- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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We all snickered at him.
You did. I did. Other coaches probably did, too.
But while we stuck our noses up at Will Muschamp and his Florida Gators, he snickered right back. Well, he probably just shrugged us off because the last thing he cares about is what anyone not wearing orange and blue says about him or his program.
Kudos to the second-year coach who told us that all he needed was more discipline and tougher (physically and mentally) players in order to win games. He never talked about lighting up the scoreboard, and even with his wildly inconsistent offense, Florida went 11-1 and beat four Top-10 BCS teams in the process.
What looked like an eight- or-nine-win team entering the season, was a win away from taking the SEC Eastern Division and is No. 4 in the BCS standings. The Gators were far from flashy offensively, but were tremendous on defense and special teams.
Muschamp didn't ask his team to score 50 points a game or average 400 yards of offense. He just wanted his team to outscore its opponents, no matter how it happened.
Every week that Muschamp barked about being satisfied with the ugly wins, we laughed, saying his Gators couldn't keep up such an ugly game plan. But the wins kept coming -- ugly and unconventional.
Then, Florida goes into Tallahassee and thumps rival Florida State and it's No. 1 defense with an almost perfect offensive plan. Where was that offense hiding since the first half of the season?
We still don't know what to make of this team, but Muschamp's plan of toughness and building a strong running game (the Gators averaged 194.1 yards a game) and a smothering defense (ranks fifth nationally in total defense) worked.
The Gators aren't playing for the SEC title or the national title, but one could argue that Florida has the best resume in college football. Florida owns the nation's toughest schedule and beat both Texas A&M and Florida State on the road.
Top-ranked Notre Dame might be undefeated, while No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia (the only team to beat Florida) are playing in Atlanta, but Florida had a much tougher road to get to 11-1. Just ask Muschamp.
"Guys, our resume speaks for itself. I mean, c’mon," Muschamp said this week. "You guys have covered the southeast. You guys have covered the SEC. You’ve seen where we’ve played, who we’ve played and the quality of football teams we’ve beaten. We'll play anyone anywhere, whatever that slogan is."
And with the way the Gators have won, it would be tough to bet against them.
Muschamp is up for SEC coach of the year, and so are these guys:
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: He has now led Vandy to back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time in school history, and helped guide the Commodores to eight wins for the first time since 1982. Vandy won five SEC games for the first time since 1935, and ended the season on a six-game winning streak; something the Dores haven't had since 1955.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Freeze completely changed the culture at Ole Miss. The discipline issues under Houston Nutt disappeared, and this team is going bowling for the first time since 2009. The Rebels beat Mississippi State -- in dominating fashion -- for the first time since 2008, and won three SEC games after entering the season with 14 straight conference losses.
Mark Richt, Georgia: The Bulldogs had all the talent to win the SEC East before the year, and after losing 35-7 to South Carolina in early October, the Bulldogs finished the season on a six-game winning streak and will be playing for a spot in the BCS title game Saturday in the SEC championship.
Nick Saban, Alabama: Again, Alabama had all the talent to win a lot in the SEC, but with a defense that replaced so much, the Crimson Tide still went 11-1 and is a win away from its third national championship appearance in four years.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: For the second straight year, Spurrier has lost his best player in running back Marcus Lattimore. But for the second straight year he could get 11 wins. South Carolina had never had 11 wins in a season until last year and now the Gamecocks could get 11 in back-to-back seasons.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: In his first year at Texas A&M and in the SEC, Sumlin helped guide the Aggies to 10 wins with one of the nation's most potent offenses, and with arguably the nation's best player. Sumlin's first year was supposed to be a rough welcome to the SEC, but he proved everyone wrong and even watched his team take down No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.