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Preseason college football countdown: No. 16 Florida

The Gators have a new head coach in Will Muschamp and a schedule that resembles 'The Gauntlet' of 2006 when Florida went 13-1 and won the Bowl Championship Series title.

August 15, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Will Muschamp leads the Florida Gators onto the field for the spring game.
Will Muschamp leads the Florida Gators onto the field for the spring game. (Al Messerschmidt / Getty…)

Urban Meyer quit Florida once and came back, but it appears this retirement is going to stick.

At least until Ohio State beckons or USC emerges from its topical depression.

Meyer left Gainesville with two national titles, a 65-15 record, an 8-5 record last year and the program in the hands of some Muschump.

It's Will Muschamp, actually, someone you may not have heard of because he's never been a head coach.

Florida tried this before when Steve Spurrier left and the school hired Ron Zook, who was canned after three years for going 8-5 … twice.

Why should it be different this time?

Trust us; it just will be.

This feels more like the end of a beginning than the beginning of the end.

The Gators' fan base wasn't too keen on Meyer at first either, remember? He went 9-3 his first year and folks predicted gloom-and-doom for 2006, when the Gators faced a schedule dubbed "The Gauntlet."

It worked out. Florida went 13-1 and won the first of two Bowl Championship Series titles.

Muschamp hasn't been a head coach but worked under two of the best: Nick Saban and Mack Brown.

Muschamp was defensive coordinator for Saban's 2003 title team at Louisiana State, and most recently was coach-in-waiting at Texas. Muschamp, ultimately, couldn't wait Brown out.

When Meyer retired in December and Florida called, Muschamp answered.

He grew up in Gainesville but played for Georgia, which was surprisingly not deemed a conflict of interest.

"I'm a Florida guy," Muschamp says now.

The possibilities are intriguing. Florida is coming off a down year and left behind a shell-shocked quarterback, John Brantley, who had to replace Tim Tebow.

Brantley had a miserable year, as did offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who left to become head coach at Temple.

The wise men Muschamp worked under instilled, well, wisdom.

"Don't try to be something you're not," Muschamp says. "You hire good people to do their job. That's what I've done."

So Muschamp hired Charlie Weis, one of the top offensive minds in football (just ask him). Weis' tenure at Notre Dame failed, but not his reputation for developing pro-style quarterbacks. He called the plays Tom Brady used to win Super Bowls in New England and did a nice job at Notre Dame with Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.

Florida is junking the "spread" scheme that Meyer made famous and going with a pro-style attack.

Weis could end up being Brantley's big break.

"The way he coaches, drop back and play action, he's going to model the offense around what his players do best," Brantley says.

In Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, Florida has the kind of speed Weis could only dream about at Notre Dame.

The schedule is daunting: At LSU and South Carolina and home games against Alabama and Florida State.

You might call it "Gauntlet II."

And 8-5 is not something Gator Nation really accepts.

"Yeah," Muschamp says. "They told me."

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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