Rob Foldy-US PRESSWIRE
This year's Florida team was the most offensively-challenged team with double-digit wins in program history. So is it a bump in the road or a new brand of Florida football?
It's not unprecedented for a Florida team to be in contention for a national title almost entirely on the strength of its defense. Despite the offensive reputation that comes from Steve Spurrier's time in the Swamp and the height of the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow combination, the Gators have won a crystal football without much help from the other side of the ball before. See: 2006.
But the lack of offense in 2012 might be unprecedented for a Florida team with 10 or more wins. In fact, no team in the history of Florida's program has ever won 10 games while averaging fewer than 6.1 yards per play -- until this year's team did it while averaging 5.3 yards per play. Only one team has ever won at least 10 games on fewer than 5,000 total yards -- the 1997 team did so with 4,634 yards -- before this year's team had 11 victories on 4,347 yards.
And the good Florida teams, the really good ones, have often done even better. The 1996 national championship team averaged 7.1 yards per play and piled up 6,047 yards. The 2008 title-winning team also averaged 7.1 yards a play for 6,231 yards. Even the 2009 near-miss team, much criticized for its seeming inability to recapture its predecessor's magic, had 6,410 yards of total offense for 7.0 yards per play. Only the 2006 team won a title with fewer than 6,000 total yards -- 5,545 -- and fewer than 7.0 yards a play -- 6.3.
That avalanche of numbers is to show just how rare this team is in the Gators' history. And why it seems so hard to fit this team into our usual understanding of Florida football. Take the most Spurrieresque margin of the 2012 season, ironically enough the 44-11 shellacking of South Carolina. Florida generated 183 yards of total offense in that game and was able to run up its huge margin because of the defense helping the Gamecocks self-destruct.
All of which raises an intriguing question of its own: Is this how Will Muschamp is going to win at Florida for years to come, and how well will that sit with Florida fans if it is? The 2011 team wasn't that dissimilar in terms of production -- it actually generated slightly more yardage on a per-play basis, at 5.4. You're tempted to say that any fan base that's constantly winning 10 games a season will be happy -- until you remember the barrage of criticism that often came from even friendly quarters during the 2009 slog to the Sugar Bowl.
The work of restoring some of the polish to the Florida offense will fall to Brent Pease -- who has made it clear that he's not eager to move anywhere right now. Pease will at least have the stability that comes from a clear front-runner at quarterback: Jacoby Brissett is off to N.C. State, meaning Jeff Driskel is almost certainly the guy no matter what happens.
If Pease can succeed, there might be little to keep Will Muschamp from becoming the latest Florida coach to win a national title. But if the offense continues to slog along, and Muschamp's defense continues to win anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens in Gainesville. Muschamp might just win that crystal football anway -- after having completely redefined how to do so at Florida.