College football is a fickle business, and Florida head coach Will Muschamp has found that out the hard way.
Just one year ago, his Gators were coming off an 11-2 season, a berth in the Sugar Bowl and a season in which they danced on the periphery of the national title hunt all the way through rivalry weekend.
Fast forward 365 days, and he finds himself on the hottest seat in the SEC.
Of course, a 4-8 record, a loss at home to then-FCS Georgia Southern and a comedy of errors including the Gator-on-Gator blocking incident will do that to a coach.
Everybody will have a win total Muschamp has to hit to keep his job. That's a dangerous proposition for Muschamp, who, in addition to the tough intra-division schedule, permanent cross-division rivalry with LSU and intrastate rivalry with defending national champ Florida State, has to travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama in late September. The margin for error for Muschamp will be very thin, especially after a five-game stretch that features the Tide, Tennessee, LSU, Missouri and Georgia in the middle of the season.
Even a good Florida team could have a less-than-stellar record, which is why the win total should be just part of the equation. What does Muschamp need to do to stay employed?
|Florida 2014 Football Schedule|
|Aug. 30||Idaho||Gainesville, Florida|
|Sept. 6||Eastern Michigan||Gainesville, Florida|
|Sept. 13||Kentucky||Gainesville, Florida|
|Sept. 20||Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Alabama|
|Oct. 4||Tennessee||Knoxville, Tennessee|
|Oct. 11||LSU||Gainesville, Florida|
|Oct. 18||Missouri||Gainesville, Florida|
|Nov. 1||Georgia||Jacksonville, Florida (neutral)|
|Nov. 8||Vanderbilt||Nashville, Tennessee|
|Nov. 15||South Carolina||Gainesville, Florida|
|Nov. 22||Eastern Kentucky||Gainesville, Florida|
|Nov. 29||Florida State||Tallahassee, Florida|
This should be the bare minimum for this Florida team, and it doesn't necessarily ensure Muschamp's future employment depending on which eight games those wins are in and, perhaps more importantly, which four games are losses.
One bad loss for the Gators could send Muschamp packing in a hurry, and while the Gators won't be favored in eight games right out of the gate, that could change as the season progresses, especially if some of Muschamp's highly touted prospects live up to their potential.
Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com agrees that anything below eight wins sends Muschamp packing.
Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) June 13, 2014
To get to eight, Florida may have to upset a team along the way. But with the defense Florida boasts and the change to a more versatile offense that is predicated on athletes being athletes, that's not out of the question.
Progress on Offense
It wasn't just a big move for Muschamp to lure offensive coordinator Kurt Roper away from Duke, after he played a big part in what essentially was a football renaissance in Durham. It served notice that Muschamp swallowed his pride a bit, abandoning the pro-style offense he prefers in favor of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that Roper boasts.
A major step forward for Muschamp, but the scheme change absolutely has to work—and work in a hurry.
The Gators get three tuneups before the brutal five-game, midseason stretch, and they cannot hold anything back against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky. Florida needs to know right away not only what works on offense, but what doesn't, what's a work-in-progress and what needs to be ripped out of the playbook entirely.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel—formerly the No. 1 dual-threat prospect in the country in the class of 2011 ahead of Ohio State's Braxton Miller, UCLA's Brett Hundley and former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel—is a perfect fit for what Roper wants to do. He's accurate, can run and is comfortable with tempo.
"I really do like the tempo," Driskel told B/R in early June. "When you get in a tempo and don't huddle, you can really get into a groove as a quarterback. There were times in spring where I felt really comfortable and everything went smooth."
The one major issue is the downfield passing game, but Demarcus Robinson has the skills to be a weapon downfield, Quinton Dunbar has experience that can be valuable during the transition, and getting playmaker Andre Debose back healthy will work wonders for an offense that thrives when playmakers get the ball in space.
In The Discussion
Does Florida have to win the SEC East, even in what could be a "down year" by SEC standards? No. But they have to be in the discussion.
To be in the discussion, Florida needs to take care of those critical midseason division games against Tennessee and Missouri and head into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Georgia with a glimmer of hope of making it to the Georgia Dome Dec. 6.
If that happens, and the rivalry game with the Bulldogs Nov. 1 in Jacksonville means something within the division, it'll be a sign of progress. It would be incredibly beneficial for Muschamp if he beats his alma mater Georgia—a team he has failed to beat in his first three seasons in Gainesville.
Think about that for a second—Florida used to own Georgia to the tune of 18 of the previous 21 games.
But even if it's a loss, a Cocktail Party with real implications would serve as a sign of progress—especially after the Gators' brutal late-September and October schedule.
All is not lost in Gainesville. Muschamp recognized that he had to make a philosophical change on offense to stay employed, and it's one that could save his job.
But that margin for error is razor-thin, which will ratchet up the pressure in Gainesville from the moment toe meets leather in 2014.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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