Published January 3, 2012 - 12:51pm
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Will Muschamp 1, Urban Meyer 0
That’s what Florida’s 24-17 victory over Ohio State was all about. Meyer might not have been roaming the sidelines, but if Ohio State won that game Luke Fickell wouldn’t have been the guy getting credit for the win. Not in the media. Not with recruits. Urban Meyer would have beat Will Muschamp despite only being on the job for a month.
Will Muschamp had to beat Ohio State. A loss to the Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl would have given the Gators their first losing season since 1979. The Gators would have had losses against their oldest rival (Georgia), their in-state rival (Florida State), the conference elite (LSU and Alabama), and their previous two head coaches (Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer). Florida’s signature win would have been a 5 point home win over Vanderbilt. Florida fans would look back on a terrible season that ended with a humiliating loss to the guy who kicked them to the curb.
In other words, the worst possible season for a first-year Head Coach.
It’s the kind of season that gets people talking, not whispering, about how long of a leash Muschamp has. This isn’t Penn State where death and child rape are the only things that terminate a coach’s reign. This isn’t Georgia, where a coach can underachieve for a majority of a decade and still hang on to his gig. Florida has a recent history of abandoning lost causes and in the case of Ron Zook, the decision to cut all ties proved to be a stroke of genius. Florida fans know this. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley knows this. Muschamp knows this, which is why the win over Ohio State was the biggest win of Muschamp’s career. This win gives Coach Boom some breathing room and Florida fans some hope.
Muschamp was hired because he is an elite defensive mind, and by the end of the season, Florida’s defense was showing signs of being elite. The speed and athletic advantage that Florida famously showcased in their previous matchup against Ohio State in the 2007 BCS Championship game was again on display. Florida’s defensive line had no trouble burning by Ohio State’s heavy-footed linemen. Florida’s special teams were a blue blur all game. Another year of coaching and another year of weights will allow this defense to be bigger and play faster. Understanding Muschamp’s system will produce the turnovers that didn’t exist this season. Florida’s defense will be dangerous in 2012.
The offense? Well, the offense is another story. The good news is eternal sadsack John Brantley will no longer be moping around the field every Saturday. John Brantley is the Eeyore of College Football. The loss of Brantley and the black cloud that hangs over him has to be worth at least a win. Another win should come from the departure of schematic genius Charlie Weis. It never seemed like Weis was trying very hard at Florida. My theory on Weis is that he realized during the preseason that the scorching Gainesville summers and morbid obesity were not a good combination (hence sitting on a cooler of ice during games). His retreat from Gainesville to Kansas had more to do with survival than football.
But this win wasn’t important any on-the-field reason. Two teams battling to stay above .500 is hardly must-watch football. This game was important for psychological reasons.
Florida fans have been called jilted lovers recently. Well, they are… and they should be! Anyone who says Florida should simply wish Urban Meyer the best in his new endeavor has no understanding of college football… or sports…or life. If your girlfriend broke up with you, you might say “I just want her to be happy”, but you don’t really want her to be happy – at least not right away. You want her to struggle and realize how good she had it with you. You want to run into her a few months later with your new girlfriend and see the regret in her eyes. Then and only then can you honestly wish her the best. It’s called winning the break-up. It happens in love, it happens in business, and it happens in sports.
Florida’s win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl means Florida is winning the break-up with Urban Meyer. They can go home and say, “He left us for that? And they have NCAA sanctions? And he has to live in Ohio? What an idiot.” Because in 2007, we learned that at their best, Florida is better than Ohio State. Yesterday we learned that at their worst, Florida is still better than Ohio State.