The best programs in college football are those that find a way to be right in the middle of the BCS chase every season. Alabama is the school that immediately comes to mind. Nick Saban and the Tide have played in a BCS bowl to conclude four of the squad's past five seasons and won three national titles along the way.
This annual success represents the golden standard of the sport that every school strives to achieve.
Alabama may once again be on top of the mountain, but there are other teams in position to knock the Crimson Tide off the peak and establish their own footholds at the highest level.
One of those is the Florida Gators.
After a tumultuous two seasons immediately following the Tim Tebow era, the Gators took many by surprise and nearly made this past January's championship game. Some might be tempted to call Florida's 2012 success a fluke, but in reality there is reason for optimism in Gainesville. The current state of Gator football suggests that the team is ready to be a contender in seasons to come.
Here are four reasons why the Gators are in position to experience long-term success.
A team's on-field success starts with the man leading the charge. For the Gators, the lead commander is third-year head coach Will Muschamp. In two seasons, he has brought a team that some would have considered mediocre back to national prominence.
In the process, he has quickly established himself as one of the rising stars in the college coaching game.
Muschamp believes in the power of old-school, rough-and-tumble football. He prides himself on fielding a hard-nosed defense that can shut down opposing offenses and a running attack that can wear down opposing defenders. For a team with runners such as Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, this style lends itself to positive results.
More important than his scheme, however, is his personality. Sure, his moments of anger can be comical at times. However, they reflect the passion and drive he has to win football games. Much like his predecessor, Urban Meyer, Muschamp preaches accountability and discipline, and he is not afraid to call people out when these terms are violated. It is this type of coach that is needed to field a winning product year after year.
The Gators are lucky to have Muschamp running the show. Under his leadership, they can consistently be in the hunt.
Another emerging positive aspect of Will Muschamp is his ability to recruit. He and his staff put together a 2013 class that should make the Gators a contender in the immediate future. In addition, one can infer that more classes like this one are bound to arrive in Gainesville in the years to come.
Included in this vaunted 2013 class are Kelvin Taylor and Vernon Hargreaves III, both of whom were ranked among the top 10 overall prospects by ESPN. The Gators also loaded up at wide receiver and linebacker, two positions that lacked overall depth once last season ended. Throw in a bunch of playmakers at a variety of other positions, and the Gators now possess a class that can turn them into an absolute force.
Furthermore, the 2014 class is already starting to appear loaded with talent. The Gators have already snagged quarterback Will Grier and running back Dalvin Cook, not to mention other high-profile commits.
You need the talent to win games, especially in the SEC. The Gators should have plenty of it moving forward.
LSU is just one team in the loaded SEC West.
An added benefit for the Gators is their placement in the SEC East division. Because the East is the weaker of the two conference divisions overall, Florida will have an easier time winning with consistency and reaching the SEC title game than a few of its league counterparts.
The way the SEC is currently aligned, the Gators will be able to regularly face the lower-tier programs of the league as a divisional foe. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently a mess, and Missouri has catching up to do after its first year out of the Big 12. Also, Vanderbilt can never quite break through the final barrier and become a legitimate contender.
That leaves Georgia and South Carolina. Wins over these two programs will give the Gators an easy path to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU should theoretically knock one another out of contention during divisional play. Currently, any one of these three could defeat the other two on any given weekend. Furthermore, Ole Miss is on the rise after an awesome 2013 recruiting class.
Luckily for the Gators, they should only play one or two of these teams each season instead of needing to run the gamut against all of them.
This alignment and the division of power it presents should help the Gators in terms of both conference standings and poll rankings.
Matt Jones (left) began to emerge at the end of last season.
It's no secret that the Gators' defense and special teams repeatedly made the difference throughout their 11 victories last season. The main reason for this was Florida's offense, which was, well, consistently inconsistent.
If they were able to win 11 games last season, however, there is no telling what they can do with an improved offense.
The running game was not the problem. Simply put, Jeff Driskel struggled due to his own inexperience and the lack of weapons around him. With a full spring as the team's unquestioned starter under his belt, Driskel should improve as a passer. Assuming he stays for his senior season, he will also have a full year to develop chemistry with the talented freshman receivers that have arrived or are about to arrive on campus.
Furthermore, Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor should keep the running game at a high level.
The end result should be a dangerous attack with an effective balance of rushes and passes.
With talent in place and more on the way, the Gator offense should be a unit on the rise and eventually reach an elite level.