There isn’t a kind way to say it, but what we thought was a Cinderella story just a couple of years ago when there was national title talk when the Gators headed into Florida-Georgia week has turned into The Nightmare on Gale Lemerand Drive. The buzzards are circling high above the Florida football complex where even Will Muschamp admits there is a “bunker mentality.”
How could things go this bad in such a short period of time? How is it that the Gators were a Jordan Reed fumble at the goal line away from an unbeaten season two years ago and now they’ve lost 10 of their last 13 games? How could it unravel so quickly for Muschamp, who was such a hot commodity just a few years ago that Mack Brown named him the coach in waiting at Texas?
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley can say until he’s blue in the face that he will wait until the end of the year to evaluate Muschamp and then will make a decision based on the direction he perceives the program is going, but even Foley can sense what is going on. He didn’t earn the reputation as one of the two or three best athletic directors in the country by being naïve.
Foley knows what he will inevitably have to do and yet he hasn’t pulled the plug yet as if he’s waiting for a miracle of Biblical proportions, which is what it would take for Muschamp and the Gators to turn this season around. You have to figure for Muschamp to be the coach in 2015 that the Gators would need to go no worse than 4-1, which would mean beating either Georgia or Florida State, and the loss would have to churn stomachs and permanently drain all the white out of every Gator fan’s knuckles.
And what are the odds that happens: 10%?
That might be generous. You might find it difficult to get anything better than 1% odds in Vegas.
Some Gator fans and even some in the media think the end is a matter of days away. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel wrote earlier in the week, “Muschamp has lost 10 of his last 13 games and never has won a Florida-Georgia game as a player at Georgia (0-4) or as a coach at UF (0-3). He’s going to be fired; it just hasn’t been announced yet. I suspect the official announcement will come Sunday after the Gators get destroyed by the Dawgs.”
As much as you know Foley would hate to go back on his statement that nothing would happen until after the final whistle of the final game, you have to wonder if a second straight beatdown and a fourth straight loss to Georgia would be his tipping point. Foley definitely wants to stand by his man and while he might wish to give Muschamp another four weeks on the job, he might have no other choice but to terminate because of the potential damage to recruiting. Right now, Georgia is cleaning up on the recruiting trail. So is Florida State, which is unbeaten and in the hunt for a second straight national championship. Can the Gators afford to fall further behind?
If the Gators do fall further behind Georgia and FSU on the recruiting trail, the Florida is in danger of becoming about as relevant as Tennessee has been since firing Phil Fulmer in 2008. Since then, the Vols have gone through two coaches and the third – Butch Jones – has a struggle on his hands to avoid his second straight losing season and the fifth straight for a Tennessee program that not so long ago was consistently one of the top four in the country.
At what point do you decide that if you allow even one more shovel full of dirt that the hole has been dug so deep that the Florida football program is the mirror image of what Tennessee has become?
What makes all this so difficult is because Will Muschamp is indeed a good guy who does so much right. He’s got the discipline thing down to a science. His guys go to class and they graduate. He doesn’t point the finger at anyone except himself when things go bad. He doesn’t embarrass the University of Florida like that coach in Tallahassee by making public statements that his quarterback is a high character guy when it’s one incident after another that slimes his own reputation and that of the school that employs him.
Muschamp is a good guy. Nobody will argue that. The problem is he hasn’t won nearly enough and that is the unpardonable sin at a school where championships in every sport are expected. At Florida you either win championships or you’re looking for gainful employment somewhere else. Barring something unexpected in the next four weeks, this will be Muschamp’s fourth straight year without an SEC East championship and it could be a second straight season without a bowl game. That’s a bitter pill when you consider how weak the SEC East has been the last five years and just how strong UF was in 18 of the previous 21 years before Muschamp arrived on the scene.
The buzzards are circling. The Nightmare on Gale Lemerand Drive is going to come to an end although nobody but Foley knows exactly when. It’s sad because every Gator wanted Muschamp to be the Cinderella story, the local kid who made good by fulfilling his childhood dream of winning championships as the head football coach at the University of Florida.
