There has been a lot of talk around the Gator Nation about what expectations are for the upcoming season and what head coach Will Muschamp NEEDS to keep his job. Clearly, nobody but Jeremy Foley and maybe Muschamp know the latter and the first part is pure speculation on anyone’s part. So let’s do some speculating.
Yes, the schedule for 2014 is brutal. With games at Alabama and FSU as well as home games against LSU, Missouri and South Carolina this is as difficult a schedule as probably exists in Division I football next season. However, I think that talk of 6-6 being acceptable or at least marginally expected for 2014 is way out of line.
I am one of those who agree that the injuries last season were unbelievable and made the 4-8 season ALMOST explainable. Even so, Florida is NOT a middle of the SEC pack program. At least it isn’t supposed to be. A 6-6 record against ANY schedule would mean that Florida has indeed become a middle of the pack SEC team. That is not acceptable. It just isn’t. The University of Florida has too much at its disposal to be mediocre. One season can be reasoned away as an aberration. Back to back seasons are a pretty clear indication of who and what you really are.
Let’s take a closer look at the 2014 schedule. Florida has more talent than Tennessee or Vanderbilt. In fact, it really isn’t as close as it should be for Tennessee. That means that the Gators should be expected to win those two games. I’m not saying Florida will win them but they should be favored in both games. Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky should be sure wins (but then I would have said that about Georgia Southern last season). Throw in Kentucky and the Gators should be favored going into each of those six games, probably heavily in most. That means that Muschamp and staff need to find two wins out of Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri and FSU to reach what I would consider a reasonable record for 2014 as long as they don’t drop one to a lesser team.
In all likelihood, Florida will be the underdog in most, if not all, of those swing games. A good showing in the first half of the season could change that for Georgia and Missouri, and maybe even South Carolina. However, Florida is one of the elite coaching positions is all of college football and it pays accordingly. The Florida coach in his fourth year is expected to do better than just win the six “should win” games. I am not suggesting that he should go undefeated against that schedule but he should be able to pull out a couple of wins in those swing games.
I am guessing that it was strongly suggested to new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper that he would get two years to turn around the offense. Therefore, I think every effort will be made to give this staff the benefit of the doubt when reviewing the 2014 season in January. That means that a 6-6 record MIGHT buy the staff another season. It might not. A lot would depend on just how they got to 6-6.
What we have seen so far out of Will Muschamp is a 6-6 season followed by a decent bowl win, an 11-1 season followed by an embarrassing bowl loss and a 4-8 season. Assuming that the 6-6 season is merely the result of the transition from one staff to another with some very real issues carrying over from the previous staff, it leaves two drastically different seasons to base judgment of Muschamp upon. One of those two seasons would seem to be an aberration. 2014 is supposed to show the Gator Nation which one. In my opinion, anything less than 8-4 would suggest that the 11-1 season is the aberration and mediocrity is the norm. A 2014 record of 8-4 or better against this schedule would suggest to me that the 4-8 season was an aberration brought on by an incredible amount of injuries at very key positions and I would expect great things from the staff moving forward.
Spring practice and the spring game gave little to base any speculation on. Yes, the offense looked improved but they usually do in spring games. The quarterback play was still inconsistent but that really is to be expected while installing a new offense. Wide receiver play looked noticeably better and the offensive line looked at least adequate. I have seen nothing so far to make me expect anything less than stellar defensive play and the special teams problems of last season appear to be solved. There is every reason to believe that the Gators will make a huge stride back toward respectability in 2014. Only time will tell.