Florida coach Will Muschamp didn't sound like a coach on the hot seat when he talked to reporters about his expectations for 2014. Coming off a 4-8 year that was Florida's first losing season since 1979, Muschamp certainly felt the heat at the end of 2013 but he listed six reasons why he thinks Florida will be much improved.
"I don't feel any different pressure at all," Muschamp said. "We didn't have a good year and it was very unfortunate in what happened but I have complete confidence in where we are heading. Number one, we are as deep and talented at running back and receiver as we've been. Jeff Driskel is going to have an outstanding year. I feel very comfortable in the first five to seven offensive linemen and I think we have the ingredients on defense to be really good. Our kick game, I think we have two punters that have NFL legs. So I feel real good about our football team heading into the fall. You've got to stay healthy, have the ball bounce your way and some obvious things but I have a lot of confidence in where we are what we're doing, no question."
It's highly unlikely Muschamp and the Gators will have to endure a string of injuries anything close to what they experienced last year. With four highly regarded recruiting classes under his belt, Muschamp has a team that he has hand picked. The depth and the talent should be at a level capable of winning in the Southeastern Conference so if the health issues can be avoided, the Gators should be much improved.
If there is something to be concerned about, however, it is the schedule. Florida has one of the two or three toughest schedules in the SEC and one of the ten toughest in all the country. Florida could be as improved a team as there is in the SEC and still go only 7-5 next year.
Would that be acceptable to Florida fans who are still feeling a bit chippy after last year's 4-8 mark?
Remember Tuesday when Les Miles said the Southeastern Conference coaches were 100% in support of early signing? Well, apparently the athletic directors and presidents of SEC institutions don't think that's the greatest idea in the world. So there will be no early signing date, although the SEC is putting together a contingency plan just in case the Collegiate Commissioners Association votes to enact early signing when it meets next month. Under the contingency, the league favors a first Monday after Thanksgiving but only for players who haven't taken an official visit.
The problem with an early signing date is that nobody seems to have a model that everyone can agree works well. May is too soon because June is camp month. July is a problem because that's the only time head coaches and assistants get to take their vacations. August is a problem because fall practice is about to begin and recruiting is suddenly a huge distraction. Coaches complain that an early signing date during the season or even after Thanksgiving puts too much emphasis on recruiting when they're trying to get through a season.
None of this is new. It's been discussed at length for the last five years and nobody has come up with a proposal that has compelling reasons for everyone to get behind it. An early signing date is probably a good idea for kids who know what they want to do and really don't want the hassle of coaches calling them, trying to flip them from their commitments, but until the coaches can find a way to make it convenient it really isn't going to happen.
1. Amari Cooper, Alabama: He is the consummate deep threat. He can get open with his speed, his moves or a combination of both. Caught 45 passes for 736 yards and four touchdowns last year and has 103 catches for 1,735 yards and 15 scores in his career.
2. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State: It seems the only people who know about Lewis other than the folks in Starkville are SEC defensive coordinators. All he did last year was catch 64 passes for 923 yards and five touchdowns. He also scored three rushing touchdowns and threw for three more.
3. Sammie Coates, Auburn: He gets single coverage a lot because Auburn's option game is so good. No safety? Bad mistake. He caught 42 passes for 922 yards (21.5 per catch) and seven touchdowns last year.
4. Shaq Roland, South Carolina: The lights went on in the second half of the season when he started making the tough catches across the middle and showed he can get deep. His numbers – 25 catches for 455 yards and five touchdowns – are expected to double or perhaps triple this year.
5. Malcome Kennedy, Texas A&M: He was the slot guy last year when he caught 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns. He moves outside this year and is expected to be the go to guy in a very sophisticated passing game.
6. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: He played in the slot where he caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. He moves outside this year where he's expected to put up better numbers.
7. Chris Conley, Georgia: When Georgia's top two receivers went down with season-ending injuries last year, Conley stepped up and delivered with 45 catches for 651 yards and four touchdowns.
8. DeAndrew White, Alabama: At most schools he would be the #1 option. He was Alabama's #3 last year and still caught 32 balls for 534 yards and four touchdowns. With Cooper on one side, he will get a lot of single coverage this year and put up some pretty monster numbers.
9. Damiere Byrd, South Carolina: He has the blazing speed. If he can become a better route runner and make the tough catches he will vastly improve his 33 catches, 574 yards and four touchdowns of last season.
10. Michael Bennett, Georgia: Bennett might be the league's most dependable receiver when it comes to catching the ball no matter where it's thrown and always getting the first down. He had 41 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns last year and has career numbers of 99 catches for 1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Southeastern Conference's string of seven consecutive national championships in football was broken when Florida State scored in the closing seconds to upend Auburn back in January. That streak, says SEC commissioner Mike Slive, won't ever be broken. Speaking to Tony Barnhart on a question and answer session on the SEC website (secdigitalnetwork.com), Slive said, "I don't think anyone is going to win seven straight national championships again – unless it's us." What might prevent the SEC or anyone else from putting together such an impressive streak again will be the playoff, especially when it expands beyond the current four-game format. Consider this for a moment: When UCLA won seven NCAA basketball titles and 10 in 12 years under John Wooden? The first nine were won with UCLA only having to play two NCAA games to get to the Final Four and the tenth (1975) saw the Bruins only have to play three games prior to the Final Four. While basketball and football are totally different sports, tournament play is still tournament play. The more games you play, the fewer chances you have of winning a title. When the playoff expands, first to eight and then to 16 teams which you know it will because of the increased revenues, the chances that any conference will dominate the way the SEC did will be greatly diminished.
How long do you think it will take the NCAA to expand the playoff from the current four to at least eight teams?
One of the most anticipated albums of 1969 was "Blind Faith" the album by the same name of the super group formed by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. It was an extraordinary album that left Clapton and Winwood fans begging for more, particularly after their first tour, but when they got back to England late in the year, both Clapton and Winwood went their separate ways. This is "Can't Find My Way Back Home" from that one extraordinary album.