But just as the clock struck midnight for Cinderella, it’s about to strike midnight for Will Muschamp, too.
Stewart Mandel, the outstanding college football columnist for Fox Sports, says that like it or not, the NCAA has no choice but to take harsh measures to deal with North Carolina and its more than 20 years of pushing athletes through using sham classes. Considering more than 1,200 athletes are involved, most of them football and basketball players, the NCAA can’t run away from this one. Mandel says:
“The NCAA has no choice but to deliver a stern punishment to North Carolina or risk losing all credibility whenever Emmert or its leaders talk big about the importance of academics. But what that punishment will be is anyone’s guess.”
Mandel went on to say:
“Whatever the punishment, it has to effectively send the message that academics, more than anything else, cannot be compromised for the sake of athletics success. The cynics will say that already happens, that there’s jock majors and easy classes at every school. Maybe so, but we don’t know that.
We only know what happened at UNC. And if the NCAA does not demonstrate the extent of its disincentive, then it does risk what happened at UNC happening everywhere else.”
This is funny and I don’t have to make this stuff up. Florida State arrived a day early for the Seminoles’ Thursday night showdown on the road with Louisville. Practice was held in a public park and when it was over the fun began. When the Seminoles left the park they walked right past a Joe’s Crab Shack. There is no indication if Jameis Winston winced, but it was caught on camera. Here’s the link:
There are only three remaining unbeaten teams and only two – Florida State and Mississippi State – have a chance to make college football’s final four. Marshall might have the easiest path to finish the season with a perfect record but the relative weakness of Conference USA might relegate the Herd to a third tier bowl.
ACC (1): Florida State (7-0) puts its 23-game win streak on the line tonight at Louisville. Thursday night games haven’t always been kind to the Seminoles, which might explain why they are only a 3.5-point favorite. Louisville is #1 nationally in total defense (243.9 yards allowed per game), #1 in rushing defense (66.9 yards), #2 in interceptions (15) and #10 in pass defense (177 yards per).
SEC (1): Mississippi State (7-0) ranks #1 in all three polls (AP, Coaches and CFB Playoff Committee). The Bulldogs put their 10-game winning streak on the line Saturday against Arkansas, which is trying to end its 17-game SEC losing streak. The Hogs haven’t won an SEC game since 2012 against Kentucky.
CONFERENCE USA (1): Marshall (8-0) is ranked #23 in both the AP and Coaches polls but the Thundering Herd got no respect Tuesday from the CFB Playoff Committee, which didn’t put them in the initial top 25 even though they are one of only three unbeaten teams remaining. The Herd’s final four games are Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky plus the Conference USA championship game. That should equate to a 13-0 record, but it’s a weak enough schedule that Marshall might not crack the CFB top 25.
The SEC already has seven bowl-eligible teams: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Missouri. Kentucky (5-3) and Texas A&M (5-3) only need one more win. Kentucky plays at Missouri this weekend while the Aggies host Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference. South Carolina (4-4) and Arkansas (4-4) both need two more wins while Florida (3-3) and Tennessee (3-5) both need three. Vanderbilt (2-6) has to finish the season 4-0 to make a bowl game for a school record fourth straight year.
No other conference can match the SEC’s seven bowl-eligible teams at this juncture. The ACC has five as does the Pac-12 while the Big Ten and Big 12 each have four.
With the right coach, how long do you think it would take for Florida football to become relevant again on the national stage?
One of the more pleasant developments in Eric Clapton’s incredible career happened in the 1990s when he wrote some introspective songs such as “Tears in Heaven,” which dealt with the death of his four-year-old son Conor, who fell to his death from the window of a 53rd floor New York City apartment building owned by his mother’s friend. When I heard this song today while driving in my car, it made me think about my father and grandparents who died many years ago. Would they know my name if they saw me in heaven? I’ve found it difficult to think about anything else since hearing that song today.