Will Muschamp has mentioned it about a half-dozen times since the 2011 season ended. Florida is 15-11 over the past two years.
For a program that put together a 35-6 run that included a pair of SEC and BCS National Championships from 2006-08, the fall from prominence was an abrupt and ugly one.
A rift between underclassmen and upperclassmen was exposed by players and coaches following the 2010 season, and players promised there were no such issues heading into the 2011 season.
Wide receiver Quinton Dunbar said Thursday those were empty promises, and the team still had clear chemistry issues last season.
“I felt like we wasn’t together last year or the year before that, and we wasn’t a family,” Dunbar said. “There definitely wasn’t enough communication last year.”
The freshman class that came in with a sense of entitlement in 2010 will make up the core of this year’s team, led by a bevy of potential stars on defense, which ranked in the Top 10 nationally a year ago.
However, it’s the playmakers on offense that need to step up, Dunbar included. The redshirt sophomore knows he has to be more productive, and he put the onus on the offense to improve enough to win more games.
“It’s on the offense. We have to step up,” he said. “Continue to work hard and continue to come together and getting the offense down pat. If we get those things then we’ll be alright.”
The Gators finished the 2011 season ranked 105th nationally in total offense, while ending the season ranked 71st nationally in scoring offense.
Coach Will Muschamp openly questioned his team’s toughness, and one of the major points of emphasis in spring football is on improving mental and physical toughness. That starts in the weight room, where new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman has been tasked with changing the culture of the program.
The new coordinator has been responsible for some of the turnaround Dunbar has already seen in team chemistry.
“Dillman is a great guy,” Dunbar said. “He put forth emphasis for us to come together in the weight room.”
Above and beyond Dillman’s influence, Dunbar and the rest of the Gators just seem sick of losing. The air of superiority and dominance that surrounded the program while it was at the pinnacle of college football a few years ago is gone.
Replacing it is frustration, anguish and a burning desire to simply get better.
“Just losing motivated me, because I don’t like to lose,” Dunbar said.
Asked if there were any losses from Florida’s 7-6 season that stuck out or hurt the most to him, Dunbar replied quickly.
“All of them,” he said. “I don’t like to lose, so all of them. Every loss stuck with me.”
Players say they’ve taken it upon themselves to talk to each other more to work out any issues that might come up during the grind of a college football season. As the players have grown up, they say they’ve learned to be better teammates to each other.
“This offseason, I feel like we’ve bonded together,” Dunbar said. “We’ve had meetings, different things. If we didn’t like something, we let each other know and we sorted our differences.”
After playing the 2011 season with an attrition-ravaged roster, the Gators will enter 2012 with a much fuller complement of players. Muschamp has some depth in the trenches, which he said was one of his biggest issues a year ago.
Florida’s recruiting has remained top-notch despite the struggles on the field the past two years, so Dunbar and the Gators aren’t making any excuses.
“We have too many talented guys to not be winning,” he said. “We felt like for us to win, we have to be more of a team. We have to communicate more, come more together than the past.
“I strongly believe this season will be different.”
Florida fans want to believe Dunbar. But after two years of mediocrity, most will wait until they see the improvement on the field.
After all, words can be empty. The 2011 season was proof.