One year makes a big difference

HOOVER, Ala. -- Will Muschamp walked into The Wynfrey Hotel last July as one of the coaching stars in the Southeastern Conference. On Monday, he’ll return prepared for multiple questions about the stability of his job heading into the 2014 season.

Last year was different. Will Muschamp had just led the Florida program to an 11-win season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl, one win short of the SEC Title game and a chance to play for the national title. The Gators were welcoming a top-10 recruiting class to campus and had momentum leading them into the star of fall camp.

Muschamp received an extension after his first season in Gainesville and a pay raise after the Sugar Bowl appearance following 2012. The momentum was continuing and looked to be only beginning.

And then the bottom fell out last fall.

The Gators were slowed by injury after injury, ending the season on an eight-game losing streak, missing a bowl game and losing multiple top targets on the recruiting trail because of it. To add insult to injury for the Florida program, Florida State ended the season with a national title behind a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.

In one year, the Gators have gone from the hot school with the young, up-and-coming coach to the punch line to most college football jokes after a season that saw everything possible go wrong. Florida lost to an FCS team, lost its third straight game to archrival Georgia and turned even first downs into a minor miracle.

The offensive production has to change. It’ll likely be a feature topic when Muschamp takes the podium on Monday, discussing the decision to make a change before ultimately hiring Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to fix the Florida offense.

The early returns on Roper’s offense and coaching ability are positive, but that’s usually the case after a coordinator finishes his first spring. They all rave about how much the players were able to handle in installation and that the team is ready to explode in the scheme this fall. If anything else was said, it would send the fan base into a panic, which Florida needs to avoid at all costs this summer.

Still, that shouldn’t deter optimism. Roper’s track record and success as an offensive coordinator and play caller proves that he knows what he is doing. Can he save the Florida offense this fall? That’s yet to be determined, but the Gators look like they have a more capable option coaching that side of the ball than they have at any other time under Muschamp.

For those who don’t believe in Muschamp’s coaching ability, nothing he can say on Monday will change that. The struggles last season have turned most into ‘wait and see’ mode with the Florida program, and it’s hard to blame anyone for that attitude.

Monday is a start at correcting things. It’s the first time Muschamp gets in front of the national media and has a chance to sell the turnaround of the program. There’s still time before fall camp opens on August 3 when things really get started, but Monday signals that the time for answers is almost here.

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