core of the 2008-09 teams having left, but the problems at hand went much deeper than mere transitional issues.
Florida has 72 scholarship players for this fall, but it's really 71 given Neiron Ball's medical condition. That includes all of the true freshman, some of who will probably redshirt. If eight of them don't see the field, UF will effectively have the numbers of a team from the I-AA level where the scholarship limit is 63.
Into that situation steps Will Muschamp, first time head coach. Boom knows the SEC, having spent plenty of time at LSU and Auburn, but now he's running the show. He's decided to transition the offense from a spread variant to the pro-set, and he picked Charlie Weis to do it. The rest of the staff is composed of NFL guys, two holdovers from Urban Meyer's staff, one former Gator player, and a trio of guys with a combined eight years of non-GA coaching experience between them.
As Muschamp famously said in his opening press conference, no one is going to feel sorry for the Gators. The collection of guys who are there are good on paper, and it's this new staff's job to make them good on the field.
On offense, it all starts with the quarterback position. If Weis can't resurrect the career of John Brantley, who by all pre-2010 accounts can be a fine quarterback, it will be true freshman Jeff Driskel's time. Chris Rainey earned rave reviews at running back in the spring, but every other guy at the position was either hurt or running track. The offensive line is talented but not deep, and it only has two guys with any real starting experience. Perhaps the biggest reclamation project is at receiver, where there are just nine scholarship guys for the fall. Of them one has a bad case of the drops (Deonte Thompson), one can't stay healthy (Andre Debose), one is a true freshman (Ja'Juan Story), and most of the rest have played sparingly.
The defense is a different story, and it will have to carry the team. Thanks to the monster 2010 recruiting class, the defensive line looks as good as it has since 2006. The options at linebacker haven't blossomed into stars just yet, but Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins looked good in extensive action as second year players last season. The secondary was in better hands before Janoris Jenkins smoked himself off the team, but every position will be manned by someone who played a lot of snaps last year.
It will be that defense, which is the new boss' specialty, that will need to carry the team through a rough 2011 schedule. It should be a little better than last year's D, and it will need to be. This fall's offense might end up worse than last year's statistically thanks to transitioning schemes and inexperience, and that's before you account for things like injuries and potentially another bad season from Brantley.
Despite all of last year's issues, the team continued its streak of being the only team since the divisional split in 1992 not to finish a season under .500 in conference play. Given the transitional issues and rebuilding state of the program, that streak is in serious jeopardy this fall. Can Muschamp keep it going? That's perhaps the big story for the Gators in 2011.