As spring football comes to a close, you’ve heard every opinion of standout players from Gator Country staff to your next-door neighbor. All along one integral player’s name has yet to make an appearance, quarterback Jeff Driskel. I, myself, am cautiously optimistic about the progress the junior quarterback has made, as I’m sure much of Gator Nation is as well. The question I ask though is, what do the Gators need from Jeff Driskel to be successful? How good does he need to be to make the Gators a national title contender?
When Will Muschamp first stepped onto the Florida campus and looked to change the spread offense to a traditional pro style approach, many fans were hesitant to believe in the new head coach’s tactics. The Urban Meyer spread offense decimated defenses across the SEC during a majority of his tenure and was the Gators moneymaker en route to two national championship seasons. A look around the country saw schools like Oregon and Oklahoma lighting up the scoreboards with prolific offenses, all the while racking up W’s on the schedule year in and year out.
But after a surprising 11-2 season and a deeper look into the realm of college football, the spread offense may not be all it’s hyped to be. Sure the spread can be effective in the right hands; players like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Cam Newton and Reggie Bush all thrived in college as they were cut to the ideal mold of a spread offense. Those talented players captured the ultimate goal of national championships, but how often do players of their caliber come around a university.
Let’s take a look at recent history.
- In 2006, the Gators found the promise land with a national title in Urban Meyer’s second year in Gainesville. The Gators ran an unconventional dual-quarterback system with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. At times, the new spread offense wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world to watch but it got the job done at the end of the day, combined with a suffocating Florida defense that ranked seventh in the country in total defense.
- 2007 marked another banner year for the SEC, as LSU captured the national title behind another dominant defense and dual quarterback system. The LSU offense was far from pretty, as they sputtered in several games with quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux running the show. Where they excelled was in the run game with running back Keiland Williams, who paved the way for the Tigers to average over 200yds rushing per game. As has been the LSU calling card in recent years, they simply lined up and smashed teams in the mouth all the way to a national title.
- No Gator fan will ever forget 2008. The Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin dynamic duo combined with an NFL caliber Florida defense, dominated opponents all year long. In a national title match between two explosive spread offenses in Oklahoma and Florida, defense stole the show once again as the Gators held the nations top scoring offense to a season low 14 points on their way to a 24-14 win and their second national title in three years.
- Nick Saban got revenge on the Gators in the 2009 SEC Championship game as Alabama punished Florida with Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram and a steady game manager in quarterback Greg McElroy. That combo, as well as a sure handed Julio Jones at receiver, was enough to propel the offense alongside their number one ranked total defense to a National Title win over Texas.
- 2010 was all about the Cam Newton show. The one-time Florida Gator dominated college football all season long. The Auburn Tigers roughed up a flashy Oregon offensive juggernaut team in the National Title game to secure another championship for the SEC.
- The past two years have been all Crimson Tide once again. Sure enough, how have the Tide done it? A combo of chain moving running backs in Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon alongside a smart, efficient quarterback in A.J. Mccaron. Not to forget a defense that is simply devastating to opponents year in and year out. The Tide have bolstered the nation’s first and second ranked defenses the past two years, respectively.
All that being said, being a Miami Dolphins fan makes it tough for me to spit out anything nice to say about college football warlord Nick Satan, I mean Saban. Say what you will though, the guy knows how to make a winning college football program. How have the Crimson Tide been able to win three out of the last four national tittles? It’s simple really, smash mouth football on both sides of the ball.
In watching Alabama recently, two specific instances replay in my brain. The first came in 2011 when the Crimson Tide came to Gainesville. Florida was in rebuild mode at the time but despite an exciting start to the game for the Gators, Alabama trounced Florida in the Swamp. They imposed their will in every way on a team that simply couldn’t match up with them physically. A display of domination you may have also seen if you tuned into the Tide’s victory over Notre Dame in the National Title game this past year.
The other moment was the Tide’s 2012 come from behind victory over LSU in the waning minutes of the game. The media was determined to highlight the effort of quarterback A.J. Mccarron but the play of the game was a screen pass that your’s truly could have easily thrown, as T.J. Yeldon made a couple nifty moves on his way to the end zone.
Let me stop making your blood form boiling with all the Alabama and Nick Saban talk. My point in all of this is that I believe Will Muschamp came to Gainesville with the intention to build the Gators into an Alabama-type program. I don’t believe Jeff Driskel needs to be the Tim Tebow a lot of fans want him to be. Muschamp has designed his team in a fashion that his quarterback doesn’t need to be an all star, just a game manager.
I can confidently predict that if Florida has another Heisman trophy winner while Will Muschamp is head coach, it will not be a quarterback. What the Gators need out of Driskel is a smart, efficient, leader. They need a quarterback who can make a timely throw and not commit costly mistakes in the process. I certainly don’t give my complete confidence in Driskel just yet, but I believe he is certainly capable of being the quarterback Florida needs. So let us all move on from the past and welcome a new age of Florida football. Gone are the days of star players and flashy offenses. This is a team that will continue to squeeze the life out of teams with their defense while wearing down opposing defenses with a grueling ground game. At the end of the day, it might just be the right formula to bring another crystal ball back to Gainesville.
What that recap shows me is that national titles as of recent, have been the result of two different motives. Some teams have found glory thanks to unreal athletes that only come around college football every couple years, much less any particular program. The spread offense can undoubtedly be prolific but it has only achieved the ultimate goal as a result of once-in-a-liftetime type players. The spread offense is an unstable monster that can be productive just as fast as it can be futile, something Gator fans know all too well.
It is unquestionably beneficial to have an athletic playmaker on your team but that cannot guarantee continued success for any program. Steady success in recent history has relied on two components, good defense and a strong running game. Every team to win the national championship since 2007 has had a top 15 defense nationally and averaged over 200yds per game rushing.
Even if all the pieces aren’t there on offense, if you play the right cards in a creative way, you can make it work. We all knew what Florida was getting with Coach Boom. Muschamp is a passionate, high-energy coach who is determined to turn Florida into a defensive-oriented, physically dominant team. With recent recruiting success and a maturing quarterback, the master plan for Muschamp might not be too far away in the future.