Florida flirted with rock-bottom for the better part of two months this season. The Gators reached it with a thud this past Saturday, when the team suffered a home loss to FCS opponent Georgia Southern.
A downward spiral in Gainesville features six straight losses, significant coaching staff uncertainty and may ultimately jeopardize Florida's impressive 2014 recruiting class. Less than one year removed from a Sugar Bowl appearance, the program is in peril.
The Gators are days away from facing longtime foe Florida State, presenting an opportunity for the unbeaten Seminoles to rub salt in an open wound. Despite immense struggles, head coach Will Muschamp is expected to return in 2014, according to Orlando Sentinel reporters Ed Thompson and Mike Bianchi.
"It’s my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed," Muschamp told the Sentinel following a stinging 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern.
If the third-year coach is unable to convince recruits that he truly is the right man to remedy a messy situation, the Gators may stumble on the way to national signing day.
Muschamp laid out his sales pitch to committed players during a recent conversation with The Gainesville Sun.
It’s still the University of Florida. I think there’s some obvious reasons why we are where we are. We’re a team that won 11 games last year, and I don’t think that happened by accident. We have a really good football staff. We have some good players on our football team. We’re going to have a good football team moving forward. So at the end of the day, this is a great education and it’s a great place to come compete.
Few teams are in dire need of an infusion of elite young talent more than Florida. The Gators currently hold 15 commitments in its 2014 recruiting class, which is ranked 12th nationally by 247Sports.
It becomes more apparent with each passing defeat that Florida must maintain these pledges in order to begin a rebound process next season. There are several commits capable of contributing immediately, particularly on offense.
Quarterback Will Grier (Davidson, N.C.) would undoubtedly have an opportunity to compete for playing time as a true freshman. The 5-star prospect has passed for 14,500 yards and 195 touchdowns since his sophomore season, per MaxPreps.
He is slated to team up with fellow 5-star recruits Dalvin Cook (running back; Miami, Fla.) and Ermon Lane (wide receiver; Homestead, Fla.). 4-star receiver J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla.) is also a key member of the class.
A Gators offensive attack averaging 19.9 points per game (112th nationally) is desperate for these playmakers, who each pledged to Florida prior to the 2013 season. The commits have to feel confident in their chances to play early, but the offensive coaching staff could look completely different by the time national signing day arrives.
Muschamp, who is 22-15 since taking over the program in 2011, may be spared from the chopping block, but several of his assistants are likely to suffer a different fate following a supremely disappointing season. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is certainly on the hot seat, and he's played a personal role in recruiting several of the team's top targets.
The good news for Gators fans is Grier seemingly remains undaunted by the struggles. Quarterbacks often takes on the role of recruiting ringleader in classes across the country and he's no exception.
Grier expressed excitement about spending his career in The Swap earlier this month while watching the Gators in action at South Carolina. He shared those sentiments on Twitter during a 19-14 Gamecocks victory.
Grier is expected to arrive on campus next semester and participate in spring practice. He aimed to fire up fellow Florida commits Quincy Wilson (4-star safety; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Lane the day after Florida suffered its fifth straight loss.
Muschamp and his staff should appreciate the enthusiasm. Grier is even busy recruiting uncommitted players, including 4-star wide receiver Eric Lauderdale (Mission Viejo, Calif.).
Despite a lost season in Gainesville, the Gators clearly have unyielding loyalty from the nation's most accomplished quarterback. 4-star defensive tackle Khairi Clark echoed the excitement to make his mark in Gainesville.
Perhaps it's because Grier, Clark and company know they could be in the mix to start from day one, and that's essentially Muschamp's most valuable selling point right now.
Florida's roster is riddled with question marks and it's shown throughout a rough autumn. Current Gator commits understand they'll be counted on mightily to help resurrect a program that recently claimed two national titles.
3-star guard Travaris Dorsey kept things in perspective while reviewing the present state of Florida football.
“Everybody is going to have their ups and downs," he told Orlando Sentinel reporter Chris Hayes after the Georgia Southern loss. "You’re going to have your bad years sometimes. You can’t just look at that.”
If Muschamp survives the firestorm, he knows he'll need to rely on this current crop of recruits. After a showdown against Florida State in the season finale, getting these players on campus is the most important element of his ambitions to "fix" Florida.